Anti-violence project pioneered at Portobello High

Pupils are taught to question aggressive behaviour. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Pupils are taught to question aggressive behaviour. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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EDUCATION chiefs are considering a nationwide roll-out of a domestic violence-busting programme pioneered at an Edinburgh school.

Pupils at Portobello High School have, as part of a mentoring project, been receiving training on how to intervene and prevent violence
which could lead to domestic abuse.

The project, Mentors In Violence Prevention (MVP) Scotland, encourages people
to challenge aggressive and inappropriate behaviour.

Education chiefs are now considering rolling it out to other schools following a successful trial.

Thirty people at Portobello High – 15 teachers and 15 youth and community workers – were coached by
two trainers from the United States who work for MVP, and have gone on to train 34
specially recruited “peer mentors”, youngsters in their fourth, fifth and sixth years at the school.

They in turn have passed their knowledge on to 220 first-year pupils at the school during social education classes.

Another 30 senior pupils will be trained by August, with the aim being to deliver the programme to the entire school over the next few years.

Rachel Barr, a youth worker based at the school who is involved in the scheme, hopes it will make a big difference to levels of domestic abuse, which has been branded Scotland’s secret shame.

“We look at what the pupils would do as a bystander if they are witnessing difficult situations or if they see something happening that they don’t think is ok,” she said.

“We practise ways of challenging that kind of behaviour in a safe way.

“The idea is to give bystanders strategies of preventing violence.

“It’s not a superhero thing about people wading in and breaking up fights, it’s about challenging things so it doesn’t get to that level.

“The project covers things like domestic abuse, sexting and possessive texting to check up on girlfriends. The young people get taken through scenarios, what they might be thinking in response to them, and are given six or seven 
strategies to see whicj one could prevent what’s happening from happening.”

She added: “The young people in the school have come up with a great slogan ‘silence is violence’, which means we all have a responsibility to challenge the culture where these things can happen.”

The project is led by the national Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) and based on a successful model used in schools and colleges across the USA.

The MVP programme was developed by Dr Jackson Katz.

It uses a “bystander” approach, encouraging people to take a stand against harassment, abuse and violence rather than just ignoring it.

Portobello High School was selected for its enthusiasm for the project rather than any particular problems.

Chief Inspector Graham Goulden, project lead for both MVP Scotland and the VRU’s anti-violence campaign, is appalled at snapshot recent figures which show nearly 2000 domestic abuse incidents were reported to Lothian and Borders Police over a two-month period.

He said: “While MVP won’t stop domestic abuse overnight, it will help make the behaviour that leads to it less acceptable. Those taking part in MVP now are helping create a legacy for future generations – a better, safer Scotland for all.”

The Porty project has been running since November 2011. It was one of two schools chosen to pioneer the project.

The other was the St Stephen’s and Port Glasgow High joint campus in Inverclyde.

It will now be rolled out to four other schools – none in the Lothians – ahead of a possible nationwide roll out backed with £40,000 of Scottish Government funding.