Barbara Altounyan on the battle to prove that sexual assaults in schools are widespread.

Kids behaving badly
Flame TV for BBC Panorama
The challenge To unravel the terrifying and growing problem of inappropriate sexual behaviour in British schools

Our film started last summer when the daughter of a friend of mine was shocked to read a regular school newsletter explaining how a 15-year-old girl in the school had been forced to give oral sex to a gang of boys when she was cornered in a chemistry classroom.

A shocking act of aggression or just a one-off? At Flame TV we started to investigate. The police couldn't give us any statistics about sexual attacks in schools, saying no such collation of incidents had ever been recorded or, indeed, ever requested in the UK before. The same went for the Department of Education. I started to think that my friend's experience was perhaps an isolated incident.

But we all had a hunch that this was a story worth telling and our determination to make the film kicked in. Our development team, headed by Yasmin Pasha, just kept on digging. Our research started to throw up the odd “short” in local newspapers: an alleged rape case at a school in Croydon, a school sex attack in a leafy suburb, a sex scandal in a public school.

We knew we were onto something important but needed a commission to take the story much further. None of the channels we approached were interested. “Barbara, you know we want shock docs or films with happy endings,” was a typical response.

Then we met up with BBC News and Current Affairs commissioning editors Ingrid Geser and Eamon Hardy. At last someone was interested. It coincided with the discovery of an important new piece of information buried in government statistics. We double- checked the figures and found out that 19 schoolchildren were excluded in Britain every single school day in 2007 for sexual misconduct ... now we had our clinching evidence.

It was just as well that we had a strong team working with us because our editorial problems were only just beginning. How were we going to persuade enough victims and their parents to take part? What's more, how do you make a programme when most people in the film had to be anonymous for good legal reasons? The card up our sleeve was the appointment of director Terry Tyldesley who, against the clock, managed to devise evocative and innovative sequences which gave our film genuine drama, sensitivity and thundering editorial credibility.

When I watched our completed film, I knew we'd made something worth fighting for. I was so proud of Flame's commitment to good old-fashioned journalism.
Panorama Kids Behaving Badly aired on 5 January at 8.30pm on BBC1.