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As with all areas of safeguarding, professionals should maintain an attitude of safeguarding in the context of child-on-child abuse as being everyone’s business and ‘it could happen here’.

What should all education settings have in place to support the prevention of child-on-child abuse?

It is acknowledged that education settings are the space where most children and young people spend a significant amount of their time and therefore have a particularly key role in safeguarding against child-on-child abuse and promoting children’s welfare. Keeping Children Safe in Education notes that schools and colleges play a crucial role in preventative education. Preventative education is most effective in the context of a whole school or college approach that prepares children for life in modern Britain an creates a culture of zero tolerance for violence, sexism, misogyny/misandry, homophobia, biphobic and sexual violence/harassment.


Keeping Children Safe in Education is clear that all settings should have in place:

  • An effective child protection policy which:
    • Reflects the whole school/ college approach to child-on-child abuse.
    • Reflects the reporting systems that are in place. Systems should be in place, and they should be well promoted, easily understood and easily accessible for children to confidently report any form of abuse knowing their concerns will be treated seriously and knowing they can safely express their views and give feedback.
    • Describes procedures to minimise the risk of child-on-child abuse.
    • Outlines how allegations of child-on-child abuse will be recorded, investigated and dealt with.
    • Describes clear processes as to how the child who has displayed the harmful behaviour will be supported as well as the child who has been harmed and any other children who have been affected.
    • Recognises that even if there are no reported cases of child-on-child abuse, such abuse may still be taking place and is simply not being reported.
    • Refers to locally agreed multi-agency safeguarding arrangements put in place by the safeguarding partners.
    • Includes polices as reflected elsewhere in Keeping Children Safe in Education, such as online safety, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) etc.
    • Adopts a ‘zero tolerance’ approach. The policy should include a statement which makes it clear that there should be a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, and it should never be passed off as ‘banter’, ‘just having a laugh’, ‘part of growing up’ or ‘boys being boys’ as this can lead to a culture of unacceptable behaviours and an unsafe environment for children.
    • Recognises that it is more likely for the child who is displaying harmful behaviour to be a boy and the child who has been harmed to be a girl, but that all child-on-child abuse is unacceptable and will be taken seriously.
    • Outlines the different forms child-on-child abuse can take.
    • Is reviewed annually (as a minimum) and updated if needed, so that it is kept up to date with safeguarding issues as they emerge and evolve, including lessons learnt.
    • Is available publicly either via the school or college website or other means.
  • A behaviour policy, which includes measures to prevent bullying (including cyber bullying, prejudice-based and discriminatory bullying).
  • Appropriate safeguarding arrangements in place to respond to children who go missing from education, particularly on repeat occasions.
  • Schools and colleges should undertake a proactive risk assessment to determine the risks to which their students are or may be exposed, as well as any protective factors which may exist, and monitor those risks and protective factors. The outcome of this should be used to inform the child-on-child abuse content within their child protection policy.

Key reflective questions for education settings:

  • Do we have a clear and full understanding of what constitutes child-on-child abuse?
  • What have we experienced as a school/ college community in the past in terms of child-on-child abuse and have we learned from it? If so, how?
  • Do we take a whole-school/college community approach to preventing and responding to child-on-child abuse?
  • Do we have any concerns about existing dynamics or behaviour between children and, if so, what are these?
  • Are there particular features or types of child-on-child abuse that our students are exposed to, and do our policies and procedures appropriately address these?
  • Are there any concerns about particular online harms specific to our setting?
  • Do we have routes for disclosures for students who have concerns around online harm?
  • Is our teaching of Relationships Education (for primary school students) and/or Relationships and Sex Education (for secondary school students) high-quality, evidence-based, age appropriate and delivered by expert staff?.
  • Do we know of any physical or online locations which may be particularly vulnerable to being used by students to threaten or inflict harm on other students?
  • Do we have an inclusive and equitable school/college environment, where students from minoritized backgrounds feel safe?
  • Do we have an environment where incidents of child-on-child abuse are learned from?

Developing a whole school/ college approach to the prevention of child-on-child abuse is vital. This is built upon schools and colleges actively seeking to raise awareness of and prevent all forms of child-on-child abuse by educating all governors, their senior leadership team, staff, students and parents about the issue of child-on-child abuse. This includes training all governors, the senior leadership team and staff on the nature, prevalence and effect of child-on-child abuse and how to prevent, identify and respond to it.

All governors, senior leadership teams and education staff should have awareness of:

  • Contextual safeguarding
  • The identification and classification of specific behaviours, including digital behaviours.
  • The importance of taking seriously all forms of child-on-child abuse and ensuring that no form of child-on-child abuse is ever dismissed as ‘banter’.
  • Social media and online safety, including how to encourage children to use social media in a positive, responsible and safe way and how to enable them to identify and manage abusive behaviour online.
  • The need for continuous review and development

Farrer & Co outline in their ‘Addressing child-on-child abuse: a resource for schools and colleges’ that schools and colleges are encouraged to regard their approach to preventing and managing concerns of child-on-child abuse as something that is continuously reviewed and updated. Relevant policies should be reviewed and tailored to respond to:

  • The child’s voice. Student’s views, experiences and contributions should be a baseline against which to measure the impact of the school’s approach to and management of child-on-child abuse concerns and to inform ongoing design and implementation.
  • The particular safeguarding context of the school
  • The needs of the students in the school community
  • The specific risks to which their students are or may be exposed – both in and outside of the school or college community (including online). This is captured in the proactive risk assessment below.
  • Updated local safeguarding guidance and Ofsted or ISI inspection requirements.

Schools and colleges should regularly undertake a proactive risk assessment to determine the risks to which their students are or may be exposed, as well as any protective factors which may exist, and monitor those risks and protective factors. The outcome of this should be used to inform the child-on-child abuse content within their child protection policy. Farrer & Co Addressing child-on-child abuse: a resource for schools and colleges note that a proactive assessment should consider:

  • The nature and level of risk of the different variants of child-on-child abuse within the school or college.
  • The make-up of the student body, including specific characteristics that might affect their vulnerability to child-on-child abuse such as, for example, gender, age, learning difficulties, special educational needs and/or disabilities, sexual orientation, ethnicity and/or religious belief.
  • Whether the particular setting of the school or college provides the potential for any specific online harms (for example, where there are borders).
  • The fact that students may not always understand that they have experienced or carried out child-on-child abuse, for example, because:
    • They do not know what constitutes inappropriate sexualised behaviour.
    • They have experienced sexual abuse and do not realise what happened to them was wrong
    • They do not know whether consent was given.
    • They are younger and therefore lack knowledge of sex/sexuality as they are less likely to have received sex or relationships education.
    • The abuse happened between friends or partners.
  • Which of these students are affected, or more at risk of being affected by child-on-child abuse
  • Any trends
  • The various sociocultural contexts to which those students are associated which may impact on their behaviour and engagement in school or college
  • The levers and barriers within the school or college environment that will affect an ability to respond to child-on-child abuse. These include systems and structures, prevention, identification, response and intervention and the culture of the school.

It is understood that the relationship between schools/ colleges and their local safeguarding partners is fundamental to preventing child-on-child abuse and early identification of concerns. Schools and colleges can take a proactive approach to building these relationships in a number of ways, as outlined in Farrer & Co, Addressing child-on-child abuse: a resource for schools and colleges:

  • Build an awareness of any concerning trends and emerging risks in the local area, allowing the school or college to take preventative action to minimise the risk of these being experienced by their students.
  • Familiarise themselves with resources available from the local authority children’s social care or local safeguarding children partnership associated with child-on-child abuse that can be used to strengthen the curriculum.
  • Ensure good awareness and understanding of the different referral pathways that operate within Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, as well as the preventative services that exist.
  • Ensure that students are able to access the range of services and support they need quickly
  • Support and help inform their local community’s response to child-on-child abuse.
  • Working alongside multi-agency partners to ensure the inclusion of students vulnerable to abuse.

The Department for Education have provided schools with statutory guidance on relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education. The Relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education contains information on what schools should do and sets out the legal duties with which schools must comply when teaching Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education.

This curriculum should be fully inclusive and developed to be appropriate to the age and stage of development of the children in the setting, especially when considering the needs of children with SEND and other vulnerabilities. This curriculum should tackle, at an age-appropriate stage:

  • Healthy and respectful relationships
  • Boundaries and consent
  • Stereotyping, prejudice and equality
  • Body confidence and self-esteem
  • How to recognise an abusive relationship, including coercive and controlling behaviour
  • Learn about positive, responsible and safe use of social media
  • The concepts of, and laws relating to – sexual consent, sexual exploitation, abuse, grooming, coercion, harassment, rape, domestic abuse, so-called ‘honour’-based violence such as forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and how to access support
  • What constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence and why these are always unacceptable.

Through this curriculum and indeed the wider curriculum, children should frequently receive messages regarding what to do if they witness or experience abuse and the school’s routes for disclosures for students who have concerns (including around online harm)

Engaging with parents

Engaging with parents and carers can help to further inform the curriculum and ensure that key messages from within the curriculum are reinforced for children within their home environment. Schools and colleges can build engagement with parents by:

  • Identifying regular opportunities to speak with parents directly (whether 1:1 or in groups) regarding the topic of child-on-child abuse and the school’s procedures and policies and curriculum content.
  • Using regular communications (such as newsletters) to share information with parents.
  • Encouraging parents to share information regarding what they perceive to be the risks for their child/ the school community in relation to child-on-child abuse and how they think the school might work proactively to mitigate these risks.

Online Safety

It is important to approach all proactive work to promote online safety from an understanding that the internet can provide children with significant opportunities to learn and develop, as well as potentially facilitating harm. There is a role for all professionals and parents/carers to play in supporting the messages that children receive within school regarding keeping themselves safe online. For example, in cases where harmful narratives are perpetuated by specific sources (such as an influencer or particular website), then professionals can challenge the underlying principles rather than the individual influencer or website. This helps to avoid inadvertently promoting them or facilitating access by children. This also allows children to generalise the advice from professionals across other influencers and websites, rather than just the current influencer or website that is of concern. It is important to be aware that clicking on links or searching for names on a device that a child will also use can impact the child’s algorithms, increasing the likelihood of harmful content being promoted to them.

Professionals should seek to empower children with the knowledge and tools to navigate the online world in a safe, responsible and positive way. The Department for Education outlines within the Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education that by the end of primary school pupils should know:

  • That people sometimes behave differently online, including by pretending to be someone they are not.
  • That the same principles apply to online relationships as to face-to-face relationships, including the importance of respect for others online including when we are anonymous.
  • The rules and principles for keeping safe online, how to recognise risks, harmful content and contact, and how to report them.
  • How to critically consider their online friendships and sources of information including awareness of the risks associated with people they have never met.
  • How information and data is shared and used online.

To promote online safety and proactively seek to prevent online harm, professionals should:

  • Be aware of the relevant age limits on social media platforms and support children in understanding the reasons for these limits and the consequences of breaching them.
  • Promote the celebration of difference. It is important that children understand and respect that not all children will choose to have a presence on social media and this is their individual choice. Children may feel pressured into having a presence on social media, so that they are not ‘missing out’ or to avoid receiving negative comments from their peers regarding not being on social media.
  • Clearly communicate routes that children can share any concerns they have about something that they have seen or experienced online.
  • Support children in understanding how social media platforms work (for example, through algorithms to display specific content) so that children can become informed and critical consumers.
  • Be informed about how to report inappropriate or harmful online content or contact to a platform provider or an independent agency.