Respectful Relationships Education: Violence prevention and respectful relationships education in Victorian secondary schools

The report Respectful Relationships Education offers a comprehensive overview of best practice in violence prevention education in schools, identifying five principles of best practice. It maps promising programs around Australia and internationally. And it offers directions for advancing the field. The report is relevant beyond this, however, offering indicators of effective practice in violence prevention education which are relevant for a variety of settings and populations.

Some sections of the report focus in particular on issues of interest for those working with men and boys in violence prevention, such as the teaching methods to use and the content to address (pp. 36-43), whether to have mixed-sex or single-sex classes (pp. 47-50), whether curricula should be delivered by teachers or community educators or peers (pp. 52-53), and whether the sex of the educator makes a difference (pp. 53-54).

Note that I have also included the text of a seminar which summarises the report, titled "Advancing the field". These Powerpoint slides offer a succinct summary. I have also pasted below a summary of five key criteria for effective practice.

Suggested citation: Flood, M., L. Fergus, and M. Heenan. (2009). Respectful Relationships Education: Violence prevention and respectful relationships education in Victorian secondary schools. Melbourne: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, State of Victoria.

Criteria for effective practice in respectful relationships education

Five criteria represent the minimum standard for effective violence prevention: (1) A whole-of-school approach; (2) A program framework and logic; (3) Effective curriculum delivery; (4) Relevant, inclusive, and culturally sensitive practice; and (5) Impact evaluation (Flood et al., 2009). See this report for more detail.

These five key elements of best practice are summarised below. Programs which live up to only some of the criteria may be able to have significant positive impacts. But the most effective programs will be those that make strong claims against all five criteria.

 (1) A whole-of-school approach

Programs should be based on a whole-of-school approach, operating across:

  • Curriculum, teaching and learning;
  • School policy and practices;
  • School culture, ethos and environment;
  • The relationships between school, home and the community.

A whole-of-school approach involves;

  • Comprehensive curriculum integration;
  • Assessment and reporting;
    • Standards and accountability systems: Collection of data on students’ outcomes and competencies and on school climate.
  • Specialised training and resources for teaching and support staff;
  • Reinforcement of violence prevention programming through school policies, structures, and processes.

(2) A program framework and logic

Programs should:

  • Incorporate an appropriate theoretical framework for understanding violence, which:
    • Addresses the links between gender, power, and violence, examining violence-supportive constructions of gender and sexuality, and fostering gender-equitable and egalitarian relations.
  • Incorporate a theory of change – an account of the ways in which project content and processes will be used to achieve the project’s intended outcomes.

(3) Effective curriculum delivery

This has four dimensions: content, delivery (teaching methods), structure (duration and intensity, timing, and group composition), and staff (teachers and educators)

a) Curriculum content

Programs should:

  • Be informed by feminist scholarship on violence against girls and women;
  • Address various forms of violence;
  • Target the antecedents to or determinants of violent behaviour;
  • Address not only attitudes but also behaviours, interpersonal relations, and collective and institutional contexts.

b) Curriculum delivery (teaching methods)

Programs should:

  • Be interactive and participatory.
  • Involve the use of quality teaching materials.
  • Address cognitive, affective, and behavioural domains.
  • Be matched to stages of change.
  • Give specific attention to skills development.
  • Respond appropriately to participants’ disclosures of victimisation and perpetration.

c) Curriculum structure

Programs should:

  • Be of sufficient duration and intensity to produce change.
  • Be timed and crafted to suit children’s and young people’s developmental needs, including their developing identities and social and sexual relations.
  • Have clear rationales for their use of single-sex and/or mixed-sex groups, including an understanding of the merits and drawbacks of each.

d) Staff: teachers and educators

Programs should:

  • Be delivered by skilled teachers and/or educators;
    • Supported by resources, training, and ongoing support.
  • Have clear rationales for their use of teachers, community educators, and/or peer educators;
  • Have clear rationales for, or a critical understanding of, their use of female and/or male staff.

(4) Relevant, inclusive, and culturally sensitive practice

Programs should:

  • Be relevant, that is, informed in all cases by knowledge of their target group or population and their local contexts. 
  • Be inclusive and culturally sensitive, embodying these principles in all stages of program design, implementation and evaluation.
  • Involve consultation with representatives or leaders from the population group(s) participating in the program where appropriate.

(5) Impact evaluation

Programs should involve a comprehensive process of evaluation, which at minimum:

  • Reflects the program framework and logic;
  • Includes evaluation of impact or outcomes, through;
    • Pre- and post-intervention assessment.
    • Long-term follow-up.
  • Includes a process for dissemination of program findings in the violence prevention field.

And which ideally includes:

  • The use of standard measures or portions of them;
  • Longitudinal evaluation including lengthy follow-up at six-months or longer;
  • Measures of not only attitudes but also behaviours;
  • Examination of processes of change and their mediators;
  • Experimental or quasi-experimental design incorporating control or comparison schools, students, or groups.