This year kicked off with a spotlight on teaching respectful relationships and consent education in school, writes IEU VicTas Assistant Secretary Cathy Hickey. Here’s how two Victorian schools approach it.
Australia got a wake-up call about sexual assault through an online petition, launched in March 2021, calling for consent education to be taught at a younger age. Organised by former Sydney school student Chanel Contos, 22, the petition has so far garnered more than 40,000 signatures and 6200 testimonies.
While schools and systems across Australia use a number of programs and resources, the Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, has recently called for a nationwide rollout of the respectful relationships program run in many Victorian schools. He has also mandated consent education in Victorian government schools.
Several reviews of current programs are also underway. The review of the Australian Curriculum being undertaken by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is examining whether consent needs greater emphasis. The Queensland Government has also committed to review its Prep to Year 12 Respectful Relationships Education Program.
Here we take a look at the work taking place in this area in two non-government schools: Kingswood College in Box Hill, Victoria; and Sacred Heart Primary School, Diamond Creek. They share their approaches to embedding respectful relationships in their school’s learning programs.
Consent and the national debate
Our Kingswood College authors sum up the nation’s challenge succinctly.
“Unfortunately, a glance at any media source in Australia will confirm that there is an ongoing national crisis in gender relations and family violence, despite what positive relationships we might enjoy in our own workplaces and families,” they said.
“A royal commission into family violence and another into institutional responses to child sexual abuse demonstrate the depth of the issues which face students, their families and educators alike.
“While women continue to die at the hands of intimate partners or ex-partners – and the statistics for women who have suffered abuse, sexual assault or sexual harassment remain as high as they currently are – we must assume that educators and students are living with the current or historical impacts of these crimes. That makes the teaching of this kind of content extremely sensitive. It also makes development of the skills in the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships [RRRR] curriculum an imperative.
“Often, as a wellbeing educator, one might reflect on the challenge of engaging in this kind of teaching. It only takes a look at the ‘milkshake video’, now removed from the Australian Government’s The Good Society website, to see the myriad ways the conversation can be derailed.”
The national conversation about consent is the latest reminder that students’ access to a robust, clear, appropriate, inclusive and safe curriculum – one that equips them for mutually respectful interactions and purposeful participation in school and wider communities – is paramount.
Staffing, planning, programming and pedagogy may present all manner of problems for school leaders, teachers and support staff, but it is useful to be reminded that what we are doing when we work with students to develop their respectful relationships competencies is an incredible privilege.”