An immediate review into sexual abuse in schools will take place following thousands of allegations from students, the government has announced.
Schools regulator Ofsted will look at safeguarding policies in state and independent schools, “the extent and the severity of the issue” and ensure there are appropriate systems in place to allow pupils to report their concerns, the Department for Education (DfE) said.
The DfE said the review will also look at ensuring there is enough guidance on how schools should deal with sexual harassment and violence allegations, and whether current school inspection systems are strong enough to address any concerns.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has also announced a new helpline, run by the NSPCC, to support potential victims of sexual harassment and abuse in schools, including guidance on how to contact police and report crimes.
The number, which goes live on Thursday, will provide advice to children and adults, including parents and professionals, the DfE said.
It comes after more than 10,000 reports were posted on the Everyone’s Invited website, where students can anonymously share their experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault.
Mr Williamson said: "Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly.
"While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.
"This Government is committed to ensuring victims feel supported to refer the most serious allegations to the police via the helpline, safe in the knowledge that everything possible will be done to bring offenders to justice.
"No child or young person should have to experience abuse.
"But if something isn’t right, they should speak to someone they trust to raise concerns, whether that’s family, a friend, teacher or social worker, helpline or the police."
Soma Sara, founder of the Everyone’s Invited website, said the team were "proud to have started a crucial conversation" but disappointed the Education Secretary had not contacted them before the announcement.
"We are encouraged to see that the Government has responded and taken the first initial steps to review rape culture in all schools," she said.
"We await confirmation from Gavin Williamson that Everyone’s Invited will be included in carrying out this review and are disappointed that he did not contact us before this announcement.
"We are pleased that the Department for Education has worked closely with the police and the NSPCC to ensure that there is a dedicated helpline for everyone who needs it."
Watch this video report by ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand about allegations of abuse in schools:
DfE said Ofsted will work with social care, police, victim support groups, school and college leaders, as well as the Independent Schools Council with the review expected to conclude by the end of May.
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: "Like everyone else, I have been deeply troubled by accounts of the sexual abuse and harassment young people have suffered at school and in the community.
"So I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement and the opportunity for Ofsted to lead this review.
"Schools have a crucial role to play in teaching young people about sexual consent and respect for women and girls.
"They must also be places where all children feel safe, and where they are able to report any incidents of abuse or harassment and be confident that what they say will be acted upon.
"We will set out the terms of the review shortly."
NSPCC chief executive officer Sir Peter Wanless said: "This is a watershed moment thanks to those who have found the courage to speak out which is why we have been commissioned by the DfE to set up an independent helpline for children, parents and professionals to seek expert, sensitive advice from the NSPCC and safely report abuse that has happened or is happening in educational settings.
"At least a third of sexual offences against children are committed by other young people and that must be addressed.
"All children should be able to grow up in a safe community that is free from sexual violence where their rights are respected."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the helpline and said: "Robust safeguarding is the number one priority of state and independent schools, and we welcome this review of safeguarding policies in the light of the horrific experiences recorded on the Everyone’s Invited website.”
"We are pleased that Ofsted intends to work with representatives from social care, police, and victim support groups, as well as with school and college leaders, acknowledging that schools alone cannot be the solution."
The Report Abuse in Education helpline can be reached by calling 0800 136 663 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.