Hard-hitting comment on domestic abuse

18th April 2008 at 01:00
A creative exploration of violence in the home has inspired Fife pupils to produce some striking artwork and taught them empathy with peers who may be victims

A girl sits under the table, eyes tight shut, hands forced over her ears as her parents' argument descends into violence. It is a startling image. All the emotions felt by the 100,000 children and young people in Scotland who live with domestic abuse are summed up by this one image: fear, isolation, anger and sadness.

"We came up with the idea when we were filming," explains Megan McAuley, one of the pupils from St Andrew's High in Kirkcaldy who produced the film Reach Out. "We had the script but we discussed it as we went along and this seemed like a good image."

She was right. As the film finished, the 150 S3 pupils brought together from 11 secondaries across Fife sat silently watching the screen. The next item was a multi-media presentation of the work produced by the participating schools. "I'm glad there was no discussion after it," says Eleanor Johnston, year head of S3 at Bell Baxter High in Cupar. "There have been breaks in the programme to discuss what we've seen, but it was good the young people could just sit and think."

The St Andrew's film was one in a series of drama, poetry, artwork and images produced by schools for an event organised by the Fife Domestic and Sexual Abuse Partnership. "We wanted them to be creative," explains Pauline McGee, the partnership's coordinator for children and young people and the driving force behind the event last term. "But we left it up to them what to do."

The project fitted into S3 personal and social education, and Mrs McGee went to each school giving a talk on abuse in the home. "I don't think Fife is any worse than anywhere else in Scotland, but the Police Family Protection Unit in Dunfermline has seen an increase in reports," she says. "It is still a huge problem."

The high schools approached the project in different ways. Viewforth, in Kirkcaldy, opened it up to volunteers. Lauren Baird and Kayleigh Bannerman took on the challenge, and the result is a striking blue face, emanating absolute anguish, staring out across the large auditorium. Around the artwork are quotes that Lauren and Kayleigh collected from other S3 pupils. "We put out a questionnaire to see what people thought of domestic violence, so we could understand how people feel," says Kayleigh. "It gave us some good ideas but it also ensured everyone knew about the project."

St Andrew's identified a group of seven pupils who would be interested and linked them up with English teacher Sonja Hirshfield. They wanted to spread awareness of domestic violence to spearhead a political campaign. Every participating pupil identified a key figure within Fife or Scotland and sent them certificates to sign to show their intolerance of domestic violence. These were pinned up around artwork produced by the group.

Beath ran it as a whole-class activity for one of its S3 PSE groups, using a combination of poetry and photographs, put together as a slide show. "I have known victims of domestic violence but I never knew the extent to which it could affect them," says Jason Gilmor, an S3 pupil. "Since doing this project I think I've learnt to be more supportive. I wouldn't tell anyone if my friend didn't want me to. I would know to keep it confidential."

Auchmuty created a photo-story showing the experiences of one family, which the S3 class designed, enacted, photographed and laid out themselves, while Buckhaven, St Columba's, Kirkland and Bell Baxter put on plays. Waid used photography to create strong images, Glenrothes used artwork, and Lochgelly creative writing. All were showcased at the day-long event.

One teacher said afterwards: "We had one or two pupils in our class who, it is obvious, are experiencing this sort of problem at home. But you can see, without them exposing themselves, that being part of this has helped, because it has made their peers more sympathetic."

The schools involved have used the creativity of their pupils to highlight the problems of domestic abuse at their assemblies, but it won't end there. The aim is to collate all the work done into a resource for schools to use in PSE in S3. Fife's Children and Families Department and the partnership are also keen to repeat the project each year.

"It can be costly because of the hall, and there is the issue of taking the children out of school," says Anne Dees, Fife's development officer, "but it is an effective way to engage them with the problem."

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