Curriculum & sexual harassment: Ofsted updates its inspection handbook

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Recent updates to the School Inspection Handbook have extended the transition period for curriculum requirements and also reminded schools that RSHE must “specifically address" sexual harassment, online abuse and sexual violence

Ofsted has extended the transition deadline by which schools must ensure that their curriculum provision is completely aligned with the Education Inspection Framework (EIF).

It has also reminded schools that relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) must “specifically address sexual harassment, online abuse and sexual violence” amid recent reports about sporadic and poor provision in schools, especially relating to education about healthy relationships.

Curriculum transition

The transitional arrangements have been extended a number of times due to the on-going disruption of Covid-19, including significant student and staff absence.

Schools now have until September 2022 to ensure they are meeting the requirements of the EIF, not least with regards to the “intent, implementation and impact” of curriculum.

In an update to the School Inspection Handbook (paragraphs 230 and 231) published earlier this month, Ofsted states: “We intend to review whether these transitional arrangements are still needed in time for September 2022.”

The transitional arrangements are listed under the grade descriptors for the quality of education judgement and centre on the “good” judgement.

To achieve “good”, schools must normally demonstrate for their curriculum intent that:

  • “Leaders adopt or construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils and including pupils with SEND, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.”
  • “The school’s curriculum is coherently planned and sequenced towards cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment.”

However, the transitional arrangements state that if this is not the case then good is still achievable if “it is clear from leaders’ actions that they are in the process of bringing this about and are making any necessary amendments in response to the pandemic”.


The School Inspection Handbook update has also clarified Ofsted’s approach to harmful sexual behaviour after its review last year found widespread incidence of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence among young people (Ofsted, 2021).

Paragraph 252 states: “Ofsted will expect the school’s RSHE curriculum (and wider curriculum) to specifically address sexual harassment, online abuse and sexual violence. The curriculum should also address safeguarding risks (including online risks), issues of consent, and what constitutes a healthy relationship both online and offline.

“We will also expect schools to provide effective pastoral support. This includes being alert to factors that increase a child’s vulnerability, or potential vulnerability, such as mental ill health, domestic abuse, having additional needs, and being at greater risk of exploitation and/or of feeling unable to report abuse (for example, girls and LGBT children).”

It comes after a recent poll by the Sex Education Forum (SEF, 2022) found that too many young people at secondary level are still not being taught the basics of RSE despite the subject having now been mandatory for 18 months.

The research concludes that lessons are inconsistently delivered, with few opportunities to ask questions, and with students having little influence over how to improve things. And at a time when peer-on-peer sexual abuse and harassment is a significant problem, young people are not being taught about healthy relationships or to recognise grooming behaviour.

Elsewhere in the inspection handbook, paragraph 236 now states: “We will expect schools to have effective behaviour policies in place regarding harmful sexual behaviour. The policies should include details of appropriate sanctions that should be consistently applied and that reflect the messages that are taught across the curriculum.”

Inspectors will also consider how schools handle allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence, including whether “all pupils are supported to report concerns about harmful sexual behaviour, and barriers that could prevent a pupil from making a disclosure, for example communication needs, are identified and addressed” (paragraph 316).

If schools do not have adequate processes in place, it is likely that safeguarding will be considered ineffective.

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