“When I first encouraged the girls to try and attack me they were anxious,” remembers Ali Bayley, assistant principal at Rye College, East Sussex. “After all, you don’t normally have a PE lesson where the teacher encourages you to grab their hair.”
To be fair to the students, it does seem like an odd thing for a teacher to request, but once you understand that the instruction was part of a course in self-defence for women, it all starts to make more sense.
As she explains in the 8 August issue of TES, Bayley has been teaching self-defence to Year 11 pupils at her school for the past year. It was something she says she felt compelled to do as she felt schools were not doing enough to help young women protect themselves against the physical threats they face.
“Young women are increasingly at risk of physical assault, with the UK Office for National Statistics reporting that in 2011/12 there were 536,000 victims of sexual assault and 2 million victims of domestic abuse,” explains Bayley. “Clearly, as well as prevention, schools need to help young women protect themselves.”
Bayley teaches the Women Empowered programme, based on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It covers how to neutralise the most common attacks, from having your hair pulled to being pushed to the ground by an attacker with a weapon.
“Unlike the focus of many martial arts, this programme is about getting away safely, not fighting back,” says Bayley. “There are offensive techniques that you would use in the worst-case scenario, but for the most part it’s all about how to escape.”
Lessons – available to girls only – are part of the Year 11 PE curriculum at Rye College and are run each Friday afternoon. Bayley says the engagement of the 25 girls in the class has been fantastic.
“They are all really keen to learn and have been brilliant at following the instructions because they can see the value of what is being taught,” she says.
The success of the initiative has encouraged Bayley to campaign for more schools to teach self-defence to girls. Now she has proved it is possible within the school environment, she says others have no excuse.
“One school is not enough. All schools need to take self-defence seriously. And they need to do so not by teaching some random moves as part of a PE class, but through a well thought through, organised and rigorous programme,” she explains. “I have proved that it is possible to do so within the confines of the school timetable.”
The pay off of a nationwide programme, she says, would be invaluable.
“If every girl could be taught Jiu Jitsu from Year 9 then the number of ‘successful’ attacks would greatly diminish. What more incentive do you need?”