Safeguarding: Preventing peer-on-peer abuse

Written by: Jenny Moore | Published:
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Following Ofsted’s review of sexual harassment and abuse in schools – and the subsequent updates to the inspection framework from September – what should schools be doing to address peer-in-peer abuse? Jenny Moore advises and signposts to some useful resources


The worrying revelations from Ofsted’s recent review of sexual abuse (Ofsted, 2021a) highlight how important it is to take proactive steps to prevent peer-on-peer abuse. The inspection framework for September has now been updated (Ofsted, 2021b; SecEd, 2021).

As you start planning your staff safeguarding training for your September INSET day, what can you do to reduce the risk of abuse happening in your school?


Provide appropriate and regularly updated staff training

It is vital that all staff understand what peer-on-peer abuse is and know how to identify it early on to prevent it from escalating.

Peer-on-peer abuse is most likely to include, but may not be limited to, bullying (including cyber-bullying), physical abuse (such as hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, hair-pulling or otherwise causing physical harm), sexual violence and sexual harassment, upskirting, sexting (also known as youth produced sexual imagery) and initiation/hazing type violence and rituals. This is all explained in the Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance (DfE, 2021).

Make sure you provide staff with regularly updated and appropriate safeguarding training that enables them to understand:

  • How to identify the indicators of abuse.
  • What to do if they have a concern about a child.
  • How to respond to a report of abuse.
  • How to offer support to children and where to go if they need support.

All of the above is also explained in KCSIE. You could also consider running a dedicated session on a particular area of peer-on-peer abuse during your September INSET day – for example on how you can tackle sexism and sexual harassment in school.


Make sure staff challenge inappropriate behaviours

You are required to have a behaviour policy and measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying. Your child protection policy should also include the procedures you have in place to minimise the risk of peer-on-peer abuse.

As part of enforcing these policies and measures, make sure staff challenge inappropriate behaviours by, for example:

  • Making clear that sexual violence and sexual harassment is not accepted, will never be tolerated and is not an inevitable part of growing up.
  • Not tolerating or dismissing sexual violence or sexual harassment as “banter”, “part of growing up”, “just having a laugh” or “boys being boys”.
  • Not dismissing inappropriate behaviours risks normalising them. You should have clear sanctions in place to respond effectively to incidents. This is outlined in the DfE guidance Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges (DfE, 2018).


Provide a preventative curriculum programme

Make sure your curriculum addresses issues that are associated with peer-on-peer abuse and teaches children about safeguarding, including how to stay safe online. However, check that your curriculum also tackles issues such as healthy and respectful relationships, what respectful behaviour looks like, consent, gender roles, stereotyping and equality, body confidence, self-esteem, prejudiced behaviour, sexual violence and sexual harassment.

These issues should be addressed in an age-appropriate and inclusive way, and could be explored through your computing, relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) and PSHE provision. This is based on the DfE's guidance on sexual violence and sexual harassment (2018), which also gives an example of one school’s approach to preventative education. Elsewhere, useful curriculum guidance and resources to lean on include:

  • The DfE’s statutory RSHE guidance outlines how your curriculum should now cover these issues. If you weren’t ready to introduce this curriculum in September 2020, you should have introduced it by the beginning of the summer term at the latest.
  • The PSHE Association’s programme of study for key stages 1 to 5 also suggests what you should cover when teaching about relationships in PSHE.
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command has developed resources to help you support young people with developing confident, healthy approaches to relationships and the internet. These include videos, toolkits and activities that can be used in lessons or assemblies or shared with parents.
  • Childnet International has an online safety PSHE toolkit with films and lesson plans exploring issues such as cyber-bullying, sexting, peer pressure and self-esteem.
  • The NSPCC has a range of safeguarding teaching resources including lesson plans on personal safety, healthy relationships and online bullying. Its “Speak out Stay safe” programme also includes interactive assemblies and workshops on safeguarding for pupils in key stages 1 and 2.


Consider your context and work with local partners

Peer-on-peer abuse incidents and/or inappropriate behaviours can be associated with factors outside of the school. You should consider the context when preventing and dealing with such incidents.

For example, when tackling violence, it is important to understand the problems that young people are facing both in school and in their local community and consider possible avenues of support. You could also work with local partners (who may have valuable information, resources or expertise) such as the police and youth offending teams. Your safeguarding partners may be able to provide support, too. This is explained in the Home Office's 2013 guidance on preventing youth violence and gang involvement.


Seek specialist support

Consider carefully if you need external input, particularly when approaching the issue of sexual violence and sexual harassment as part of preventing peer-on-peer abuse. Specialist organisations may be able to support you by training staff, teaching children and/or providing them with support. Organisations could include the NSPCC, UK Safer Internet Centre, Brook and the Anti-Bullying Alliance. For more organisations, see the DfE's advice on sexual violence and sexual harassment mentioned earlier and also the DfE's guidance on preventing bullying (2017).

  • Jenny Moore is a specialist content editor at The Key, a provider of intelligence and resources for education leaders. The advice in this article is taken from The Key’s resources, How to prevent peer-on-peer abuse, and Safeguarding and child protection INSET pack 2021. Visit https://thekeysupport.com/


Further information & resources

Further reading/best practice


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