On 16 February 2017 the government released an updated definition of child sexual exploitation (CSE) as a result of a consultation; the new definition states that:

“CSE is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. CSE does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.”

Also in February 2017, the DfE released ‘Child sexual exploitation: Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation’, which replaced the 2009 guidance ‘Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation’.

Schools can assist with the prevention of CSE by raising awareness of the issue within the school curriculum; equipping pupils with the knowledge that will help them to make informed decisions regarding relationships so that they can protect themselves from sexual exploitation.

This guidance will offer advice on how to address CSE in school, including the approach a school could take in order to raise awareness within the school community.


Whole-school approach


In order for CSE to be successfully addressed, schools should adopt a whole-school approach backed by support from the school community, led by a strong senior leadership team and governing body. School leadership should make it clear to the school community how the school will address and tackle the issue of CSE.

Healthy relationships should be promoted across all aspects of school life, including in the school ethos, the Behaviour Policy and Anti-Bullying Policy.

When adopting a whole-school approach in relation to CSE the school should:

  • Train all members of staff and school governors on the warning signs and indicators of a pupil who is experiencing CSE (separate, and less extensive, training for parents should also be considered).
  • Have plans in place that allow early intervention for pupils who are identified as being vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
  • Ensure any incidents of harmful attitudes, sexual bullying and harassment at the school are dealt with quickly and effectively.
  • Collaborate with external agencies and referral procedures when pupils are at risk of, or are experiencing, sexual exploitation.
  • Engage with local or national projects that aim to tackle CSE.




Training is an essential factor in the ability to effectively address CSE in schools. The school’s designated safeguarding lead (DSL), in collaboration with the headteacher, should ensure that sufficient training is undertaken by all members of staff. School governors should also undergo training, and, where appropriate, parents should also be included in some training in order to combat CSE at all levels of the school community.

In accordance with ‘Keeping children safe in education’ (2016), a school’s DSL must undergo child protection and safeguarding training every two years, and whilst there are no statutory requirements regarding training other members of staff on CSE, it is recommended that the following issues are addressed during training:

  • The warning signs of CSE, especially those signs that may present themselves in an educational environment  
  • That CSE can take many different forms, i.e. it can occur both online and offline
  • That CSE can affect any child or young person regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality etc.
  • That all children are entitled to protection and support
  • The procedures of reporting suspected cases of CSE, and how information should be shared with other local agencies should concerns arise
  • The development of practical skills in facilitating conversations with pupils, and with their parents, about CSE

When planning staff training, the DSL and headteacher should consider the context of the school and if there are certain issues that need to be addressed more than others. It is also important that CSE training is updated on a regular basis in order to ensure that the information staff have is up-to-date.


Teaching pupils about CSE


There is not yet any proven structure for the most effective means of educating young people on CSE; however, it is vital that schools educate their pupils because if they are not educated about these risks before perpetrators approach them, they are left unprotected. Therefore, schools should consider building age-appropriate CSE education into their curriculum across all key stages.  

DfE guidance advises that all education relating to CSE should:

  • Be grounded in an evidence-based understanding of CSE.
  • Challenge myths and misconceptions about who is perpetrating and experiencing CSE, e.g. that only girls are vulnerable to CSE.
  • Communicate that all forms of CSE are abuse.
  • Challenge any victim-blaming and promote the rights of all victims to protection and support.
  • Provide information on where and how to report concerns and access support.
  • Be inclusive and accessible to the intended audience, in terms of language and delivery methods and ensure information is tailored and relevant to different groups.

Schools should create a safe learning environment in which relationships based on trust are built between pupils and staff so that pupils feel safe to disclose any information regarding CSE.

Awareness of CSE should be raised in PSHE lessons – pupils should be taught about the risks of CSE and other forms of harm – and CSE should also be addressed as part of a wider programme of work regarding sex and relationships education. Where possible, CSE education should build on existing topics that pupils may already be aware of, e.g. online safety.


Primary schools


Although CSE is often associated with pupils at secondary school, it is never too early to educate pupils about CSE. Messages about healthy relationships can be taught to all ages by using age-appropriate language and themes.

At primary school level, topics taught to pupils could include:

  • Friendship
  • Appropriate physical contact
  • Keeping safe
  • Recognising risks and knowing where to go for help


Secondary schools


PSHE lessons that raise awareness of CSE should particularly focus on consent, abuse and power in relationships, whilst educating pupils on what healthy relationships look like and what qualities of a relationship are not considered normal.

Other topics that could be taught at secondary level include the following:

  • Awareness of grooming
  • Understanding exploitative situations
  • Exploring gender stereotypes and gender roles
  • Increasing awareness of risk and the consequences of risk taking
  • Sexual bullying and peer pressure
  • Building skills to develop positive and healthy relationships


Educating parents


Parents have a key role in educating their children about CSE and, whilst it is not solely the responsibility of schools to educate parents about CSE, schools should consider offering some education and/or training in order to support parents.

Schools should ensure that parents:

  • Understand the risks of CSE and recognise that the issue is something that could affect their child.
  • Understand that CSE can occur both online and offline.
  • Know the warning signs of CSE.
  • Know how to report any concerns that they may have.
  • Know where to go for support if their child has been the victim, or is the suspected victim, of CSE.
  • Are reassured that services will, as appropriate, work with them to try to protect their child.
  • Have support to manage the emotional impact of CSE on their child and themselves.
  • Have support that is tailored to their specific circumstances, e.g. support that recognises culture or faith.


Supporting pupils that have experienced CSE


In some circumstances, schools may have a pupil within their community that has experienced CSE, and schools should have plans in place to support these pupils. Again, training is vital; staff should undergo training so that they can fully understand the needs of a pupil that has experienced CSE.

Research has suggested that sustaining relationships with young people who have experienced CSE is appreciated by both the young person’s family and themselves. Schools could allocate mentors to pupils who have experienced CSE so that they can develop a trustful relationship. Mentoring may work best when it provides a consistent relationship with frequent contact over an extended period, and includes support for mentors as well as those who are being mentored.


Next steps


Schools should consider how to address CSE in a way that meets the needs and circumstances of their whole school community.

TheSchoolBus contains further guidance pertaining to CSE and more general safeguarding issues. Take a look at our Safeguarding topic for further information on how you can address the issues of CSE and safeguarding in school.




DfE (2016) ‘Aycliffe CSE innovation project’, p.10

DfE (2017) ‘Child sexual exploitation’, p.10-22

HM Government (2016) ‘Definition of child sexual exploitation’, p.9

NSPCC (2013) ‘What can schools do to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation?’, p.1-3