NSN Adviser Natasha Brooks stresses the importance of a whole-school approach to LGBTQ+ inclusion.
The banning of anti-LGBT protests against inclusive relationships and sex education (RSE) at Anderton Park Primary School by the High Court is a win for diversity and inclusion in England’s schools. However, diversity and inclusion must go beyond what is taught in RSE.
In order to create a genuinely inclusive environment, diversity must permeate through all aspects of school life, rather than being taught as a stand-alone topic. This might look slightly different depending on the cohort or the type of school, but generally the areas covered below are relevant when considering the inclusion of any marginalised group.
A meaningful assessment is an important first step; school leaders should reflect on what is going well, what could be improved upon, and what areas might be neglected altogether. In doing this, a baseline will be established which can direct priorities and allow leaders to identify when progress has been made.
Inclusion isn’t an objective that can be delivered by an individual, it requires a collaborative approach. If there is no representation within governance and leadership structures to feed into this process, schools should reach out to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* and Queer (LGBTQ+) community – this could include young people attending the school, parents, local groups, charities and other organisations. LGBTQ+ people need to be involved in this process if it’s going to be effective. This is a good opportunity to establish staff and pupil networks or strengthen existing ones. If inclusion initiatives are to be effective, schools must engage directly with the communities they are attempting to include.
Schools and MATs should be questioning whether there is diverse representation within governance structures and school leadership. Visibility and representation at all levels is crucial to creating an inclusive school environment. Doing this effectively will enable LGBTQ+ voices to be heard during decision making processes, and as a result, LGBTQ+ needs are more likely to be met. Schools which are lacking visibility should reach out to the wider school community and local organisations to change this. Role models promote acceptance among young people, including those who may be struggling with their own LGBTQ+ identity, and reduce feelings of isolation. Schools should consider whether there are staff who are ‘out’, and if not, why not?
It’s absolutely vital for young people to learn about the diversity within our communities through RSE, but in order for LGBTQ+ young people and teachers to feel welcome in our schools, LGBTQ+ people and culture should be visible in all aspects of the curriculum. Schools can introduce books written by gay authors including LGBTQ+ characters to the school library; teach about the history of LGBTQ+ culture and the damaging effects of prejudice towards these groups; study art and music by LGBTQ+ artists and musicians; hold assemblies on LGBTQ+ issues; and celebrate events such as LGBT History Month and Trans Awareness Week. A review of the curriculum should also consider approaches to teaching and learning, assessment methods and teacher training. Beyond the curriculum, schools can consider the physical learning environment. For example, gender-neutral toilets can help make Trans* pupils feel more comfortable in school.
The value of training cannot be underestimated. A joint NSPCC-NEU poll found that 47% of teachers lack confidence in their ability to deliver the new LGBT inclusive RSE lessons. Staff must feel comfortable to tackle instances of bullying when they arise, and should be familiar with terminology so that they can approach the subject sensitively. In order to educate others in these areas, teachers must receive adequate training. Where possible this training should be led by people who identify as LGBTQ+. Some schools encourage LGBTQ+ pupils to train teachers themselves - this pupil-led approach can help empower marginalised young people.
Strong diversity and inclusion policies are important, but inclusive practice should also be reflected within other policies. Again, it’s ensuring that inclusion isn’t something that’s done in isolation as a box-ticking exercise. There are a number of other policies that could, and should, consider diversity including uniform; recruitment practice; behaviour and classroom management; and bullying and harassment procedures. When rewriting these policies, it’s important that schools consult with relevant stakeholders - staff and pupil networks. Stonewall’s template policies offer a useful starting point. Schools don’t have to figure this out alone, there are an array of organisations offering guidance and resources – from assemblies to template policies.
School leaders should be modelling inclusive behaviours, but it should be reflected by all staff and the responsibility of all individuals within the school. It’s vital to take time to recognise and celebrate the pupils and staff who are modelling inclusive behaviours, as well as measuring the impact of the strategy. Schools might want to consider designing a recognition scheme or becoming a member of a national scheme such as The Rainbow Flag Award. The important thing to bear in mind with all of these strategies is that they form part of a whole-school approach to inclusion.