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Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language

First published:
16 June 2021
Last updated:

I am deeply concerned by recent reports of sexual harassment and abuse in schools. Any form of sexual harassment or abuse is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated. All education settings have a legal duty to ensure that children and young people are shown respect and have access to a learning environment in which they feel comfortable and safe.

It remains a cross-government priority to ensure that every child and young person is supported and that they are able to report any concerns they may have.

In recognition that there are broader cultural challenges in dealing with this issue the Minister for Social Justice and the Deputy Minister for Social Services and I will work together in relation to our ongoing response and we will wish to be informed by the voices of children and young people.

I will also be requesting Estyn to conduct a review into culture and processes in schools to help protect and support young people better. While the findings of that review will play an important role in supporting settings and informing Welsh Government policy, I recognise that we cannot await the outcome of that review before we act.

Whilst the problem is extremely unlikely to be limited to the schools named in the Everyone’s Invited report, we will write to the schools identified to offer support and advice on delivering relationships education.

Every school, and Local Authority, should have a designated lead responsible for supporting learners with relationships and sexuality education. I have asked officials to establish whether that is currently the case and will update Members in due course.

In December 2020, we published guidance Sharing nudes and semi-nudes: Responding to incidents and safeguarding children and young people’ to support settings with developing procedures to respond to incidents involving sharing nudes as part of their safeguarding arrangements. Since it was published in December, it has been viewed 3297 times with nearly 1,000 downloads of the guidance document. I have instructed officials to work at pace to develop a short training module, as part of the Keeping Learners Safe suite, to further embed this guidance which will be available early in the new academic year.

The Keeping Safe Online area of Hwb continues to support online safety in education, providing information guidance and resources. It provides signposts for learners, practitioners and parents and carers to report any issues they experience online and access to dedicated support services.

Recently we have worked with Childnet International to make the ‘Step Up, Speak Up’ toolkit available for schools. This includes a series of lesson plans and activities that address online sexual harassment amongst young people. We are continuing this work with Childnet International and we will be making the ‘Just a Joke?’ toolkit available for schools.

There is extensive guidance available on preventing and responding to child sexual abuse, including our statutory guidance Keeping Learners Safe. The Welsh Government has published Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence guidance for governors and a Toolkit for education staff containing best practice, as well as supporting The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) with the development of their VAWDASV strategy.

The Welsh Government National Action Plan, preventing and responding to child sexual abuse has ten objectives. This includes Objective 2: Increased awareness in children of the importance of safe, equal and healthy relationships and that abusive behaviour is always wrong. Working with regional Safeguarding Boards, we are implementing the plan, however, we must build on this momentum.

I am in no doubt that new Curriculum for Wales, rolled out from 2022, will have a crucial role in this area. For the first time, health and well-being will have equal status in law to other important areas of the school curriculum. It has been designed to support the development of the fundamentals of health and well-being in learners which includes supporting them to have an understanding of harmful situations and how to respond appropriately.

Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) will also be a statutory part of the curriculum for all settings. It is intended that this will have a focus on developing healthy relationships from the early years.

As a matter of priority, we will now undertake a review of the resources available to ensure our schools and learners are fully supported with RSE. We will work with schools to ascertain how existing resources are being used and to ensure resources are as easy to find as possible on Hwb.

I would like to end by highlighting a range of support for victims of sexual harassment and abuse. We have several Welsh Government funded helplines already established, specifically Childline Cymru, Live Fear Free and the MEIC service.. I would encourage people to make full use of them.

Childline Cymru

0800 1111

www.childline.org.uk/get-support/

Live Fear Free

0808 80 10 800

https://gov.wales/live-fear-free

MEIC

0808 80 23 456

https://www.meiccymru.org/