Start the Conversation

Southend Start The Conversation Project (SSTC) is the culmination of 4 years work to bring effective Domestic Abuse Awareness sessions into Secondary Schools. SSTC was funded by the Southend Success for All Children Group. The funding was awarded to Blade Education (BE) to offer free domestic abuse awareness sessions to secondary school students in the borough to introduce and educate them on how the English legal system handles the crime of domestic abuse and what to do if it should ever touch your life.

These sessions use real life case histories and advice given by multi-agency professionals including police officers and lawyers to introduce the idea that consistent violence at home between adults, whether physical or mental, is not socially or legally acceptable.  The funding was awarded to make these sessions available to the 12 state funded secondary schools in Southend-on-Sea. 

Many domestic abuse victims that were consulted during the making of SSTC thought that being abused was normal and something they need to just accept.

One of the main aims of this project is the idea that no one should ever think that domestic abuse is acceptable.  These lessons are aimed at helping to reach those that believe abuse is acceptable because they have never known anything different. Unsafe home lives ruins prospects and people as influential as Theresa May have stated that “Education must also play a role in discouraging violent and abusive behaviour.”

Schools maintain a statutory obligation under the Children Act  to promote their pupils’ wellbeing and Sex and Relationship Education is crucial to meeting schools’ safeguarding obligations. OFSTED is clear that schools must have a preventative programme that enables pupils to learn about safety and risks in relationships - we believe that should also cover how children can recognise and report potential abuse within their family relationships.   

We know that all safeguarding issues are sensitive and there is still much debate on what should be expected from schools.  However, evidence published by Manchester University in January 2013 suggests that early intervention is crucial to changing attitudes to domestic abuse because schools have sustained and continued access to families that other organisations can only dream of.

From working with schools for over 8 years we understand that each of them is an individual institution that has its own priorities and has to be approached in a way that recognises that the primary focus is the education of their pupils in the statutory areas that are set by OFSTED.

Shoeburyness High School invited us to provide all the sessions from the project for all their year 9s.  It is worth noting that this is the only school in the Borough that showed a clear and open public commitment to PSHE when dealing with SSTC.

In order to fit in with the main focus of curriculum teaching, we agreed with Shoeburyness High School to hold the SSTC sessions during the Autumn term. 233 year 9 students from Shoeburyness High School took part in the unique domestic abuse awareness lessons and overall the responses from staff and students were positive. The lessons are part based around specially produced information films that were made in consultation with over 400 professionals and community members, including victims, police, parents, educators and children.

The films are all age appropriate, do not use shocking images or language and give pupils an example of domestic abuse and shows them what they need to know in terms of the law around domestic abuse and getting help for themselves or someone else.

During the lessons pupils are asked to think how the project could be improved. This allows everyone taking part to actively think about what they have seen and heard in a constructive manner that improves their understanding of the subject over a method that would simply present the issue and not discuss the implications.

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By bringing the pupils into the process and engaging them with the subject, the project aimed to show that domestic abuse awareness can be taught in the classroom and will not traumatise pupils and that with the right resources helping all children to understand what domestic abuse is, that it is a criminal act, and that there is help available is far from impossible.

At the start of each session every pupil was asked to fill in a questionnaire about what they knew about domestic abuse. Once the session was concluded they were asked to complete a similar questionnaire. The results were very encouraging.

Of the 233 Year 9 pupils taking part we received 207 valid pairs of questionnaires returned.

Before the SSTC sessions 24% of the Year 9 pupils had not heard of domestic abuse and 55% of the 207 did not understand what is was.
 

Following the sessions the data told us that 99% - 205 of the 207 now understand what domestic abuse is, 99% know more about domestic abuse than they did before the awareness training.
Additionally before the sessions 32% of pupils did not think domestic abuse was a criminal offence and after the sessions this fell to 1.4%.

These figures are very encouraging for the effectiveness of SSTC.  After more consultation with Karen Andrews and her staff, we want to continue this partnership into next year and are seeking funding to make this possible.

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