SCHOOL children have been learning about the importance of healthy relationships during an eight-week pilot programme.

The programme, called Speak Up!, aims to tackle relationship abuse among young people, and teaches them how to teach them how to prevent these problems in adult life.

It is run by mental health charity Mind in Taunton and West Somerset and funded up Taunton Women's Aid.

A class of pupils at Bishop Fox’s, Taunton Academy and Kingsmead took part in the scheme.

Jan Copley, Speak Up! co-ordinator, said: “A lot of people think that domestic abuse is only between adults living together. But unfortunately relationship abuse can be between any two people and in this context we have been focussing on romantic relationships for teenagers”.

The programme teaches the children that abuse can be physical or sexual violence, but that it can take many forms of controlling and manipulative behaviour.

A problem the Speak Up! team has found typically is teenagers feeling under pressure to change their views or who they see or what they wear to please a boy or girlfriend.

The Speak Up! programme has also been showing the 13-15-year-olds that abuse can be towards men as well as women through a range of activities.

Amy Maunder, a teacher at Taunton Academy, said “The respect, for themselves and others, in the room grew over the weeks.

"The students were highly engaged with the lessons and tasks and I think this was due to the relevance of the topic and issues. I really did see some significant changes in some students throughout the course of their maturity and understanding towards the issues.”

The results of the evaluation showed that young people had shifted in attitude, so that by the end of the programme they said that it was more important to them that their boy or girlfriend listened and was caring, than what they looked like and how keen they were to have sex.

Judith Smith, of Taunton Women’s Aid, said: “We are very pleased to have been able to fund this pioneering project. Our many years’ experience of working with women in abusive relationships has shown us that these can start at a very early age, as people are unaware that abuse is not just violence - most abuse is the sort of behaviour that Speak Up has been addressing.”

Andy Pritchard, CEO at Mind TWS, said: “We have been thrilled to develop this training and deliver it in our local community, and know that this kind of intervention can bring benefit in people’s lives for years to come. We are hopeful going forward to be able to develop and broaden this offer to our local community."

Any young person concerned about their relationship should speak with a member of staff at school or can go to for general support for young people in Somerset.