There has been a push from psychologists, educators and those affected by family and domestic violence for schools to start educating children about it from an early age. IE Journalist Alex Leggett takes a look at how teachers and principals are able to deal with the challenge of teaching respectful relationships from school age and why there is a renewed push for its inclusion in the Australian Curriculum.
Education may be the key to breaking the cycle of domestic and family violence from an early age. Experts from a range of backgrounds are warning that children in the playground who appear fearful or withdrawn could be victims of domestic abuse, resulting in poor behaviour and performance at school.
Dr Phil Lambert, General Manager of Curriculum at the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), believes while health and physical education content covers teaching respectful relationships, more can be done to develop positive behaviours and attitudes from an early age.
“The content allows for domestic violence issues to be taught as appropriate. We also have the general capability of personal and social responsibility which allows for teaching of domestic violence matters,” Dr Lambert said.
“Various agencies and non government organisations that work in the area of bullying and domestic violence have told us the content and the general capability focus provides a strong basis for addressing these matters in schools in addition to their resources and support services.”
Dr Lambert said the important thing for people to understand is that within the curriculum there are opportunities to address a number of social issues such as family violence.
“Schools are very important places because it’s where we actually have society at its earliest stage, so primary prevention is very important.”
“When we know there’s a major issue in society, the way to resolve it early is to educate and develop understanding and skills around changing behaviour and attitudes, particularly those of young boys and men.”
The existing curriculum
Dr Lambert believes the current curriculum enables teachers and principals to address the issues of family and domestic violence as there are high level influential programs and initiatives already in place at schools.
“We are on a real trajectory of change and schools play a very important part in teaching these behaviours and attitudes.”
As reported in The Australian, NSW schools have committed to tackling the issue in their lessons from early 2016 following a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting with Australian of the Year and domestic violence against women campaigner, Rosie Batty, the Prime Minister and NSW Premier.
The meeting resulted in a positive announcement of a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to domestic violence and it will be a compulsory part of the NSW curriculum.
Other states and territories have said they will look at making the changes suggested by Ms Batty by including respectful relationship lessons in schools to stop violence against women.
“I was delighted to have had this opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister, the Premiers and Chief Ministers, all of whom agree with me that family violence is at the very top of the list of challenges facing this country,” she said.
“I was able to give them the message that ending family violence is not just a crusade being carried out by a few of us, but it is supported by thousands more.
“The issue of family violence is complex and needs many different responses, but I talked about the need to start at the very beginning, where attitudes and behaviours are first formed and shaped.”
White Ribbon initiatives
Since 2008, Dr Lambert has been contributing to the work of White Ribbon as an ambassador campaigning for an end to men’s violence against women.
“I’ve represented White Ribbon in different ways and helped co design the Breaking the Silence in Schools program, which has been highly successful,” he said.
“We started in a group of schools in the Sydney region, and that has grown quite dramatically to Victoria, Tasmania and other states.”
To date, Breaking the Silence has reached over 200 schools and more than 110,000 students nationally.
Dr Lambert agrees that in terms of respectful relationships between boys and girls, or men and women, there are many circumstances related to partners that are also likely to be followed later in life with future partners.
“There are some young people who come into school with pre established beliefs about their own power and authority and that of others – and in this case we are talking about gender,” he said.
“The role you play as a teacher or as principal of a school is about equity. You not only seek that from young people but you also model that yourself by the way you run the school.
“I’ve seen it in various ways over the years, and I’ve seen some tremendous programs implemented to really make young boys and men understand their responsibilities and their own behaviours. These responsibilities mean as a friend, colleague, a member of a group, and as an onlooker as much as a participant.”