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Inappropriate sexualised behaviour

Sexual exploration and play is a natural part of childhood sexual development, and helps children to develop physically and emotionally. Throughout their development, every child will express themselves sexually in different ways.

A child’s behaviour will depend on their age and circumstances. The NSPCC website describes the behaviours typical of each developmental stage. It is normal to see a child exhibiting behaviour that is slightly more or less mature for their age.

Taken from

The NSPCC have recently published a Harmful Sexual Behaviour Framework: An evidence-informed operational framework for children and young people displaying harmful sexual behaviours which uses the following definition:

“Sexual behaviours expressed by children and young people under the age of 18 years old that are developmentally inappropriate, may be harmful towards self or others, or be abusive towards another child, young person or adult.”

(derived from Hackett, 2014).

The aforementioned document makes the distinction between sexual behaviours that are problematic and those that are abusive. Problematic behaviours are more likely to occur in the younger age groups and may be defined as behaviours involving sexual body parts that are developmentally inappropriate or potentially harmful to the child or others. There could be a range of reasons for this including learning disability, mental health problem, trauma anxiety or even curiosity.

Abusive behaviours involve an element of coercion or manipulation and a power imbalance that means the victim cannot give informed consent, and where the behaviour has potential to cause physical or emotional harm.

The NSPCC identify harmful sexual behaviour as including:

  • using sexually explicit words and phrases
  • inappropriate touching
  • using sexual violence or threats
  • full penetrative sex with other children or adults

Children and young people who develop harmful sexual behaviour harm themselves and others.

NSPCC: Harmful sexual behaviour

1 in 3 of all reported child sexual assaults are perpetrated by young people

(Horne et al 1991)

50% of adult sex offenders report the onset of sexual offending during adolescence

(Abel at al 1985)

It is essential that the school’s approach to managing these behaviours is consistent amongst all staff and is based upon a shared understanding of the issue.

Potential school actions

Following the notification or disclosure of sexualised inappropriate behaviour, the following actions should be considered:

  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour in children and young people should be dealt with guided by the same policy and guidelines as other inappropriate behaviour in school.
  • School staff will also need to follow the procedures outlined in their child protection/safeguarding/behaviour/anti-bullying policies and discuss concerns with the designated member of staff for child protection.
  • If the school becomes aware that a child is displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour, an assessment should be made as to whether or not the behaviour is abusive. This should involve information gathering from relevant adults in school in order to establish where the behaviour sits on a continuum from that which could be expected of a child/young person at that age/stage to that which may indicate has been abused/is abusing others.
  • If the behaviour is inappropriate but not thought to be abusive, the school may wish to speak to the parent or carer to devise a consistent strategy to manage the behaviours, eliminate any medical reasons underpinning the behaviours, and consider a possible referral to other agencies (e.g. CAHMS, Educational Psychologist, SEMH team).
  • Where a pupil’s behaviour results in a serious breach of the behaviour policy, or the pupil is persistently breaching the policy by repeating this behaviour, the school may decide to exclude the pupil, either on a fixed term or permanent basis. A permanent exclusion should only take place where behaviour is sufficiently serious and allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.

Curriculum (Universal provision through PSHE)

The school’s PSHE curriculum should include:

  • High quality relationships and sex education for all pupils appropriate to their age, needs and maturity. The following topics will be of relevance when providing a curriculum that empowers pupils to recognise and manage risk and to keep themselves safe: naming sexual body parts; public/private places; acts and body parts; personal space; consent; laws around sexual activity; how and when to access help and support; pornography and the sharing of sexual imagery; protective behaviours.
  • Anti-bullying learning that, where appropriate, includes learning about sexual bullying.

Resources and additional support

LSCB procedures for children who abuse others may be of relevance in some circumstances:

A MASH referral may be necessary in order to safeguard the child/young person

MASH:  (0121) 788 4333

Out of Hours (EDT) (0121) 605 6060

Updates and changes


These pages are updated regularly and should be used as the main source of information.  Printed versions should be used with care as they can become out of date.