Introducing a bystander intervention programme alongside other whole-school approaches.
When the approach was introduced, a lot of pupils initially felt either defensive or cynical with regard to the programme, or in some cases, both. The focus on listening and pupil involvement outlined above proved vital in engaging wider cooperation and a sense of ownership.
However, pupil feedback improved. For example, timetabling a regular session to explore these topics was seen as an indication of the school’s values. One pupil said “the fact that the school is prepared to dedicate this much timetabled time to these lessons sends a clear message about how important they believe this is – that in itself shifts social norms”.
As the course of sixth form lessons unfolded, some pupils were initially very judgemental when boys voiced uncertainty about why sexism and sexual harassment were such a problem – these pupils wanted to shut down such comments as they felt the boys were being insensitive and should be punished. By the end of the course, most of the participants had realised the importance of the lessons being a safe space for communication in which all comments were heard and then discussed; it was absolutely okay to say why a comment was hurtful, but not to dismiss the person making the comment (only deliberately disrespectful comments would have been punished, which was made clear, but actually this did not prove necessary).
Retrospectively, it would have been good to place greater emphasise the value of this open communication from the very start, and to have reminded pupils more frequently that stimulating defensiveness prevents culture change.
Some indicators that the programme has been useful:
- Increased reporting of harmful behaviour as awareness and trust grows, including boys coming forward with concerns about their own previous behaviour. (If trends are monitored over several years, these reports should then decrease in number if the programme is effective).
- Comments such as “no-one would dream of making a rape joke now”.
- The willingness of more than 15 per cent of the sixth formers to actively involve themselves in teaching (carefully chosen) aspects of the bystander intervention approach to younger years (with staff supervision and facilitation).
Top tips devised by Dr Vicky Stubbs, consultant, speaker and trainer for RSE and PSHE in schools. Winner of the Sex Education Forum’s Educator of the Year (Innovation) for bystander intervention work, one of the DfE’s Expert Teachers working on new guidance in 2022, and author, in collaboration with NHS consultants and a graphics team, of teaching resources for a new testicular health website educational resources.
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