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We are really grateful this month to have a guest post from Pattie Friend. Pattie has been the ‘Learning to Respect Domestic Violence Education Programme Coordinator’ in the London borough of Hounslow for ten years and has made a phenomenal difference to the lives of young people across the borough. AVA has always highlighted her work as outstanding best practice and in this post, as she prepares to retire, Pattie reflects on the progress made in preventing VAWG and her hopes for the future.

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Ten years ago when I started in the field of domestic violence prevention education with young people, it initially received a welcome but guarded response. A very common concern was that addressing this subject in an educational setting would precipitate an avalanche of disclosures that staff felt ill equipped to deal with. It was therefore important to explore these anxieties with senior managers in schools to ensure that procedures were put in place to enable access to appropriate support should this be the case.

However it was also vital to emphasise that the primary aim of this particular prevention programme (Learning to Respect) was to educate young people about the nature of healthy and abusive relationships, in order to enable them to differentiate between the two. A pilot was held in a primary and secondary school with both producing a scheme of work for pupils. The agreement to participate was facilitated by relating this work to established school practice. The aims of the domestic violence prevention programme has much in common with Personal Social and Health Education themes and Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning themes as well as the government’s Every Child Matters and Healthy Schools agendas of that time. These links were important to establish as schools can suffer from ‘initiative fatigue’ and managers needed to know that staff would understand the relevance and importance of this work. A successful pilot in both schools led to greater willingness to participate and in the first year the programme gained significant momentum.

Ten years on, nearly all schools in the borough have participated, many schools addressing the issue on an annual basis. Every year senior managers in schools send new staff for training and many other schools request repeat training for their entire staff. So the journey from the original two pilot schools to nearly 80 schools illustrates a genuine commitment to domestic violence prevention education. It is also noteworthy that the nature of the work taking place within the curriculum has become more sophisticated as more resources have been developed both locally and nationally.

Another major difference today, is that the context for domestic violence prevention work with young people has expanded significantly. Schools and other educational settings are much more aware of the Child Protection implications of children witnessing domestic violence and this is illustrated by the fact that domestic violence features more robustly in standard child protection training for teachers, increasing awareness and giving the issue a higher profile. The broader Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) agenda has made connections between many forms of gender based violence and this has flagged up schools’ responsibilities to safeguard their pupils as well as opening up curriculum opportunities to view the many aspects of VAWG in a cross-curricular way.

As I leave the local authority to retire, I feel confident that this work will continue because I perceive that educationalists recognise the powerful and influential role they play in children’s lives. I have been increasingly impressed, throughout the last ten years, by teachers’ commitment to so many issues affecting the well-being of young people and in particular domestic violence.

Pattie Friend