18 March 2015
Article by Hannah Johnson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Violence Against Women Bill was passed by the Assembly last week. Aside from physical punishment, the main debate centred on the Bill’s education provisions.
The original White Paper consultation, published in 2012, cited that “better education and awareness [of gender-based violence] from the ‘cradle to the grave’, which includes the public, frontline staff and professionals” was one of the three priorities of the legislation.
The White Paper proposed that the Bill would:
- ensure that education on ‘healthy relationships’ is delivered in all schools, and
- introduce a duty on each local authority to identify a regional Ending Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Champion to promote a whole school approach for dealing with this issue in educational settings.
These proposals were hailed as ‘ground-breaking’ by the Welsh Government and welcomed by stakeholders.
Stage 1 scrutiny
When the draft Bill was introduced to the Assembly in 2014, the education proposals had been dropped.
The Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum claimed that healthy relationships education was instead being considered as part of the curriculum review led by Professor Graham Donaldson, which would include a review of the basic curriculum including Personal and Social Education (PSE).
The EM stated that the review “provides an important opportunity to consider the place of PSE, including healthy relationships, in the new curriculum for Wales as a whole.”
A significant number of respondents to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee’s consultation highlighted education as a major omission from the Bill.
In response, the Committee’s stage 1 report on the Bill recommended that it be amended to include compulsory, whole-school, age-appropriate education programmes on healthy relationships.
The Committee considered that:
- education is the most crucial part of preventing gender-based violence and without the White Paper proposals the Bill cannot achieve its stated aims;
- the curriculum review is not enough to ensure change – the recommendations are not mandatory and the review cannot consider wider issues such as school champions and Estyn inspections, and
- current provision is not mandatory, and is patchy and inconsistent; one-off sessions for secondary school pupils on healthy relationships education are not adequate and the issue needs to be embedded in the curriculum from early years.
Stage 2 amendments
At stage 2, the Minister brought forward an amendment to the Bill, which allows Welsh Ministers to place a duty on local authorities to report on how they are addressing gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence within their education institutions, including through sex education.
Campaigners said that they were “exceptionally disappointed that so little progress has been made on education within this Bill at the end of Stage 2”.
Stage 3 amendments and announcements
At stage 3, the Minister tabled amendments to:
- provide Welsh Ministers with the power to issue statutory guidance to ensure that local authorities designate a member of staff for the purpose of championing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence matters in schools and other settings, and
- provide Welsh Ministers and HEFCW the power to issue guidance to governing bodies of HE and FE institutions and to require those institutions to have regard to such guidance.
The Minister also issued a statement on 26 February 2015 on the education provisions in the Bill. He noted that:
the Minister for Education and Skills has signalled his intention to have a Great Debate on the [Donaldson] report recommendations […] . Subject to the outcome of that, there will be an important role for key stakeholders to be involved in supporting the development of all of the Areas of Learning and Experience, including that of Health and Well-being. This will be very important in taking forward the purpose of the Bill and I have agreed with the Minister for Education and Skills to explore with the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence sector how they can contribute to taking forward this work.
I have signalled previously my intention to publish a Healthy Relationship Whole School Approach Good Practice Guide ahead of the 2015-16 academic year.
In January, the Welsh Government published revised statutory guidance, Keeping learners safe, to support all education services in delivering their responsibilities to help safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Chapter 4 of the guidance sets out the key issues associated with gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence to help support school staff in fulfilling their statutory responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children where those circumstances might be a factor.”
The statement also highlights the professional training elements of the Bill’s statutory guidance, which will be offered in all schools. The Minister also noted that “a thematic review [of Estyn inspections] on the subject of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence is planned for 2016-2017 academic year”.
Stage 4 and beyond
The Assembly unanimously passed the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill plenary on 10 March 2015. The Bill is now in the four-week period of intimation until 7 April 2015.
In a letter to Jocelyn Davies AM dated 9 March, following negotiations on the Bill, the Minister highlighted the actions that will be immediately taken following the passing of the Bill, including a violence against women conference, work with Governors Wales and reporting work with schools on training.
Campaigners welcomed the passing of the Bill, but it is yet to be seen whether the statutory guidance provision on healthy relationships education will be as effective as compulsory education in all schools, as originally proposed.