About Respectful Relationships in Schools

​​While schools across Victoria have been teaching respectful relationships in their curriculum for many years, this initiative will strengthen their ability to promote and model gender equity in everything they do and support students and staff affected by family violence.

 In the family violence prevention space, the term ‘Respectful Relationships’ has a very specific meaning – the building and promotion of gender equity in relationships, and the challenging of gender stereotypes.

Respectful Relationships is about tackling family violence through education. As part of a staged process, all Victorian schools will be supported to implement a whole school approach. This will include looking at schools’ practices and policies relating to gender and driving meaningful cultural change.  The approach will build a culture of respect and equality in our schools - as learning places and as workplaces that achieve long-term change in the community.

Embedding Respectful Relationships in schools and early childhood settings is key to preventing family violence in the long term.

Why school-based prevention?

Embedding Respectful Relationships in schools and early childhood settings provides a universal platform for change (that is, every child and young person goes to school and would receive the benefits of the initiative).
A whole school approach to Respectful Relationships goes beyond curriculum, recognising that to drive real change, classroom learning needs to be reinforced by what is modelled within the school community.
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, will mean 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 gender equality. Examples of a whole school approach to teaching and learning might include the use of gender equality statistics in maths classes, or analysing changing gender relationships in history or literature studies.

The whole school approach

A whole school approach has to engage with every aspect of the school – it has to be applicable to all students and all school staff members, teaching and non-teaching, but also the other people who come into the school –parents, community educators, school council representatives and others.
It’s often the hardest thing to pin down, but it’s one of the most important aspects of this work. Too often we focus on what we’re telling students, when the reality is, what we teach them in classroom will only influence their behaviour when the key concepts that we teach them, such as respect, equality, gender and consent, are reinforced and modelled formally and informally throughout the rest of the school.

Through a whole school approach, schools will be supported to work through six key domains.

  • Culture and environment
  • Support for Staff and students
  • Community Partnerships
  • Teaching and learning
  • Professional learning strategy
  • School leadership and commitment.

  1. Culture and environment: Structures procedures, policy and values that support gender equity• Reinforcement of violence prevention programming through school policies, structures and processes, but also through the ‘culture’ of the school which is modelled by all members of the school community
  2. School leadership and commitment: Leaders drive school-wide commitment and action to promote gender equality• The shift in culture needs to be led by school leaders who speak about issues around gender and violence with staff and students on a regular basis, model equity in their language, professional practice and decision making. Importantly leaders need to recognize that the school is both an education institution and a workplace and ensure gender equity is modeled in both spaces.• An important component of professional learning is engaging the leadership team- given their role in setting school culture it is important that they feel confident in their understanding of the drivers of violence against women, primary prevention and the whole of school approach. The RREIS project trialed a half day training with leadership staff to ensure shared understanding of the issue and promote the development of plans to support gender equality and respectful relationships in strategic planning.3.
  3. Professional learning strategy: Selected staff and trained to deliver curriculum and all staff engaged in whole of school approach. • It is crucial that professional learning is provided to all staff to raise awareness of Gender Equality and violence against women and the importance of the whole of school approach as a primary prevention strategy. While not all staff will be involved in curriculum delivery, all staff model behavior for students and are part of the gendered workplace. As such it is vital that their ‘gender lens’ is developed and safe spaces are created for them to learn about, reflect on and challenge existing gender norms, and stereotypes.

    For those that will be delivering content substantial professional learning is needed as well as ongoing support

    All staff need to be equipped to respond to disclosures from students and fellow staff- we don’t put pressure on schools or individual staff to counsel students or colleagues so support from local agencies specialist agencies is vital here, however we do need to ensure that if someone does disclose, staff feel they know how to respond and where to refer them to for further support.
  4. Teaching and Learning: Students have skills, knowledge, attitudes to engage in respectful relationshipsEvidence based- age appropriate curriculum is a vital component of respectful relationships education. 
  5. Community Partnerships: Support to school to build long-term, holistic strategies to prevent violence against women
  6. Support for staff and students: Staff and students who experience or perpetrate violence are supported with appropriate response and referral.• There is a wealth of knowledge that sits with specialist services and other organisations in the community.  Strengthening connections between schools and specialist community organisations will not only reinforce messaging around gender equality and the prevention of violence against women, but also help to ensure schools have the connections they need to support staff and/or students who may experience, perpetrate or witness violence and to take action to promote gender equality in their workplace and their classrooms. •

While the focus of respectful relationships education is on primary prevention, consideration needs to be given to responding to disclosures of violence as we have mentioned. Schools may need to support not just in connecting to specialist services but in reviewing/developing policies and procedures to around responding and referring to disclosures. For prevention programming to be sustained, schools need to feel confident that they can respond effectively and have the connections they need to refer staff and students where necessary.

The evidence for Respectful Relationships

Primary prevention of family violence

In the family violence prevention space, the term ‘Respectful Relationships’ has a very specific meaning – the building and promotion of gender equity in relationships, and the challenging of gender stereotypes and attitudes that allow violence to occur. 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. The aim of conceptualising family violence within this model is one of prevention. In prevention there are three tiers of activity – primary prevention, secondary prevention (also known as early intervention), and tertiary prevention (also known as intervention). 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:

  • ​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
  • 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 any program, campaign, policy or other measure that sets 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 and women
  • 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 stating that made clear that for there to be a reduction in rates of violence in the long-term, attitudes and behaviours must change, and schools-based programs and culture can drive this change for young people.

The Beginnings of Change Evaluation report​

What is the Beginnings of Change Evaluation?

A pilot program run through Our Watch, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the Department of Education and Training in 2015 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 (RREiS) project was piloted in 2014-15 as a whole of 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 1,700 teachers and 4,000 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. ​

​​Video transcript​​ (docx - 24.85kb)

What are the findings?

The findings for the Respectful Relationships Education in Schools: The Beginnings of Change 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 gender equity into the cultural makeup of a school means looking beyond the curriculum and taking a whole school approach.  This means going beyond cu​rriculum delivery alone, to create more gender equal and respectful attitudes, behaviours, structures and practices across the school culture.

​Video transcript​ (docx - 24.89kb)

Participating schools

Thank you to all the schools that participated in the 2014-15 pilot program including

  • Yarra Hills Secondary College (two 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