Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said allegations of sexual abuse made by schoolchildren on a website were “appalling and reprehensible”.
He added that no school should be a place where “young people feel unsafe” or abuse may occur.
Williamson pledged to take “appropriate action” and urged victims to tell someone they trusted.
The “Everyone is invited” website has recorded 8,000 testimonies of sexual assault from students.
The site was set up last year as a place where victims could post anonymous accounts of the abuse they had suffered.
Several accounts describe allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence against young women by young men in school, college or university with them, or who belong to the same social groups.
Independent schools such as Highgate School and Dulwich College are among those that have said they will take action after the allegations posted online, but the site’s founder, Soma Sarah, said the “rape culture” was a problem for all schools.
“No school – be it a charter school or a public school – should be an environment in which young people feel insecure, let alone a place where sexual assault can occur,” Williamson said on Twitter.
He added, “The allegations I have heard in recent days are appalling and reprehensible.”
He said that any victim of these “disgusting acts” should raise their fear with someone they trust, such as a teacher, a family member or the police. “We will take appropriate action,” he said.
A government spokesman said they were very concerned about the “large” number of allegations.
The spokesman said that most schools, colleges and universities take protection responsibilities very seriously, but it was “especially shocking” to hear these allegations about places of education “where everyone should feel safe and protected.”
The government said the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior and the Council of Chiefs of National Police are in contact with the “Everyone is Called” website to provide support, protection and advice.
Police and the government also said that a helpline would be set up to allow victims to receive support.
Robert Havon, Chairman of the House of Commons Education Selection Committee, called for a “full independent investigation to find out why so many students suffer from sexual assault and harassment.”
“There has to be an investigation and it has to go very quickly,” said Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer. “This is dangerous.”
He also called for “a cultural change in terms of behavior in our schools and our youth, but also in the respect that is shown in particular to women and girls.”
‘Normalization’ of harassment
Sara told the BBC that the allegations on the site include “sexual harassment, groping at a Christmas party, image-based abuse, revenge pornography, dissatisfied sharing of intimate images – and public sexism and misogyny.”
“These are stories of rape culture – that is, where abnormal behavior is normalized,” she said.
The anonymous testimonies listed on the site do not reveal the identity of the students or their attackers, but several schools have been named.
Highgate School, one of the private schools included in the allegations, says it is launching “an immediate external review of allegations of sexual harassment and assault” and “is working on a plan to combat sexual discrimination.”
“The behavior described is distressing and totally unacceptable,” said Joe Spence, principal of the Dulwich School. “We are meeting with the victims to hear their experiences and concerns, and we will take action on them.”
The site initially drew attention to private schools, particularly in London, but the 22-year-old said it was a result of her own background – and that the range of degrees, from both public and private schools, showed that this was a much broader problem.
However, many of the incidents that were listed occurred outside the school or university.
Paul Whitman, leader of the National Association of School Principals, said that as school leaders we “have to ask ourselves what more can we do to prevent sexual harassment and violence” – but said, “This is a problem that goes far beyond the school gates.”
Norfolk Police Chief Simon Bailey blamed “the volume of pornography being consumed”.
“There is erosion in the understanding of the normal form of sexual relations,” said the National Police Chiefs Council, which leads child protection.