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 evidenc​​e for Respectful Relationships 

"Family violence is c​omplex and multifaceted but research shows that gender inequality is a key driver" (VicHealth, 2007)

More than one in three 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 16-24:

  • Almost a quarter of 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 Commis​sion 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 2014-15 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 2014-15 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.​

Video transcript

Respectful Relationships video transcript

Respectful relationship is about tackling family violence through education.

We asked teachers and students for their thoughts on Respectful Relationships education…

Sue McGowan, Teacher, Manor Lakes P-12 College

‘It’s about society and what we’re finding out in society that is not acceptable anymore, gender inequality and violence against women.

And what we’re saying is that we need to educate our boys and girls early and in class where it is a safe and positive environment about what they are entitled to and capable of and what legally they should be aware of.’

Leah, Year 9 Student, Manor Lakes P-12 College

‘The program definitely opened my eyes to how much men and women need to be treated equally because I never thought about it on that large of a scale. It doesn’t matter how you act or how you look you should still be treated the same’

Ruby, student, Canterbury Primary School

‘Gender equality means that no matter if we’re male or female that we should be treated equally because we’re all human so we all deserve the same respect. It just makes me feel happy and when people are being mean, you just shouldn’t be mean it’s not the right thing to do and it’s good to be nice and caring.’

Gina Di Stefano, Teacher, St Josephs College

‘It was amazing seeing how engaged and involved they were with the topic.

They’re certainly not conversations they’d normally have, they’d speak about the weekend and footy or sport or whatever that they all those different things they do on the weekend but they never really chat about this sort of stuff which also

I think brought them closer together.

We could say to the students if they came in and there was an altercation You’ve done the respectful relationships course. What have you done here? Oh yeah, I didn’t value his opinion and I cut him down and I made him feel like this when I should have done that.

So we’ve been able to tap into it, a lot.’

In our class we’ve become a lot more respectful towards each other, we don’t tease each other as much and we usually help each other out

What we found was even that even though we have respectful relationships and we promote it and we don’t allow disrespectful relationships to occur when it wasn’t being discussed or being pointed out as gender inequality, the students weren’t aware of it.

Zoe Student, Manor Lakes P to 12 College

‘Since this unit I have seen more inequality than I had before because previously we were asked how do you feel about the community and even the school and I would say I don’t think we have a problem with it I think everything’s fine and I never felt like that. but then after learning it and learning about all the different kinds of violence you realise how much there actually is and how much inequality there really is.’

Gina Di Stefano, Teacher, St Josephs College

‘One particular student comes to mind. He’s actually got this new found confidence

to call out inappropriate behaviour. We spoke a lot about this sort of idea of

the power imbalance with gender, now I think he’s kind of actually been empowered

by that whole conversation to now speak up when he sees something.

Ruby, student, Canterbury Primary School

‘I don’t think there’s any difference between boys and girls so there’s no reason why for example boys should get treated better than girls or girls getting treated better than boys they should both be treated equally.’

Sue McGowan, Teacher, Manor Lakes P-12 College

What we discovered from a cultural point of view within our college we believed that respectful relationships was an area that was a strength of ours. However what we found was we didn’t necessarily talk about it from gender inequality. And so what we tried to do was bring that to the forefront of everyone’s thoughts and minds and what we found was that there was lots of information available to our staff but not accessible so things such as policies or how to follow procedures if someone was to disclose violence against them. What we did was made that accessible and being modelled by our staff.

Joseph Dykes Teacher Canterbury Primary School

‘They feel safer and ultimately it leads to better student outcomes everyone enjoys their time at the school more and it leads to a better environment that the students are happier to learn in and enjoy learning. ‘

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 cu​rriculum delivery alone, to create more gender equal and respectful attitudes, behaviours, structures and practices across the school culture.

Video transcript

Respectful Relationships video transcript  Student interview

Respectful relationships education

Zoe Student, Manor Lakes P to 12 College

‘Since this unit I have seen more inequality than I had before because previously we were asked how do you feel about the community and even the school and I would say I don’t think we have a problem with it.

I think everything’s fine and I never felt like that,  but then after learning it and learning about all the different kinds of violence  you realise how much there actually is and how much inequality there really is.

Before the class we would set ground rules like you don’t say this you don’t say that and it really made you feel comfortable to talk about whatever was going on with you and even if there were people in the class that you didn’t necessarily get along with you felt like you could trust them to not go whispering about whatever you would say and it was really really good, it was very comfortable environment’

Video transcript

Respectful Relationships video transcript

Teacher interviews

Joseph Dykes Teacher Canterbury Primary School:  ‘Once you create a really good sense of community and you create a safe place and you start to work at it a little while then the walls start to come down and they become a really valuable lessons for the students.

They’re more comfortable in a classroom they feel safer and ultimately it leads to better student outcomes’

Gina Di Stefano Teacher St Joseph’s Collage: ‘Obviously if this keeps following through as they continue their education right up to year twelve every year that builds on a change in the culture of the school. We can only imagine as this teaching keeps going through the curriculum right up to year twelve, every year it’s going to have an impact’

​​​Pilot 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