Sexual abuse in British classrooms is increasing fast, according to official figures that reveal a 40 per cent increase in reports of rape in schools in the past three years.
At least 2,865 sex-crime reports have been recorded by police between 2011 and 2013 – and more than half of them were committed by other children, according to data released to The Independent by police under the Freedom of Information Act.
The figures showed that more than 320 alleged rapes were reported in schools in the last three years, with the NSPCC saying that pupils’ easy access to online pornography has likely driven the surge in online child abuse.
Last year alone, there were at least 1,052 alleged sex offences reported in schools, of which 134 were reported as rape.
Statistics on rape and sex crime reports that took place in schools were released by 37 out of 46 UK police forces. Children accounted for more than 90 per cent of alleged abuse victims, but more than half of the claimed offences were also said to have been committed by children.
The Department of Education (DfE) has resisted calls to introduce mandatory reporting of abuse allegations but the Government is now facing renewed pressure to reform child safeguarding. Currently, headteachers are urged to report allegations to child-protection experts, but there is no legal penalty if they choose not to.
Among cases that have come to light in recent years, a 12-year-old girl was allegedly stripped naked and raped by pupils at a school in Hampshire. The school, however, believed she had consented and excluded her for breaking rules by having sex on its grounds, a tribunal heard. In May, the Crown Prosecution Service said no charges would be brought against the suspects because of insufficient evidence.
In another case, a religious-education teacher in Manchester groped and kissed a teenage pupil in one-on-one meetings he arranged in his classroom. Richard Jones, 57, started a secret relationship with the girl, but was arrested when and when her family discovered explicit messages on her computer.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison last month after admitting a string of sexual offences.
Claire Lilley, of the NSPCC, said: “Schools must make sure they have adequate safeguarding procedures in place and that parents and teachers are able to recognise warning signs early so they can take swift action when required.
“However, the damaging behaviour of these children can be turned around if caught early. Prevention has to be the key.”
The National Association of Headteachers claimed the increase in child-abuse reports may reflect “alleged victims being more confident about making a disclosure”. A spokesperson said the work being done in schools to create a safe environment was “excellent”.
But Labour called on the Government to take “urgent action”. Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “These figures are very disturbing. Schools should be a place of safety for children and young people. The Government needs to take action given the evidence of growing sexual violence amongst young people.” She added they must “introduce compulsory sex and relationship education in all schools”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There is nothing more important than protecting children from harm – any allegation of abuse must be taken very seriously. Schools’ safeguarding arrangements are regularly inspected.”