The headmaster of an elite all-boys college in Perth has warned students if they disagree with his stance on respect and consent they are at the wrong school.
Scotch College headmaster Alec O’Connell’s comments came after a nationwide campaign ignited the conversation about sexual consent, rape culture and toxic masculinity. Particularly in all-boys schools.
Cross-campus classes with students from Scotch College and PLC.
The petition for sex education reform across Australia, started by former Sydney schoolgirl Chanel Contos, has attracted thousands of testimonies within weeks from students, former students and teachers around the country, including Western Australia.
Dr O’Connell on March 5 addressed a senior school assembly.
The speech was given two days after Hale School graduate Attorney-General Christian Porter told media he was the federal minister accused of historical rape while on a school trip to Sydney in 1988.
Dr O’Connell told students schools faced challenges at times that required immediate attention in order to give the matter the gravitas it deserved, labelling the feedback to Ms Contos’ movement disturbing.
“At the core of the above issue are two keywords that we must consider if we are to ensure that, at Scotch, we can make a real difference to society,” he said. “These two words are ‘respect’ and ‘consent’.”
Dr O’Donnell said this especially applied towards women, but also to a boy’s interaction with other boys.
“Every person, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, school background, or cultural heritage, has the right to be shown respect at all times by everyone associated with our college,” he said.
“Anything you do with, or to a fellow person, whether inside or outside of the school, must have their direct consent. It is not good enough for you to assume or pretend that you have someone’s permission and consent.
“If you think this is too hard or you disagree with my position, then you are simply enrolled at the wrong school.”
Scotch teaching and learning director Cara Fugill said Scotch went to great lengths to address any issues of sexism and discrimination.
Ms Fugill said teaching boys about sexism and racism was embedded into the curriculum and noted examples where texts were chosen deliberately to challenge the boys’ thinking and allow them to reassess their values.
We face a significant societal problem that requires a collaborative approach and a commitment to change
Christ Church principal Alan Jones said culture, language and learning went hand-in-hand and while schools had a number of roles to play, adults in the lives of adolescents needed to be part of the solution.
“Young people learn by watching – they look for cues on how to behave in situations in which they are inexperienced,” he said. “Education needs to be a tiered approach – there is no silver bullet.”
Mr Jones said consent was already part of the curriculum with boys engaged from pre-kindergarten to year 12 in conversations about respect and values, and all aspects of health and wellbeing in an age appropriate manner.
One principal said students who didn’t share his values didn’t belong. Credit:Jim Rice
In response to recent media reports, he invited principals from St Hilda’s, Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Methodist Ladies’ College, Iona Presentation College and Scotch to Christ Church to discuss how they could work together.
The first meeting last week was about what they could collectively do to educate young people about consent and respect and agree on a single message to ensure clarity and consistency about behaviours and expectations.
Presbyterian Ladies College principal Cate Begbie addressed the “challenge” in a recent newsletter expressing how seriously she took her responsibility in educating students about protective behaviours, including sexual consent.
“We face a significant societal problem that requires a collaborative approach and a commitment to change,” she wrote. “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.
“We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”
In his address to parents on March 9 after International Women’s Day, Wesley headmaster Ross Barron said the more than 3000 “courageous and confronting testimonials” on Ms Contos’ petition were painful to read.
“The light that has been shone on the issues of consent facing our young people reinforces the importance of both instilling protective behaviour, self-worth and self-dignity, in all of our students from a young age, as well as developing a strong moral compass that values every other individual,” it read.
“It is up to all of us – as parents, guardians, teachers, students – to work together, to lead by example, to not ignore or accept the unacceptable, to have the tough conversations, and to promote healthy and respectful relationships, including respect for yourself.”
WA Education Department policy requires principals to implement protective behaviours education across all phases of schooling.
Education department executive director statewide services Martin Clery said the health and physical education curriculum in WA public schools already included content relating to consent in a range of contexts.
“In the pre-primary years, it starts with concepts like keeping safe and saying no, which provide the necessary foundation to address more complex skills as students mature in their secondary years,” he said.
“Later in the curriculum students are taught about real-life scenarios to help them develop vital skills and strategies to manage situations where risk is encouraged by others.”
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