Respectful Relationships whole-school approach

The Respectful Relationships whole-school approach recognises that schools are a workplace, a community hub and a place of learning.

Everyone involved in our school community deserves to be respected, valued and treated equally.

We know that changes in attitudes and behaviours can be achieved when positive attitudes, behaviours and equality are lived across the school community, and when classroom learning is reinforced by what is modelled in our school community.

A whole-school approach

A whole-school approach encourages schools to review their existing procedures and culture to ensure that they model respectful relationships and gender equality practices across the entire school community.

Cultural and procedural change, means schools and their communities look at staff practices, classroom management, school events, sport programs, formals and other occasions, to ensure all aspects of a school’s operation and culture are underpinned by respect and equality.

A whole-school approach to Respectful Relationships recognises that schools are:

  • a workplace where all staff should feel equally respected, safe and valued and have equal opportunities
  • a safe space where young people can learn about gender equality and respectful relationships, in and out of the classroom
  • part of the wider community that can model gender equality and respectful relationships .

A resource kit for schools has been developed to provide schools with strategies and tools to support the implementation of the whole-school approach. For more information, see: Teaching Respectful Relationships.

The evidence for Respectful Relationships

Family violence is complex and multifaceted but research shows that gender inequality is a key driver.

VicHealth, 2007

More than 1 in 3 Australian women aged over 18 has experienced violence since the age of 15 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012). A 2013 VicHealth study found that of Australian young people aged 1624:

  • almost a quarter believe that partner violence can be excused if the person is so angry they lose control
  • only half knew where to get help if they were faced with a problem about violence against women (VicHealth, 2013).

The evidence supporting Respectful Relationships is overwhelming and comes from respected institutions such as the World Health Organisation and The Royal Commission into Family Violence. Helping children develop an understanding of healthy relationships and respect is key to preventing family violence in the future.

In 2014-15, Respectful Relationships education in schools was trialled across 19 schools, reaching 1700 teachers and 4000 students and was found to have had a positive effect on students’ attitudes, knowledge and skills, and school policies, culture and ethos.

The primary prevention of family violence

Respectful Relationships is informed by a public health model. The public health model takes a population approach to management of disease and injury and health promotion.

Respectful Relationships is defined as ‘primary prevention’ according to the public health model. Primary prevention focuses on preventing issues from occurring in the first place by targeting risk factors and social determinants of health through education and legislation.

In the example of family violence, this involves looking at the things that contribute to family violence occurring, and preventing them from happening.

Key underlying determinants and contributing factors in the perpetration of violence against women include:

  • a lack of gender equality e.g. rigid gender roles and identities, weak support for gender equality, masculine organisational cultures and masculine sense of entitlement
  • cultural norms around violence e.g. social norms and practices that are violence-supportive, weak sanctions against violence/violence against women, and previous exposure to violence
  • a lack of access to resources and support systems e.g. support for the privacy and autonomy of the family, unequal distribution of material resources, limited access to systems of support (VicHealth, 2007).

Primary prevention of violence against women therefore includes programs, campaigns, policies or other measures that set out to address these underlying factors and reduce the likelihood that violence against women will take place. Such actions may include strategies that:

  • promote equal and respectful relations between men, women, boys and girls
  • promote non-violent social norms and reduce the effects of prior exposure to violence
  • promote access to resources and systems of support (VicHealth, 2007).

The Royal Commission into Family Violence

The important role that schools and early childhood settings can play in long-term prevention of family violence was highlighted in the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The Royal Commission heard a range of evidence from experts in the field that made clear that for there to be a reduction in rates of violence in the long-term, attitudes and behaviours must change, and school-based programs and culture can drive this change for young people.

The respectful relationships education in schools evaluation report

A pilot program run through Our Watch, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the Department of Education and Training in 201415 showed that the implementation of a whole school approach can lead to a decrease in attitudes that allow violence to occur.

The Respectful Relationships education in schools project was piloted in 201415 as a whole-school approach to respectful relationships education, encompassing classroom learning materials, through to cultural changes in the staffroom and broader school ethos. The pilot program was trialled with 19 schools reaching 1700 teachers and 4000 school students.

The pilot program and its evaluation was conducted in partnership by the Victorian Government and Our Watch, a national organisation that advocates for the prevention of violence against women and their children. This pilot project is one of the first evaluations in Australia examining what works in schools to affect change and promote gender equality, and directly builds on previous education programs in this area that were also pioneered in Victoria.

The findings

The findings for the evaluation trial showed the program had positive impacts on student’s attitudes, knowledge and skills and showed the beginnings of change in school policies, culture and ethos.

The findings also highlighted that to build respect and equity into the cultural makeup of a school means looking beyond the curriculum and taking a whole-school approach. This means going beyond curriculum delivery alone, to create more gender equal and respectful attitudes, behaviours, structures and practices across the school culture.

Pilot schools

Thank you to all the schools that participated in the 201415 pilot program comprising:

  • Yarra Hills Secondary College (2 campuses)
  • Mooroolbark College
  • Croydon Community School
  • Kyneton Secondary College
  • Gisborne Secondary College
  • Maryborough Education Centre
  • Manor Lakes P – 12
  • Keilor Downs College
  • Baden Powell P – 9
  • Alamanda K – 9
  • Aquinas College
  • Marian College
  • Upper Yarra Secondary College
  • Bayswater Secondary College
  • Scoresby Secondary College
  • Macedon Ranges Satellite
  • St Albans Secondary College
  • Hoppers Crossing Secondary College
  • St Joseph’s College, Ferntree Gully.