Posted on March 11, 2021 / From our Principal
The harrowing reports in recent weeks of historic assaults in Sydney and Canberra have been very difficult to read and I am sure that Tintern is not the only school to be looking very carefully at how and when we educate our young women and men around consent and respect in relationships of all types and at all ages.
The developing group of women who have come forward to volunteer their stories of sexual assault or misconduct in the offices of the Australian government in Canberra and the parallel set of allegations developing around Sydney independent schools speak of clearly illegal and appalling conduct. It may be that for you the cases in Sydney speak more loudly, as they do to me as a Principal and as a parent. As presented these involved young men who appeared not to understand, or disregarded, the concept of consent, and women under the age of 18, who were coerced into these situations and did not feel they had the agency or authority to say no when they wanted to. A set of factors that are devastating for any parent to contemplate.
While currently we have had no such events reported at Tintern, it would be naive to think that it could never happen to students at our school. While I sincerely hope any current or past student who may have experienced any similar experience would seriously consider coming forward to report it, and hopefully do so, the evidence is clear that this often does not happen. I absolutely offer all our students or parents private and caring support if you have an important conversation to have and I urge you to feel confident to come forward. We must all be willing to face our own reality and history in this fraught area.
At this time, Tintern students, and parents of both boys and girls should (quite rightfully) be asking “What are we doing in this area at our school?”. Tintern has a number of programs and activities that operate from Year 7 onwards. They are a combination of the teaching curriculum, co- and extra-curricular education and our pastoral program, and a mixture of explicit and implicit education. So, I am confident that we have an age and stage appropriate trajectory from Year 7 onwards. It addresses respect in relationships, what consent really means, how to say no when you want to, and what your rights are if you feel they have been infringed upon. For younger students this is in appropriate contexts and the education grows with every child.
This is accompanied in senior years by examinations of the influence of pornography, social media use and other critical elements of modern life, and to do this, we also draw on a variety of external speakers and providers. While I am certain that it is a well-constructed, appropriately directed and gender/age/stage appropriate set of experiences, is it enough? Currently, the evidence across Australian society provides an overwhelming “No, it is not”. If we want to lead the agenda in schools and society, we need to review and improve what we do. We need to see how we can generate better engagement and understanding, support the development of greater empathy and awareness of self and others, and how to activate a broader compassion than all these events indicate is currently embedded in our society – and this starts with schools and families.
Last Tuesday, our secondary students had our House Swimming Carnivals – girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon. In the half day of no swimming, each group participated in several pastoral activities discussing, investigating, and provoking thoughts on decency in adulthood, respect, responsibility, compassion (and on consent). At the start of the day for each gender, I gave a short presentation emphasising the critical importance of the issue of consent for all of us, and that we are absolutely committed to working in a focussed way over the course of 2021, and beyond, on all our students’ understanding of consent, respect, and relationships and how that guides behaviour and action. This is a challenge we simply must take up.
You may find these links as informative and interesting as I did.
factis non verbis