Hertfordshire pupils excluded dozens of times for sexual misconduct as Government launches review into issue in schools
But this was a decrease on the previous year
Schools in Hertfordshire excluded pupils for sexual misconduct on dozens of occasions in just one year, figures reveal.
Department for Education figures show Hertfordshire schools excluded students 52 times for sexual misconduct in 2018-19 – one permanently and 51 temporarily.
However, this was a decrease on the previous year, when there were 59.
Of the exclusions in 2018-19, the vast majority (46) occurred in state-funded secondary schools, three in special schools and three in primary schools.
They were among 1,972 sexual misconduct exclusions – which include incidents of sexual abuse, sexual bullying and sexual harassment – across England that year.
A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “We work with schools to make sure that any exclusions are lawful, reasonable and fair, and in particular that pupils from vulnerable groups are treated fairly.
"Schools have a duty to make sure that students are safe from discrimination, harassment and assault, and we want to help them do that, which unfortunately sometimes means excluding a student.”
But charity Rape Crisis said the figures do not show the true scale of sexual abuse inside schools, following thousands of allegations by students across England.
Though a 13 per cent drop on the year before, Rape Crisis said the number of exclusions will not show the true scale of sexist bullying and sexual violence being perpetrated in schools, particularly against girls.
Katie Russell, national spokeswoman for the charity, added: "We’ve known for a number of years about the high prevalence and serious impacts of sexual violence and abuse in schools.
"The Women and Equalities Select Committee published a comprehensive report into this issue with clear recommendations back in 2016, some of which are yet to be implemented.
"No-one in the Government can claim not to have known about this situation and action clearly should have been taken before now.”
More than 14,000 testimonies have been posted on the Everyone’s Invited website, where pupils can anonymously share their experiences of abuse and assault.
Website founder Soma Sara said the number of students who have the confidence to report incidences of sexual misconduct pales in comparison to the number who have suffered.
Bill Jephson, Assistant Chief Constable at Hertfordshire Constabulary and Chair of the Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children’s Partnership, said: “We welcome the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website for providing a platform where anyone can anonymously share their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
"It’s important that victims and survivors feel empowered to tell their story, and we want to emphasise, not only to young people but to all residents, that there is confidential help and support available to anyone affected in Hertfordshire.
“Schools, colleges and universities can offer support and advice directly and importantly, if a crime has been committed, they can work with those affected and the police to investigate and ensure that abuse is dealt with effectively.
“The Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership (HSCP) work closely with schools and partners across the county, including Hertfordshire County Council, the Police and the NHS, to help safeguard and protect children and to raise awareness around risk factors, support and how to report concerns.
“Both children and adults who are victims of sexual abuse in schools can get support and advice from the dedicated NSPCC helpline on 0800 136 663. This will include advice on how to contact the police and report crimes if they wish.”
The Government announced an immediate review into sexual abuse in schools in the wake of the allegations, while an NSPCC helpline and an Ofsted review were also launched.
Children's charity Barnardo’s said young victims of harmful sexual behaviour often feel embarrassed or fear they won’t be taken seriously.
Overall, Hertfordshire schools excluded pupils 8,089 times in 2018-19 – 7,965 of which were fixed, and 124 permanent.
A Government spokeswoman said: “Where schools do not meet the strict safeguarding standards that we have in place, we will take swift action and we will always back headteachers to remove a pupil from the classroom where this creates a calm and disciplined environment.
“We would encourage anyone who is aware of any specific incidents – and feels comfortable reporting their concerns – to do so.”