The Respectful Relationships program supports schools and early childhood settings to promote and model respect, positive attitudes and behaviours. It teaches our children how to build healthy relationships, resilience and confidence.
Delivering the initiative
We are implementing Respectful Relationships across Victorian schools and early childhood services through:
- a lead and partner schools initiative, providing intensive training and support to over 1950 government, Catholic and independent schools to implement the whole school approach to Respectful Relationships.
- the resilience, rights and respectful relationships teaching materials for Foundation to Year 12.
- a professional development program for early childhood educators.
- a regional Respectful Relationships workforce to support schools and early childhood education settings to implement respectful relationships education and strengthen referral and response to family violence.
Evaluation and Progress
The department engaged ACIL Allen to evaluate the state-wide Respectful Relationships initiative. Two phases are complete: Phase 1 from 2017 – 18 and Phase 2 from 2019 – 21.
What Respectful Relationships is
What is respectful relationships?
Rosie Batty CEO Luke Batty Foundation ‘Respectful Relationships education to me is actually modelling respect. But it’s not a teacher teaching it, it’s actually a whole school modelling it.’
Sally Wilson, Health Curriculum Specialist, VCAA ‘ As educators we have the most contact with young people in the most formative years of their life.’
Mary Barry CEO Our Watch ‘We believe that gender inequality is the core of the problem and it’s the heart of the solution, and schools can certainly level the playing field and have gender equality taught at schools, practiced at schools and ingrained in their culture and their policies.’
David Sutton Principal Maryborough Education Centre’ The culture of the school must more than reflect the gender equality issues that are taught, but needs to really be informed and actually underpin all that the school does.’
Briley Duncan Australian Education Union ‘Respectful Relationships is really important because currently we know the research shows whats happening at the moment in schools despite everybody’s best effort is not getting the right results for the community. So we’re really happy that this government is not only putting in curriculum and resources and has a new initiative, but it has all the professional learning in place, and the additional support from the region’
Debbie Ollis Deakin University ‘I think it’s a really exciting time. I think having worked in this space for the last 30 years, we’ve done this before. We’ve developed a whole school approach to addressing gender based violence but we’ve never had the support to implement it’
Emily Maguire, CEO, Domestic Violence Research Centre ‘Children are our future, and education settings and early childhood settings or schools are both education settings and workplaces. So what you’ve got is a captive audience of hundreds of thousands of employees and then hundreds and hundreds of thousands of children who can grow up to hopefully live in a generation where violence doesn’t exist.’
Gail Hardy Executive Officer, Parents Victoria ‘It’s about how we support the child at the centre, to make sure that they can reach that potential to be contributing citizens and respectful citizens, not just between each other, but all of us.’
If we’re going to make the right difference that we need to make in this area, then we really need to start with schools at an early age and involve the entire school community in this work.
Maree Crabbe Reality and Risk Project ‘I think Respectful Relationships education needs to address a whole range of issues and the various ways in culture and society that messages around gender and equality are reinforced’
Jeanette Nagorcka, Department of Education and Training. ‘We need to play a role in the long term prevention. So Respectful Relationships is all about year on year on year improvement.’
Rosie Batty CEO Luke Batty Foundation ‘For me I see the school community as the most essential part of this social reform, and the changes we need to see in future generations’
Anthony Raitman Department of Education and Training ‘If we want to change community attitudes and perceptions, we have a really big community that we can have a positive impact on, and for future generations, to really change what it means to have respectful relationships and to really impact on that prevention of violence against women in particular, and improve that gender equity that we’re all looking to achieve’.
Spring Gully Primary School
Yarra Hills Secondary College
Myths and facts
Myth: Respectful Relationships teaches radical gender theory
Fact: Respectful Relationships does not teach radical gender theory. It is a primary prevention initiative to reduce family violence.
Respectful Relationships promotes respect and gender equality and helps students learn how to build healthy relationships. It prepares students to face challenges by developing problem-solving skills and building resilience and confidence.
Schools involved in the Respectful Relationships initiative are building a culture of respect and gender equality, by looking at their practices and policies to drive meaningful change.
The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended Respectful Relationships be introduced to all government schools (Recommendation 189). Evidence presented to the commission showed that family violence is the most pervasive form of violence perpetrated against women in Victoria.
Myth: Education cannot solve the problem of family violence
Fact: Respectful Relationships isn’t intended to be the whole solution to addressing family violence, but it is an important primary prevention initiative.
Just like other major social and health issues such as smoking and road tolls, evidence shows that gender-based violence can be prevented by working with the whole population, and in this case, all schools, to address the attitudes, beliefs and knowledge that supports the prevention of violence.
Studies show that school-based violence prevention and Respectful Relationship initiatives can produce lasting changes in attitudes and behaviours.
Respectful Relationships Education in Schools (RREiS) was trialled across 19 schools, reaching 1,700 teachers and 4,000 students. The trial found that the initiative had a positive effect on students’ attitudes, knowledge and skills, as well as, school policies, culture and ethos.
Myth: Respectful relationships education teaches boys to feel ashamed and girls to feel like victims
Fact: This is simply not true.
None of the activities in the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships teaching and learning materials teach students to feel ashamed, or feel like victims.
Respectful Relationships promotes respect and equality and helps boys as well as girls learn how to build healthy relationships.
Myth: The Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships teaching and learning materials are not age appropriate
Fact: The Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships teaching and learning materials were developed by leading education experts, who tailored the materials to each year level from Foundation to year 12 and made sure all information is age-appropriate and grounded in evidence.
Myth: Students will use the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships teaching and learning materials learning materials like a textbook
Fact: The Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships teaching and learning materials are designed to support teachers to deliver respectful relationships education in the classroom.
Teachers use their experience and knowledge to deliver this material in the most suitable way for their students. Materials were developed by nationally and internationally recognised experts from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education.
Myth: The Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships teaching and learning materials aren’t based on evidence
Fact: This is untrue.
The Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships teaching and learning materials have been developed by experts from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, based on evidence from reputable research bodies and leading authorities including:
- Australian Bureau of Statistics
- Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing
Myth: Respectful relationships education will mean less time for literacy and numeracy
Fact: The Victorian Government is committed to improving literacy and numeracy outcomes for our students which is why we have recently launched our Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. It provides greater investment and support for teachers through teaching resources and professional development opportunities.
Myth: Respectful relationships education does not address violence against men
Fact: Respectful relationships education is about building positive relationships for all young people.
Students are given the opportunity to explore emotions such as anger and frustration, and develop non-violent problem solving strategies.
All secondary school students, learn about and explore the relationship between gender and power and the way gender stereotypes and behaviours can lead to unhealthy relationships or coping strategies.
Primary school students are supported to learn new skills to build their confidence and resilience.
Myth: Respectful Relationships and the Safe Schools program are the same
Fact: Respectful Relationships and Safe Schools are two very different initiatives.
Safe Schools is a about creating inclusive and safe environments for all students, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and gender diverse, Intersex, Queer, Asexual and questioning (LGBTIQA+) students.
Safe Schools seeks to prevent, and respond to, discrimination against LGBTIQA+ students. Safe Schools is not part of the Victorian Curriculum.
Respectful Relationships is part of the curriculum. It promotes respect and gender equality and helps students learn how to build healthy relationships.
Myth: Respectful Relationships will ban fairy tales
Fact: This is untrue.
In schools, the Victorian Curriculum provides opportunities for students to read fairy tales as part of both the Languages and English Curriculum. In early childhood settings, Respectful Relationships will be offered as a voluntary professional learning program to early childhood professionals.
The training encourages early childhood professionals to consider telling stories with a range of different characters in various professions and roles. This provides a diversity of role models for children – for example, female characters who are firefighters, male characters who are nurses.
In fact, as educators reflect on whether there is balance in how genders and professions are represented in toys and books, it is likely that more books and resources will be added to provide balance and diversity in representation.
Myth: This initiative is trying to say that boys can’t play with trucks and girls can’t play with dolls
Fact: Absolutely not. This initiative is not seeking to make children ‘gender neutral’ or trying to prevent girls from playing with dolls, or boys with trucks.
Respectful Relationships is about creating an environment in which children are not restricted by gender stereotypes and are free to explore and play as they choose.
Myth: The Respectful Relationships is a sex education program
Fact: Respectful Relationships is separate to sex education in the curriculum.
Myth: Respectful Relationships is part of the early childhood curriculum
Fact: In Victoria, there is no set curriculum for early childhood education. Early childhood education takes a different approach to school-based education, based on the different needs of younger children.
The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) guides early childhood educator practice.
The VEYLDF includes Practice Principles about the best ways to support children’s learning and development including ‘respectful relationships and responsive engagement’ and ‘equity and diversity’, both align with the Respectful Relationships initiative.
Early childhood educators use their professional experience to implement the VEYLDF in their setting, using a range of age-appropriate approaches such as play-based learning.
Myth: Respectful Relationships is a lesson in early childhood settings
Fact: Respectful Relationships is not delivered as a lesson in early childhood settings.
Instead, Respectful Relationships professional learning is voluntary for early childhood educators who opt in, to build their capacity to promote respect and equality and support children to build healthy relationships, resilience and confidence.
Myth: It's inappropriate for early childhood settings to include Respectful Relationships in their programs
Fact: Early childhood settings have an important role in building the foundations for respectful relationships with young children.
The professional learning is designed to strengthen the capacity of early childhood educators to promote respectful relationships, positive attitudes and behaviours within their teaching approach, to enable children to build healthy relationships, resilience and confidence.
Myth: Respectful Relationships claims that children are sexist
Fact: Respectful Relationships is not saying that children are sexist.
Evidence shows that children in early childhood settings may start to exclude others based on their gender. For example – some children may insist that some games are for boys or girls, and may exclude others from playing the game.
This evidence shows it is important for children to be learning about and building healthy and respectful relationships from the early years and to understand their opportunities are not limited by their gender – that girls can grow up to be firefighters or footballers and boys can grow up to be nurses or teachers.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence identified the critical role that schools and early childhood education have in creating a culture of respect to change the story of family violence for future generations.
In 2016, respectful relationships education became a core component of the Victorian Curriculum from foundation to year 12, and is being taught in all government and Catholic schools and many independent schools.
Everyone in our community deserves to be respected, valued and treated equally. We know that changes in attitudes and behaviours can be achieved when positive attitudes, behaviours and equality are embedded in our education settings.
Respectful Relationships is about embedding a culture of respect and equality across our entire community, from our classrooms to staffrooms, sporting fields, fetes and social events. This approach leads to positive impacts on student’s academic outcomes, their mental health, classroom behaviour, and relationships between teachers and students.
Together, we can lead the way in saying yes to respect and equality, and creating genuine and lasting change so that every child has the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
Family violence support
If you are concerned for your safety or that of someone else, contact the police, and call 000 for emergency assistance.
If you have experienced violence or sexual assault and require immediate or ongoing assistance, contact 1800 RESPECT () to talk to a counsellor from the National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence hotline.
If you need to talk to someone it is recommended that you speak to your school leadership team about arranging appropriate support. You can also talk to your GP or an allied health professional. Victorian government school staff can also contact the on .
Reviewed 18 April 2023