Rebecca James shares how championing diversity has improved her school and taken root in the wider community.
We heard from Rebecca in July last year when she discussed her project around LGBT+ inclusion. Here she reflects on the importance of maintaining positive practices in school and updates us on the progress she’s made since her last blog post.
As we draw closer to LGBT+ History Month 2020, it is wonderful to reflect on how far things have come in the UK since those dark days where homosexuality was illegal. When literary genius Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for ‘Acts of Gross Indecency’ in 1895. When I think of Wilde and what he endured I am humbled by the fact that even in those dark times, his sense of love and compassion for the world forced him to focus on the suffering and plight of others, namely the children as young as 14 subjected to the horrific conditions of adult prisons.
I think about Section 28 and the constraints of educators in their teaching. The fear and misconceptions around education and information as some sort of poison chalice set to corrupt and influence young minds, and joyfully its revoke in 2003. I think and rejoice at The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and the freedom given to people to celebrate their love and have it recognised as any other couple do. But I am also roused by the reality that despite the huge steps forward that we have made, that there is still so much work to be done.
Within our school, our culture, our attitude and our zero-tolerance approach has changed the lives of many young people and we gladly take our place in LGBT+ History.
I am currently on the Expert Middle Leaders programme (formerly known as Teaching Leaders) with Ambition, which provides an opportunity to be supported in designing and implementing a school improvement project. When choosing a focus for my project, I was surrounded by incredible practitioners who had amazing ideas for improving the results of pupil premium students. They were driving changes in attendance and engaging young people in different styles of learning, but my heart went straight to equality and diversity. I decided to focus my project on changing and improving the educational experience and lives of LGBT+ young people in my school and, dare I say it, my community. I decided that the personal development and lived experience of these young people could be changed significantly by allowing them to be who they are, freely, safely and happily. More than that, if we could change the culture of their school community for them, that we might make other young people in school, whoever they were, feel safe to be themselves too. What a lofty goal I hear you cry! And yes, it was!
"For us, every student in our school should feel free to be who they are! We are proud to challenge behaviour and language that contradicts that message"- Year 13 Ambassador
We started by exploring language, and how It was used around school, drawing on the amazing resources of groups like Stonewall and The Proud Trust to address the use of language and the Bystander Approach. We did this by launching a series of assemblies, discussion groups and student voice about how LGBT+ young people were feeling in their school community. We educated our students in all year groups about what Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic (HBT) language was, and what the impact was in using it. We challenged our students to challenge it themselves, they did and they do!
"The work that the school has done to support students has changed my life! I would not be the confident person I am today without it"- Year 11 Student
We introduced diversity to the heart of the school by marking key dates of the LGBT+ calendar like Bi-Visibility Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance , LGBT+ History Month, National Coming Out Day and Pride. We celebrated with market stalls, craft days, parades around school and imbedded LGBT+ History and Black History Month into the curriculum. Just Like Us supported us to hold a week of celebrations for Diversity Week where every subject ran lessons dedicated to showcasing the achievements and accolades of key people in their subject areas and from around the world.
Since January 2018 Ash Green Academy in Warwickshire has become Stonewall Champions and trained its staff, teachers, students and community in how to tackle HBT bullying. We have engaged with our local community supporting local schools in their journey to equality and diversity.
"What Ash Green has done to support my daughter in being who she is in incredible and we are so grateful"- Parent
In 2020, our work takes on new meaning. We look forward to welcoming Warwickshire Pride to our school to running its first youth group from the school building itself, and we launch our LGBT+ parent support group where we will be on hand to help parents in supporting their children. We look forward to training our anti-bullying ambassadors, reaching out to our local community even more and I also look forward to supporting and consulting with local primary schools in their effort to deliver inclusive support on different families and celebrate equality and diversity in their own way.
Marking LGBT+ History Month is important but it is just one part of a whole shift in culture. Looking back, reflecting on the past and how far we have come is key to giving young people the perspective and the tools to make changes in their community and their lives. But truly what has made the biggest difference is giving our young people the knowledge, the skills and the confidence to challenge discrimination, open their minds to celebrate diversity and care for each and every person that they share their educational journey with.
The work that is happening in our school is going on in so many other schools, but not all, and I argue that it should be. Whilst the change in legislation to make Relationships Education a non-negotiable in education in the UK from September 2020, the culture of a school and an inclusive community is about the school itself and I urge schools who are not yet celebrating diversity to do so! To support your young people, to encourage diversity and visibility and to challenge discrimination will achieve something far beyond the expectations of a curriculum, for those young people and their families, it is life-changing.
Rebecca is currently a participant on our Expert Middle Leaders Programme, you can find out more about how it can improve your teaching practice here.