Former Colchester student speaks out about 'normalised' sexual abuse in schools

  • Watch this report by ITV News Anglia's Charlie Frost

An Ofsted review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges has revealed how harassment and online abuse has become commonplace for children and young people.

The incidents were found to disproportionately affect young girls and have become so normalised that some children say they see no point in reporting them.

Ofsted found that in some schools, teachers had underestimated the scale of the problem.

Credit: ITV News Anglia

Now an accomplished writer, Scarlett Mansfield feels empowered to talk about what she calls the 'toxic rape culture' at Colchester Royal Grammar School.

This normalisation of sexual harassment in schools is exactly what Ofsted has found.

Speaking to over 900 children from more than 30 schools over the last few months the education watchdog says:

  • Almost 9 out of 10 girls have reported sexual harrassment - from name calling to being sent unwanted, explicit photos or videos

  • Around 8 in 10 girls said sexual assault of any kind happened 'a lot' or 'sometimes' between peers

  • There were reports of abuse in almost 3,000 schools - the majority in secondary schools

Credit: ITV News Anglia

The website 'Everyone's Invited' sparked this Ofsted review.

It is a site where students, past and present, have left testimonies of abuse they suffered at schools and universities up and down the country.

It led to Scarlett starting her own, with more than 200 people sharing their experiences at Colchester Royal Grammar School.

Two former students at the King Edward VI Grammar School (KEGS) in Chelmsford started one as well.

This is just one of more than 150 statements on the survivors website:

"I was pressured into sending nudes by someone at KEGS. After I repeatedly said no, he manipulated me into feeling like I owed him the picture. This was also after he had tried to touch me."

Credit: ITV News Anglia

King Edward VI Grammar School responded to the testimonies in a statement, calling harassment and abuse "unacceptable."

The headmaster of Colchester Royal Grammar School also responded in a statement with the school's stance on harassment.

Chelmsford MP and Children's Minister Vicky Ford said the government were also committed to change.

From September relationship and sex education will become compulsory.

Former students hope that what is promised is enough to stop sexual harassment in schools.

ITV Anglia spoke to former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton, now head of the Association of School and College Leaders who said this...

  • One of the issues raised in the report is children, especially girls, feeling that sexual harassment is a normal part of school life - this is really worrying isn't it?

"It's incredibly worrying. It's a bleak finding which will shock many viewers and people like me who was running a school for 15 years who inevitably thinks back and thinks 'is that what it was like for some of those girls, some of those young women in that school?'. The Ofsted findings are telling us today is that it will have been the case and we need to do something about that. Society has changed, expectations have changed and we need to make sure the culture in schools and colleges changes as well."

  • The report suggests that schools have work to do to create a culture where this behaviour is not tolerated. What can they do and what can organisations like yours do to help this?

"I think there's one or two things in that. One is that we need to articulate really strongly the values of our school and college so that if a young woman makes a complaint they know it will be taken seriously. One of the findings of the report today is too many of them simply won't report it - even some pretty nasty stuff going on, they feel it's not worth them reporting it. We need to get better at taking that seriously, showing that there are sanctions and consequences to young men who are behaving inappropriately. Secondly what we also need to do is have a look at our sex and relationships education and to make sure the quality of that and what that is dealing with represents the kind of world that those young women are living in now - digital natives, which is quite different from the kind of world we assumed it to be. We need to get more savvy about understanding what they are navigating their way through and to teach them how to deal with it."

  • As well as recommending additional training, potential changes to the curriculum it also calls for school leaders to routinely keep records and analyse incidents of harassment and sexual violence in order to identify patterns - will teaching staff need additional support to do this?

I think it needs to be support in terms of - what does good practice look like? What does the good teaching of sex and education look like? What does good record-keeping look like? Which places are doing this the best? I think one of the things Ofsted has done today is not to point fingers and blame people but actually to say there is a lot that we can learn through all of this. Frankly, those young women in our schools and colleges deserve that. It is a wake-up call to us and we're absolutely committed to learning everything that we need to and then to implement that.