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Bid to counter violence

Most Thursday evenings Rose Hislop gathers a group of teenagers to play board games. Roll the dice, pick up a card. It reads "How many assaults on women in the home take place every year?" The answer is more than 500,000.

For this is an activity at the award-winning Open Doors project, part of a National Children's Home Action for Children scheme working with youngsters affected by domestic violence.

On setting up the project in Wrexham, Wales, in 1994, Rose Hislop found so few materials available to help children consider the attitudes surrounding domestic violence she created her own. She has been flooded with requests for her user-friendly activity pack and video by schools, colleges and teachers who feel the issue should be tackled in education.

The problem is how. The charity Zero Tolerance, which has waged a poster campaign against violence in the home since 1992, is wary of teachers simply using materials from a pack to deal with an issue of such complexity without training.

Elaine Samson, a trustee of the charity in Edinburgh, said it was wrong to assume that teachers were exempt from misinformation because they were professionals. "They too can believe that domestic violence is a working-class problem, or put it down to unemployment; the kind of assumptions that we work to dispel. The information needs to be put over in a knowledgeable way, so you give the whole picture."

Caroline Rowsell is a trainer with Zero Tolerance in Salford, which is about to work on a curriculum approach to domestic violence in schools. She concedes that training teachers poses problems both for schools who cannot afford to release staff for a day, and for staff already stretched by the demands of the national curriculum.

She feels that to work effectively the training would need to be spread throughout the school to tackle the social attitudes that condone it: "It's no good talking about domestic violence in a personal and social education class if the boys go out into the playground and swap porn mags." She envisages a two- year build-up of their education programme, beginning in one or two pilot schools.

At present the most widespread scheme working with domestic violence in schools is run by Zero Tolerance in Fife, who have supplemented their posters with a theatre project looking at gender relations and an information pack written by young people for young people to raise awareness about the rights of children who are subjected to abuse at home.

Rose Hislop, who is also planning a tour of schools in Wales with the "forum" theatre group Cat's Paw, believes that it is unlikely that teachers would be using her resources unless they had a specific interest in the topic already. Her pack recommends teachers to become aware of the local agencies in the area before they start. "It is important that it should take place within a chain of pastoral skills in the school. Ultimately I respect teachers' professionalism. "

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