Pupils risk becoming repeat targets for sexual harassment and violence due to “deeply concerning” gaps within the school inspection process, critics have warned.

It comes after standards body Education Scotland (ES) confirmed to The Herald that its existing framework does not include a requirement for schools to provide separate records related specifically to such behaviour.

The situation here contrasts with that south of the Border, where a process aimed at obtaining this information - and tracking issues including peer-on-peer abuse - has been in place since 2019.

Under their revised framework, staff at the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) ask English schools to provide “records and analysis of sexual harassment or sexual violence” by 8am on the first day of inspection.

Ofsted’s handbook also says schools are expected to “assume that sexual harassment, online sexual abuse and sexual violence are happening in and around the school, even when there are no specific reports, and put in place a whole-school approach to address them”.

Work to update arrangements was undertaken after the Commons Women and Equalities Committee published landmark analysis in 2016. It highlighted how 59 per cent of girls and young women aged 13 to 21 said in 2014 that they had faced sexual harassment at school or college during the previous year.

READ MORE: Scottish education faces overhaul in wake of 'damning' OECD report

Despite Ofsted's changes, a review found only 6% of inspected premises had provided the required information. It also said some pupils considered incidents to be so commonplace they saw no point in reporting them.

Education Scotland - which faces being stripped of its inspection role under wide-ranging reform plans - admitted its process “does not include a requirement” for schools to “provide separate records/analysis of incidents that are specifically related to sexual harassment and violence”.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The Herald, it states: "As part of Education Scotland’s approach to inspection, all schools are required to make all documents and records related to bullying, complaints and serious incidents available to HM Inspectors during the inspection.

“During the inspection, a member of the inspection team will discuss this information with relevant staff and, where appropriate, children and young people. In addition, HM Inspectors examine a sample of safeguarding documentation, including records of bullying, complaints and serious incidents. Any areas for development are recorded in the child protection and safeguarding form and discussed with the school. Inspection activity has always included scrutiny of records and documents related to bullying, complaints and serious incidents."  

Critics insist this is not good enough. Meghan Gallacher, Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Children and Young People, said: “These findings reveal a deeply concerning gap in school inspection reporting. Our schools should be a safe place for all and pupils should feel reassured that reports of sexual harassment or violence will always be treated seriously.

“By not routinely keeping specific records there is a risk pupils could be repeatedly targeted. That could mean this behaviour will be left unaddressed, which could ultimately become more serious.”

HeraldScotland: Gayle Gorman is HM Chief Inspector and Chief Executive of Education Scotland.Gayle Gorman is HM Chief Inspector and Chief Executive of Education Scotland.

Hannah Brisbane, lead volunteer for voice at Girlguiding Scotland, said the absence of a specific sexual violence and harassment requirement within the inspection system was “really disappointing”.

She added: “Through our Girls in Scotland research, 21% of girls reported experiencing some form of sexual violence in school with 84% of girls aged 13-25 saying they learnt little or nothing about sexual harassment or abuse in personal and social education.

“The Scottish Government committed to ensuring that there was a more robust system to record incidents of sexual harassment but without the scrutiny of the inspection system, how do we know that this is happening fairly and robustly across all Scottish schools?”

Echoing Ms Brisbane, Eileen Prior, Executive Director of parents' organisation Connect, said it was “very disappointing” that ES’ inspection process does not include a separate stipulation regarding sexual harassment and violence.

She added: “Our view is that the new replacement inspection body should incorporate this as a matter of urgency and that all aspects of equity and equality are looked at by inspectors.

"Inspection is one part of the equation; it’s also really important for policies and procedures for reporting sexual harassment and violence in our schools to be introduced and data collected nationally.

"Right now, it is for local authorities and schools - with guidance from Scottish Government - to implement policies and procedures to support young people who are experiencing sexual harassment and violence. We must address all types of harassment and violence in schools and action must be taken locally and nationally now; it can't wait for a new inspection body."

READ MORE: Covid in Scotland - School inspections to resume

Amy Woodhouse, Head of Policy, Projects and Participation at Children in Scotland, said: “It is vitally important that we have a clear and accurate understanding of the nature and extent of bullying and harassment in Scottish schools, including incidents of sexual harassment and violence.

“The Scottish Government guidance on how schools should monitor and record incidents of bullying and harassment does require schools to record 'any underlying prejudice including details of any protected characteristic'.

“This should in theory give us the evidence to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment in schools, but it is unclear the extent to which the evidence recorded is complete, accurate or aggregated to give us a full picture across the country."

She added: “We would certainly welcome action to make sure recording mechanisms are improved, as part of wider work to ensure that schools are safe and supportive environments for all children and young people.” 

Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS teaching union, said it was "critically important" to collect, analyse and act upon data related to sexual harassment and bullying. However, he stressed "primary responsibility" for this should lie with local authorities and the Scottish Government rather than Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.

HeraldScotland: EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan added: "Individual school inspections generally concentrate on a school’s self-analysis processes and curricular issues, where pupil well-being is clearly critical in this area but it is councils which have the greatest responsibility to ensure that safeguarding is in place and that schools have effective policies for tackling all forms of bullying, including sexual harassment.”

Education Scotland bosses said they did not recognise claims of a gap in their process and stressed schools would be expected to make all records available during inspection. This includes incidents of sexual harassment and violence if these have been logged.

READ MORE: SNP ministers under fire over education recovery

The standards body also said children, young people, parents, carers and staff are asked to complete pre-inspection questionnaires that contain specific questions about bullying and whether pupils feel safe in school. 

A spokeswoman added: “Safeguarding has a high priority in all inspections. We are currently considering undertaking further analysis of the safeguarding-related information we receive, which may include sexual harassment and violence.

“We work collaboratively with the Scottish Government, local authorities and schools, to ensure learners receive high-quality relationships, sexual health and parenthood education in schools as an integral part of the health and wellbeing of the school curriculum in Scotland.”

A Government spokesman said: “Through our Equally Safe delivery plan and review of Personal and Social Education we are taking action aimed at preventing sexual harassment and gender-based violence, in order to develop positive relationships amongst children and young people.

“As part of our shared policy programme with the Scottish Green party, we are committed to explore whether further actions beyond those already planned, including guidance for schools, are required. We will also commission an independent review to establish positive practice and further areas for improvement, during this parliamentary session.”