TASIS - The American School In England TASIS - The American School In England
Tackling Relationship Harm: Empowering Young People through Linking School Values to Advocacy, Active Bystanding, and Restoration Processes
Jason Tait | Director of Pastoral Care, Designated Safeguarding Lead

Tackling Relationship Harm: Empowering Young People through Linking School Values to Advocacy, Active Bystanding, and Restoration Processes.

Since 2021, over 50,000 anonymous testimonies have highlighted school sexual harassment culture. UK knife crime has increased by 75% since 2013, with 27,000 children involved in gangs. In 2021, 1 in 6 children had a probable mental health disorder, and referrals to NHS mental health services rose by 33%. Additionally, 93,000 children aged 11-15 are excluded from schools, mainly due to bullying. Since 2010, UK youth services have faced a £1 billion cut. Ofcom reports that 90% of children have smartphones by senior school, increasing their risk of harm.

These statistics reveal systemic issues and a significant communication gap between young people and adults in accessing early help and support. There's a lack of understanding among parents and inadequate data sharing between agencies working with children (schools, police, social services). Schools must overcome these communication barriers, understand the context of harm, and intercept issues before they escalate. Within the new inspection framework developed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and approved by the Secretary of State for Education, Section 23 emphasizes pupil voice and well-being, requiring schools to understand students' views and experiences actively.

The first part of this blog explains how schools can use the contextual safeguarding framework to address extra-familial harms and child-on-child abuse. The second part provides a case study on a school’s approach to applying this framework to its values and mission to tackle child-on-child abuse.

Contextual Safeguarding: 

Child-on-child relationship issues often occur outside of adult supervision, frequently involving children's online and social lives outside the school setting. As children form relationships beyond their families, these extra-familial issues become increasingly relevant. ISI’s Section 23 encourages schools to adopt a comprehensive and contextual approach to safeguarding based on an understanding of the various relationships children have within their peer groups, online, and in their communities.

Dr. Carlene Firmin MBE is a social researcher, writer, and professor of sociology whose work identified these issues, leading to the development of the contextual safeguarding framework, which is central to the case study discussed below. Her research, based on work with experts in child protection law, public health, criminology, psychology, and education, demonstrates how safeguarding systems should respond when young people come to harm. This framework helps schools address current harm and modify contexts to prevent similar incidents from recurring. The framework offers four key benefits:

1. Develop Community: Focuses on protecting all young people by fostering partnerships between educational settings and communities, and raising awareness of warning signs and reporting mechanisms.
2. Age Appropriateness: Particularly important for adolescents, who spend more time socializing away from their families and are more influenced by their social networks.
3. Shared Culture of Safety: Involves everyone who influences extra-familial contexts to create safer environments and reduce the potential for harmful situations.
4. Prevent Future Harm: Promotes safe, supportive environments to ensure young people form healthy relationships, reducing future risks.

Listening to and understanding the voice of the child requires ongoing commitment, recognizing that this is the beginning of a continuous process. Interventions and their evaluations must include the child's perspective to ensure their experiences are understood and addressed.

Case Study: 

What is the Context of the Harm that our Young People Experience?

This section of the blog focuses on child-on-child relationship issues, particularly bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. These issues often occur in social settings, both online and offline, away from adult supervision and perpetuated by a "snitch culture" where bystanders either support the harmer or remain silent to avoid becoming targets themselves.

Addressing the Issues:

To combat these harms, the school aims to empower students with skills to manage peer relationships and to dismantle fear and unhealthy power dynamics. This initiative recognizes that such risks extend beyond school and are influenced by societal movements related to these issues, exemplified by figures and events like Luis Rubiales, the Red Arrows, Emily Parr, and the Online Safety Bill.


1. Remove fear and power imbalances.
2. Empower students to manage peer relationships.
3. Align efforts with school values for sustainable impact.

Contextual Response: TASIS England Values in Action Program (VIA)

The Values In Action Program aims to foster independence and personal growth in relationships by promoting principled thinking, compassion, and open-mindedness. It focuses on three main areas:

1. Compassionate Through Advocacy:

  • Advocacy involves speaking up for others and making one's voice heard on important issues. The school encourages students to advocate for themselves, their peers, and their values through steps like recognizing harm, empathizing, contemplating action, and reporting concerns.

2. Principled Through Active Bystanding:

  • Active bystander interventions help reduce harassment, discrimination, and bullying. Students are taught the "four Ds" (Direct, Distract, Delegate, Delay) to safely intervene and address unacceptable behavior, contributing to a safer community.

3. Open-Minded Through Restoration:

  • Restorative practices bring together those harmed and those who caused harm to discuss the incident, address the harm, and plan for repair. This approach emphasizes relationships, respect, responsibility, repair, and reintegration, fostering a culture of accountability and healing.

By highlighting the importance of teaching students to be advocates, active bystanders, and restorative practitioners, the school can create a safe and inclusive community in alignment with its mission and values.

And Finally – Why This is so Important:

The relationships that young people make during their formative years influence what they expect from future relationships, so if they socialize in safe, supportive environments then they will form safe, supportive relationships (and the same applies for harmful, abusive relationships). By ensuring that young people are heard, empowered, and live in nurturing environments, both within educational settings and outside them, our community has the opportunity to reduce the risk of future harm for our children and young people.