Curriculum connections

Respect matters

The Respect Matters curriculum connection supports teachers to address respectful relationships and consent education through the curriculum schools are already delivering. This resource acknowledges that respectful relationships education can be delivered in a range of ways and will occur within programs, policies and processes that are currently in place in schools across the country.

This curriculum connection shows how content from across the Australian Curriculum learning areas and general capabilities can be organised to deliver respectful relationships education. The curriculum links are age appropriate and can be used flexibly by schools and teachers to support student learning about respect and respectful relationships. To maximise the effectiveness of education about how and why respect matters, learning should be developmentally appropriate, planned, sequential, have clear and specific links to curriculum and be reinforced through everyday interactions.

Respect and respectful relationships are important for a cohesive Australian society. Schools play a vital role in educating students about relationships in positive, strengths-based ways. Education provides an opportunity for children and young people to develop and reflect on knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that relate to respect, inclusion and power. Schools can help students to understand right and wrong and support them to have respect for themselves and others. The Australian Curriculum provides a variety of opportunities to support this learning.

Children and young people form beliefs from the world around them and the values and traditions of their families and communities. What they hear, see, talk about and experience from a young age shapes their view of the world. It is important that all children and young people experience and learn from positive influences where they live, learn, work, and socialise. Schools support students to develop respectful relationships with family, friends and important people in their lives. This education can also support the primary prevention of domestic and family violence by educating young people about respectful relationships and helping them to develop protective behaviours and resilience.

The Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (HPE) is the main curriculum area for addressing respectful relationships education.  Content about respectful relationships and consent is in the Personal, Social and Community Health strand through the focus area: Relationships and Sexuality. This focus area includes content about respectful relationships, including negotiating consent, managing relationships online and offline, and dealing with relationships when there is an imbalance of power.

Students learn about establishing and managing respectful relationships and how power imbalances within a relationship can create a dynamic where coercion, intimidation and manipulation can occur leading to non-consensual or inappropriate behaviour. They also learn to develop positive practices in relation to their reproductive and sexual health which includes aspects associated with sexual consent.

In the focus area: Relationships and Sexuality in the Australian Curriculum: HPE, students from Year 3 to Year 10 should learn about matters such as:

  • standing up for themselves
  • establishing and managing changing relationships (offline and online)
  • strategies for dealing with relationships when there is an imbalance of power (including seeking help or leaving the relationship)
  • managing the physical, social and emotional changes that occur during puberty
  • practices that support reproductive and sexual health (contraception, negotiating consent, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses)
  • celebrating and respecting difference and diversity in individuals and communities.

Some of the key skills that students need to develop in order to develop and maintain respectful relationships and effectively negotiate consent are communication and assertiveness skills. These skills are specifically taught through the HPE curriculum. They are also reinforced through other learning areas and through the development of the Personal and Social capability.

The Ethical Understanding general capability in the Australian Curriculum also supports students to build a strong personal and socially oriented ethical outlook that helps them to develop an awareness of the influence that their values and behaviour have on others. They develop an understanding of their rights and responsibilities and learn to evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of actions in a range of age-appropriate scenarios.

Consent is also an important factor when it comes to the use of digital technology and in particular social media. Consent is particularly important in relation to the sharing of intimate images. Online and digital safety is taught in HPE through the Safety focus area, as well as in the Digital Technologies curriculum. The Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies has a significant role in developing digital literacy in young people and provides opportunities for students to learn about and work with traditional and emerging technologies that shape the world in which we live.

Four dimensions of respectful relationships are used as organisers to identify connections across the Australian Curriculum:

  • Understanding and respecting ourselves and one another
  • Developing effective relationship skills
  • Identifying and evaluating options
  • Taking respectful action.

These dimensions have been developed in consultation with Education Services Australia and the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

Understanding and respecting ourselves and one another

Young people need to be able to understand the concept of respect and put it into practice when engaging in relationships. Respect is about treating people fairly, recognising and appreciating the differences between people, considering their preferences and acknowledging the rights of others. Respect is also important in developing a student’s sense of self, as students’ relationships are central to the formation of their identity.

Through the curriculum, students develop an understanding of how individual, cultural and group identities are formed, and how they are influenced by things such as where people come from, what they believe in, who they relate to, how they belong, how they behave and what they do. Students recognise and understand strengths and positive qualities in themselves, their community and others. They explore human rights and values, challenge stereotypes and expectations, develop respect for diversity and consider how they view and position others.

Developing effective relationship skills

The ability to build, manage and sustain respectful relationships requires personal and social skills and emotional intelligence.

Through the curriculum, students develop knowledge about the nature of relationships, both face-to-face and online, practice their communication, negotiation, assertiveness and conflict resolution skills, build resilience and empathy and consider rights and responsibilities of themselves and the people they are interacting with. Students develop skills to build and sustain respectful relationships.

Identifying and evaluating options

Maintaining respectful relationships requires students to identify, gather and sort information and ideas, evaluate this information and make informed choices.

Through the curriculum, students learn about freedom, compassion, inclusiveness, power inequalities, assumptions, diversity and social justice as they consider personal, social, political and ethical dilemmas in developmentally and culturally appropriate ways. This knowledge supports students’ critical thinking and creative problem solving and enables them to set boundaries and use solution focused thinking. Understanding contextual factors that influence decision making, behaviours and actions provides a foundation for asking relevant questions, seeking help and support, building resilience and managing stress. In this way, students are able to consider context, critically reflect on their own choices, distinguish fact from opinion, consider alternatives and generate responses to keep themselves and others happy and safe.

Taking respectful action

Relationships can be strengthened when students take respectful and safe action, both as individuals and in groups, to protect, enhance and advocate for themselves and others. “The wellbeing of children and young people is enhanced and their learning outcomes optimised when they feel connected to others and experience safe and trusting relationships” (Education Services Australia 2018, Australian Student Wellbeing Framework).

Student confidence increases as they learn when and how to use strategies to manage themselves in a range of situations and take responsibility for respectful interactions with others. Students understand and use processes to make decisions and reflect on their own roles in taking ethical and respectful action. They transfer their learning into new contexts including with peers, family, their community and online. Within education settings, taking respectful action is considered central to fostering community engagement and trust between all members of the school community.

Teaching about respectful relationships and consent requires intentional planning and explicit teaching to help educators create safe and inclusive learning environments. It is important that questions can be asked, and ideas and opinions can be shared and discussed without fear of judgement or silencing. Setting classroom agreements about such things as active listening and using respectful language can help to create a safe and respectful learning environment.

Reflecting on relationships can be personally challenging and may evoke feelings of distress in some teachers and students. It is important to respect students’ right to not engage in some discussions. Schools will have policies and procedures in place to support students and educators about dealing with sensitive issues. Schools make use of their school referral processes and are aware of mandatory reporting requirements and legal procedures for dealing with disclosures of abusive situations.

Resources from states and territories

PDHPE Teacher Toolkit: Prevention of Domestic Violence – New South Wales

Respectful relationships education program - Queensland

Keeping Safe: Child Protection Curriculum – South Australia

Respectful Relationships Teaching and Learning package – Tasmania

Resilience, rights and respectful relationships – Victoria

Building Respectful Relationships - Victoria

Growing and developing healthy relationships – Western Australia

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