The number of sex offences in schools reported to police has almost trebled in four years, a study has shown.
Ten sexual offences on school premises are reported to police in England and Wales on average each school day, according to figures compiled by Plan International, a children’s charity.
The number of allegations rose from 719 in 2011-12 to 1,955 in 2014-15 in what the NSPCC has called a “very worrying trend”.
Girls were the victims in two-thirds of cases, and children as young as five were recorded carrying out assaults.
Lucy Russell, UK manager of girls’ rights campaigning at Plan International, said cases involving very young children were rare.
The most frequent alleged offenders were other pupils, who were identified as the suspects in 29 per cent of the cases, while teachers and other staff were the suspects in 15 per cent.
Russell said girls may be underreporting sexual offences. “Girls experience everyday harassment – unwanted touching, groping, name-calling – that goes on day-to-day,” Russell said. The incidents that get reported to the police are often a “culmination of months and months of activity” and girls are often expected to put up with or laugh off problematic behaviour, she added.
In April, MPs on the women and equalities committee launched an inquiry into sexual violence and harassment in schools following research involving 300 school and college pupilss. This also found that many incidents go unreported and some incidents are “brushed off” by teachers because of the young age of those involved.
The charity requested figures under the Freedom of Information Act for arrests for rape and all other sexual crimes in schools from all 45 UK police forces for each of the last four years. Police Scotland declined the request and 10 other police forces did not respond, so the true numbers may be higher.
Russell says there is a lack of clarity about how sexual offences are recorded by police, with everything from unwanted touching to rape included in the figures.
Last year an investigation by the BBC found that more than 5,500 allegations of sexual offences in schools had been reported in the previous three years, including 600 rapes.
The rising numbers of sex crimes being reported could be partly due to better reporting of incidents when they occur, Russell said. “Certainly we think there’s an improvement in police reporting and recording, and we think it does sound like young people are reporting more of what they’re not happy with, and that’s a positive thing,” she said.
But the steep nationwide increase hinted that other factors could be in play. “There is an indication that the very heavily sexualised messages that children are getting from online pornography and sexualised videos is impacting on their behaviour, and it is changing the expectations they have around their relationships,” Russell said.
An NSPCC spokesman said: “It is deeply concerning that over the last few years thousands of young people have made allegations of sexual offences committed against them in school, a place that should be a sanctuary for children where they are safe from such horrors.
“The rise in reporting to police reflects a very worrying trend which should make all authorities and parents sit up and take notice and then redouble their efforts to keep children safe from sexual abuse, both inside and outside of school.”
A Department for Education spokesman said such reports were rare but added: “Any offence must be reported to the police. No young person should feel unsafe or suffer harassment in any circumstance.”
Plan International is calling for mandatory sex education in all schools to help tackle sexual harassment and violence.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Sex and relationship education is already compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many academies and free schools teach it as part of the curriculum. We are looking at all options to raise the quality of personal, social and health education teaching.”
Government initiatives have included a healthy relationships campaign, Disrespect Nobody , that has received nearly £4m of government funding. But Russell said the education that is delivered is failing to tackle issues such as gender equality, consent, and online behaviour such as sexting. She said it is “miles behind and it’s just not fit for purpose”.
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