Utilising peer-generated and creative tools to safely explore healthy and unhealthy relationships with children at risk of sexual exploitation in schools.
A London based comprehensive school (name withheld)
‘Having our Say’ uses peer-generated creative resources from a previous PhotoVoice project ‘Having our Say 3’. By working in close partnership with schools and students, these existing resources inform a new sustainable model of enhancing the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum for children most at risk of sexual exploitation.
PhotoVoice delivered and tested the pilot model in one school over a three-week period. Selected students were taken through a range of engaging and student led activities which both built photographic skills and sensitively addressed topics around sexual exploitation. The pilot was then robustly evaluated with both the school and students with the view of rolling out more widely.
Child sexual abuse is growing increasingly prevalent in the England and Wales, with child sexual exploitation rising 53% between 2014/15 and 2018/19 in reported cases. However, the true scale of cases is widely thought of to be much more than this. Sex and relationships are consistently in the top 10 reasons why children raise concerns with Childline, showing that children need more information and guidance on what constitutes healthy and unhealthy relationships.
In 2019, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) became compulsory for schools. However, there remains a political tension in how the curriculum can be delivered in ways that are sensitive to LGBTQIA+ groups, different religious outlooks and parental preferences. Further, the NSPCC highlight the need for these topics to be delivered in pedagogical, inclusive, trauma-informed and empowering ways.2 Many schools face significant financial barriers in adopting these types of approaches, and in 2019 a poll by NEU and NSPCC found that 52% of teachers were ‘not sure’ if their school was ready to deliver the curriculum.
The school were given a broad criterion of children at risk of sexual exploitation as the basis for identifying students. The selected students had a broad range of complex support needs and a significantly higher percentage of children from low income backgrounds than the national average.
Over three weeks, the students took part in a range of image and discussion-based activities which safely complex and sensitive topics of healthy and unhealthy relationships while building skills in photography. Participants were given the space to express what they were enjoying which fed into the curriculum planning for each session.
After each session, short debriefs on the sessions were also held between staff from PhotoVoice and the school to ensure that sessions were appropriate for the schools context and tailored to individual students’ needs.
Each student was supported to produce and select a photograph which represents their personal perspectives on what’s important in relationships. Before the workshops only 20% of students agreed that photography could be used to learn new things, compared with 100% of students after the workshops.
The school was left with a physical copy of the ‘Having our Say 3’ to continue to use within their wellbeing practice. They were also provided with practical advice on procuring suitable cameras to continue photographic and creative activities as part of their wellbeing offer.
“I found it was nice to see the students able to explore and engage as for some this is difficult. The use of cameras was well received, and I feel like benefitted the boys a lot, being able to be creative and using this as a tool to explore was beneficial”
“I liked being able to explore emotions and what these mean”
“I learned lots of new rights, especially rights to freedom and how you can have a right to freedom to express yourself”
The images produced by participants are not shared outside this project.