Sexualisation, objectification, sexual violence and the importance of consent. As we digest the material presented to both our students and parents by Canberra-based author and media commentator Melinda Tankard Reist recently and consider what our next steps might be in joining the drive for positive cultural change, I wanted to highlight the absolute emphasis Penrhos College places on the pastoral care and wellbeing of our girls.
Melinda attended the College on Tuesday 27 April with her colleague, Daniel Principe, to talk to students and parents / caregivers about the proliferation of hyper-sexualised images and influences in today’s ‘sexed-up’ world. Melinda has been advocating for mutual respect and responsibility, the importance of dignity and self-worth and the dangers of pornification for years – now, everyone is talking about the same issues.
Current social and political debate around misogynistic behaviours – and what educators, parents and legislation can do to help support a more healthy and balanced future for young men and women – brings into sharp focus the importance of safeguarding. I want to you to know that Penrhos College aspires to be right at the cutting edge of this agenda and we will do everything possible to ensure that is exactly where we are.
Safeguarding is an all-encompassing term, used to describe everything a school or college does to ensure children are safe and protected, and that relevant adults have the necessary awareness and understanding to support them. Our vision is to ensure that Penrhos provides a safe, happy and secure learning environment in which the wellbeing, health (including mental health) and safety of our students and staff is consistently promoted within a clearly defined and embedded ‘culture of care’.
Student agency is an integral part of our culture – we are firmly committed to following the lead of our students and to giving them an authentic voice. In providing girls with both the skills and opportunity to be heard, we can understand and recognise our students’ feelings as we support them in building respectful, healthy relationships.
As part of our new Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12 Connect pastoral program and our health curriculum, we will additionally implement the Keeping Safe Child Protection curriculum this year. Developed by the South Australian Department of Education and recommended by the Association of Independent Schools WA (AISWA), Keeping Safe is based on the latest research in child safety and is the most comprehensive curriculum of its type. The curriculum is evidence-based and includes new additional material on a range of contemporary issues including bullying, consent, the abuse of power and cyber safety.
Keeping Safe also examines the very topical issue of gender stereotypes. I like to encourage staff, students and parents to consider this important subject in the context of a quote from ‘The Curse of the Good Girl’ by Rachel Simmons, a speaker and author endorsed by the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australia. Rachel’s book is about raising authentic girls with courage and confidence and her introduction reads as follows:
‘There is nothing wrong with being a nice person, nor is it my intent to undermine the unique sensibilities of women and girls. But girls need to have the tools to say no, to ask for what they need, and to say what they think. Too many girls and women walk away from conversations muttering to themselves about what they really wanted to say. When kindness comes at the expense of truth, it is not a kindness worth having. And when generosity leads to silence or abuse, it is not a generosity worth giving.’
Drawing on my experience working in the international and independent world of education, both in the UK and Singapore, I have been involved in the evolution of thinking around safeguarding for many years. School and college leaders have studied the culture of educational settings and have identified how – perhaps not surprisingly – supportive cultures encourage adults to take a more proactive approach to keeping children safe. Most learning environments can demonstrate good wellbeing and pastoral care systems, along with teachers and administrators who clearly have the best interests of students at heart. However, it is still too common to find requirements are considered in the context of general compliance (i.e. ensuring everyone has the right policies and training in place) rather than in line with a rigorous, proactive commitment to continuous improvement.
As awareness of effective safeguarding continues to grow, we take a much more holistic approach to that vital ‘culture of care’ which is integral to our College, our staff, students and wider community – a culture which supports the needs of our students on multiple levels, every day. We increasingly consider how our approach to wellbeing – including safeguarding and child protection / safety, pastoral care, mental health, support and interventions – meets the complex needs of many young individuals. I firmly believe that only by embedding a community-wide understanding of the standards, expectations and behaviours required to effectively protect our students, can we ensure we have the ethos, culture and vision to tangibly demonstrate our absolute commitment to keeping children and young people safe.
The importance of community engagement and collaboration around this important agenda is further highlighted in ‘contextualised safeguarding’, an approach which provides greater understanding of each individual child and therefore leads to more effective interventions in relation to peer abuse. As instances of this nature continue to increase, the safeguarding world recognises the importance of all stakeholders in piecing together a complex range of insights and perspectives to ensure a holistic view of each child, including their individual protective and risk factors, strengths and needs within different social contexts.
Penrhos is already unquestionably well-established in the practice of engaging our community in pastoral care – most recently and specifically through the Full Circle initiative, a program designed and delivered by Penrhos College psychologists to provide parents, caregivers, staff and other adults who may have an influential role to play in our students’ lives with the tools they need to offer the most effective support. This unique program clearly demonstrates the commitment of this College and my team to go further than required, to deliver to the very highest level and to consistently exceed routine standards and expectations. In line with our collective prioritisation of this critical agenda, I am proud that the Full Circle initiative is now supported by the Penrhos College Foundation; we look forward to growing our offering to our adult community and more broadly across the educational sphere over the coming months and years, as a beacon of inspiration and best practice.
In order to make absolutely certain that we are doing all we can to establish Penrhos as a leading light in safeguarding, some of you may be aware that I have commissioned Suzanne Murray of Fairchild Safeguarding to consider all Penrhos’ safeguarding policies, protocols, processes and procedures in a 360° review of our current practice. I have worked with Suzanne before internationally and find her to be extremely thorough, constructive and practical in her approach.
I am pleased to let you know that Suzanne’s work is well underway; she has already engaged with many stakeholders including staff, students and parents – I look forward to receiving the full Fairchild Safeguarding report later this term, and to sharing her findings with you. Since I took up the role of Principal at Penrhos, I have been enormously impressed at the quality and extent of our pastoral care, wellbeing and safeguarding framework – my objective in Suzanne’s independent review is to identify and celebrate what we already do well, and to establish a clear roadmap to ensure our excellent standards are consistently maintained and evolved in the context of the latest research and specialist analysis.
Safeguarding is at the very heart of our culture of care – together, as a College and a community, we will pioneer new standards and then constantly challenge ourselves to improve on them.
Love grows here. Together, we grow.
Thank you for your support.
Kalea Haran (Ms)
Principal, Penrhos College