A Labour government would create an annual review of safeguarding in schools as concerns about children’s safety and wellbeing are being “missed” due to “infrequent” Ofsted inspections, the shadow education secretary has said.
Bridget Phillipson told the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Birmingham that too many girls were being exposed to “intolerable language, images and behaviour”.
“Some of the things that are missed are the most important of all because they are about the safety and wellbeing of our children,” she said.
Safeguarding concerns are covered in Ofsted in England, but a school can go a number of years before they are inspected again.
Addressing about 1,000 headteachers on Saturday, Phillipson said: “We have two forms of inspections. Too alike in some ways, too different in others.
“Full inspections, which come round rarely. Ungraded inspections, with the inspectors calling in for less than a day.
“It isn’t working. Problems fester, unnoticed, unchecked, uninspected.
“In just two days, inspectors are being asked to look at everything: at safeguarding, at sports lessons, at teacher development and trigonometry, at attendance and at attainment.
“And this means not only that mistakes are made, but things are missed.”
Her comments come after thousands of testimonials were posted on the Everyone’s Invited website in 2021, with some pupils accusing their schools of not tackling a “rape culture”.
A review by Ofsted into safeguarding in schools, published in June 2021, found sexual harassment had become “normalised” for schoolchildren.
It added inspectors were told boys were sharing “nudes” among themselves like a “collection game” on WhatsApp and Snapchat.
In her speech, Phillipson credited Ofsted for “giving voice to the scale of sexual harassment” in schools.
She said: “Too many of our children – too many girls, in particular – are exposed to language, images and behaviours that no government, no school, no parent, and above all no student should tolerate.
“Under Labour, that is going to change.”
Announcing her plans, which would also include scrapping the current Ofsted school ratings system in England, Phillipson said: “These are ongoing issues that affect every school. They are not issues that can be left for infrequent inspection.”
She added on Twitter that a Labour government would consult on the changes.
“We will work with school leaders, with teachers, with support staff and with inspectors,” she said.
Geoff Barton, the ASCL general secretary, welcomed the promise of annual safeguarding reviews, saying: “Safeguarding is the number one priority of everyone in education and this proposed approach reflects that.”
The proposals come as a recent study of British schoolchildren’s attitudes to pornography by Dignify, a charity that researches sexual abuse, found 22% of students had viewed porn on multiple occasions. Of those, one in five said they had a porn habit and one in 10 said they felt addicted.
The headteacher of one school involved in the survey said the impact of violent pornography on her pupils was so severe that they had used special training to respond to a large rise in reports of se