Prestigious award for academic’s work with young people

A Cardiff University researcher, whose work has enabled children and young people to speak out about relationships and sexuality education, has picked up a national award.

Professor of Childhood Studies Emma Renold won 10,000 for Outstanding Impact in Society in the 2018 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize.

Based in the School of Social Sciences, her research has sparked youth activism on gender and sexuality issues, contributed to new Welsh legislation on gender-based and sexual violence and shaped the fundamental overhaul of current sex and relationships education in Welsh schools announced by Wales’s education secretary, Kirsty Williams, last month.

Professor Renold chaired the Cabinet Secretary for Education (Wales) expert panel that concluded that Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in schools is too biological and too negative , with insufficient attention given to rights, gender equity, emotions and relationships. These findings led the panel to recommend a major overhaul of the SRE curriculum, including a name change and professional learning pathways. From 2022, a new inclusive, holistic and empowering Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) will be embedded in the Welsh curriculum on a statutory basis, and supported by clear professional learning pathways for teachers and practitioners.

She has also co-created a guide that supports young people to raise awareness of gender-based and sexual violence in schools and local communities. AGENDA: A Young People’s Guide to Making Positive Relationships Matter is an online toolkit produced in partnership with young people that supports them to speak out creatively and safely on gender and sexual injustices and violence using innovative methods such as visual arts, poetry, dance and theatre.

In the first 12 months since its launch, the guide reached 1,400 young people, 1,000 practitioners, 500 teachers and 100 academics. Forty young people were trained as AGENDA youth ambassadors and some of these shared the toolkit resource with the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children and at the UN headquarters in New York.

Professor Renold’s research in preventing gender and sexual violence was extensively cited by the Welsh Government in the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV) Act, passed in 2015. Prior to the Act she helped facilitate the Young People’s Promise Campaign with the Wales Violence Against Women Action Group and Citizens Cymru in which over 1,000 students wrote to Welsh Assembly members, highlighting the vital role of education in preventing VAWDASV. As part of the campaign, 40 young people created Valentine’s cards for all 60 WA members, each containing a handwritten comment from students stating why they needed healthy relationships education.

As a member of the Welsh Government’s National VAWDASV Advisory Group, she helped develop the Welsh Government #thisisme campaign to challenge harmful gender stereotypes that underpin gender and sexual violence.

After collecting the prize in London yesterday, Professor Renold said: “Winning this award means a great deal. It recognises, values and celebrates how intersectional, intergenerational and experimental feminist, creative and participatory scholarship and practice, so often crafted in the liminal space of where research, engagement and activism meet, can and continues to inform the formation of policy and practice.

"The making of the young people’s AGENDA tool-kit and the new vision for a statutory relationships and sexuality education curriculum for Wales, for example, are the outcomes of extensive long-term partnerships with schools, youth groups, third sector agencies, Welsh government, and a vibrant community of feminist and queer academic-activists around the world. This is slow impact and has been 20 years in the making.

Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan said: “I am delighted that Professor Renold’s ground-breaking research, which strives to give children and young people a voice and has led to sweeping changes in law and policy in Wales, has been recognised by the ESRC. Her work is a great example of how academics can help to forge partnerships and collaborations that bring about positive changes to society. I congratulate her on her success.”

Professor Renold added: “Over the past seven years we have been co-creating research, activism, engagement events, forums and the AGENDA resource with young people to ensure their views are heard and acted upon.

“Our story shows what’s possible when children and young people are supported to be part of decision-making processes and drive change-making practices, addressing issues that are all too often individualised, sensationalised, simplified and silenced.”