Charity calls for compulsory relationships education as figures show sex offences in Suffolk schools are rising

The school has maintained its 'Good' Ofsted rating. File picture: Thinkstock

The school has maintained its 'Good' Ofsted rating. File picture: Thinkstock - Credit: ThinkStock

The number of sexual offences committed on school grounds in Suffolk has tripled over the last four years, with children as young as five falling victim to attacks.

More than 100 sex crimes, which range from harassment to rape, were logged by Suffolk Constabulary at the county’s schools between 2011 and 2015.

According to figures obtained by Plan International UK, 12 sexual offences were reported on Suffolk school premises in 2011/2012; 13 in 2012/2013; 31 in 2013/2014; and 45 in 2014/2015.

Today the global children’s charity is calling for the Government to commit to mandatory sex and relationships education, which covers sexting, consent, healthy relationships and the law.

“This shows that we’re failing young people when it comes to learning about healthy relationships and consent,” said Plan International UK’s head of girls’ rights, Kerry Smith.

“Quality sex and relationships education helps young people to develop healthy attitudes towards sex and relationships while helping to tackle inappropriate and aggressive sexual behaviour.

“While any cases of suspected sex offences in schools is troubling, the rise in cases may be attributable to children being made more aware of what constitutes normal relationships.

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“It is worth recognising the work that has been done by police, schools and other authorities to encourage children to report such allegations so they can be investigated thoroughly. Only by doing so will we create the safe and secure learning environments our children deserve.”

A further Freedom of Information request to Suffolk Constabulary by the EADT has revealed that 20 peer-on-peer sexual offences were recorded in the county’s schools between September 2013 and June 2016.

Of these offences, all bar one of the suspects were male, and four of the victims were below the age of seven.

None of the 20 reported peer-on-peer attacks resulted in criminal charges. Police identified four named suspects but they were below 10 years old, which in law is considered to be the age of criminal responsibility.

Children aged between 10 and 14 can be convicted of a criminal offence if it can be proved that they were aware that what they were doing was seriously wrong.

Nationally, reports of sexual offences in schools have more than doubled in four years to 1,955 in 2014/15.

Nearly two-thirds of the victims are girls or women, with 94% of the offences committed by men or boys.

“Clearly girls and women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence in schools,” Ms Smith added.

“Young people need education about the realities of life and relationships, including consent.”

The UK statistics suggest that 15% of the suspects are school staff, including teachers.

A Government spokesman said sex and relationship education was already compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and the authority expected academies and free schools to teach it as part of the curriculum.