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The Whole School Approach and a Toolkit for Change

by Zoe Gray, Gender-based Violence Prevention Specialist

You can access the refreshed and improved Toolkit, here.

There is consensus amongst practitioners and policy makers that a Whole School Approach (WSA) to preventing gender-based violence (GBV) is the right approach. There is less agreement, however, about what a WSA looks like and how it can be applied in practice. This toolkit aims to provide schools with an evidence-based blueprint for change. 

AVA’s model, refreshed and reimagined, will support schools to create more equal and safer learning environments for students and staff alike. Having led the delivery of a WSA in several schools I understand the pressures faced by staff and the scale of the crisis. Gender inequality and abuse have become normalised – so commonplace that children told Ofsted they see ‘no point’ in reporting.  

What schools need 

In developing the toolkit we have thought carefully about what schools need to implement a WSA. If you have to persuade colleagues to commit to action, we’ve set out a strong case to make. If you want to learn more about GBV and how to talk to young people about it, you can use the toolkit as a resource. If you aspire to train staff, involve young people, engage parents and carers, and partner with local experts – the toolkit is here to guide you. 

Schools are sometimes overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, the complexity of the issues and the sensitivity required to deliver this work effectively. Having spent the last few weeks unpicking these challenges for this project I can relate! I hope this toolkit provides schools with the clarity and direction they need to implement an equitable WSA that delivers lasting impact. 

Emerging and recurring themes 

Through this process certain themes have emerged I think are worth reflecting on and repeating here: 

  • Children and young people can’t learn if they don’t feel safe and it is the responsibility of adults to keep children safe in education. 

  • A WSA is anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist and trans-inclusive. Black and global majority young people are not being safeguarded equally, compared to their white peers. The RSE curriculum, as taught by a majority of schools, excludes LGBTQIA+ young people and is not accessible enough to students with special educational needs and disabilities. AVA’s WSA model deliberately and necessarily centres racialised and marginalised young people. 

  • Taking care of the wellbeing of students includes taking care of the wellbeing of staff. Unless staff are given the time, training, resources and support they need to do this work, it risks being delivered poorly or not at all. 

  • We need to be talking to boys and young men about these issues. Gender inequality serves no-one, not least young men. Rethinking masculinities enables them to be agents of change. 

  • It is never too early to start having these conversations. It is critical we teach the building blocks of healthy relationships to children as soon as they enter education. Each and every topic can be made age- and stage-appropriate. 

  • Schools should make the WSA their own. A WSA should be culturally responsive and rooted in the community. Schools should identify their priorities with input from young people.  

  • If young people feel safe to talk, we can support them to be safe. Staff report feeling under-confident to teach RSE but it is, at its core, a listening exercise. You don’t need to know everything or have all the answers, you just need to create space for young people to explore their feelings and how they relate to others. 

  • Children and young people exist outside of their homes and outside of school. The places they spend time, and the people they spend it with, will affect how they relate to and experience risk. 

  • The sector is diversifying and innovating. There has been an influx of organisations that specialise in inclusive RSE and equalities work, some of them youth-led. Schools should be active in identifying and reaching out to these providers. 

  • There is work to do but there are also quick wins to be made. Consistently challenging discriminatory language in the classroom is a good place to start. More widely, new RSE guidance is due for completion at the end of this year. We need to be vigilant against claims that ‘inappropriate content’ is being taught in schools. 

And lastly, young people are powerful! And they are resilient, which is why I remain hopeful.  

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