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Open, positive and proud: the importance of diverse role models

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Date published 20 January 2020

Headteacher Graeme Smith reflects on the impact of positive LGBT+ role models and how to work towards an inclusive school.

‘Sir, you’ve had two million hits!’

‘Sir, you’ve met James Maddison!’

This was how I was addressed by students when I returned to school having appeared on a Premier League film about my experience as an LGBT+ football fan, alongside James Maddison and Ben Chilwell and fellow members of Foxes Pride.

It is a mark of the work done at Harris Academy St. John’s Wood (HASJW) that the students’ focus was not on the fact I was representing the LGBT+ community on the film, but on the number of views and footballers involved. As a gay school leader, the decision about how and when to be open about one’s sexuality can be difficult. It turns out I need not have worried, thanks to the involvement of the Premier League and Leicester City (!), and the open culture that has been created at HASJW.

Randal Cremer_playground

At HASJW, we work exceptionally hard to ensure that all students of all backgrounds are treated as individuals and valued whatever their gender, sexuality, religion, ability and background. As a new principal, it has been incredibly encouraging to join a culture where this is the case. It was also the case at my previous school, Derby Moor Academy. My experience is that an inclusive culture does not happen by accident, but nor is it a consequence of random initiatives. An inclusive culture is grown through the views of leaders and nurtured through the buy-in of staff, students and the wider community.

Some examples of how this has grown at Harris Academy St. John’s Wood include a staff-led introduction of rainbow lanyards to coincide with Pride in June 2019. All were encouraged to make a voluntary contribution to the Albert Kennedy Trust. Throughout Pride, LGBT+ History Month and for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHO), assemblies were delivered to all students about LGBT+ inclusion. We have also worked with Diversity Role Models to deliver ‘drop down’ day sessions to support students in furthering their understanding.

Much of this work has been prepared by our PSHE lead. However, central to the effectiveness has been the involvement of Lexy Lay, currently our acting SENCO. In addition to supporting the planning of the PSHE curriculum, Lexy has made a conscious decision to be an open, positive and proud gay role model for students in our school. She has certainly challenged me to be even more open and positive than I’ve been previously. When I grew up and attended school in rural Lincolnshire, I can’t understate how important it would have been to me to see positive LGBT+ role models in the school.

All staff are guided to respond promptly and appropriately to any use of any inappropriate or LGBT+-phobic language and students are clear that these (rare) incidents are dealt with promptly. Staff are supported in reconciliation with students when these have happened.

"At the heart of all decisions are young people, often still finding their place in life. We owe it to them to ensure that inclusion for all, including LGBT+ is at the heart of a school’s work."

A school has to choose to be inclusive, and that choice needs to be wholeheartedly supported by the principal to ensure it remains high on the agenda of all staff. At the heart of all decisions are young people, often still finding their place in life. We owe it to them to ensure that inclusion for all, including LGBT+ is at the heart of a school’s work.

Diversity Role Models support schools to create LGBT+ inclusive environments where students are empowered to embrace difference and end bullying.

They deliver workshops to students in primary and secondary schools and colleges. The classroom-based workshops are safe spaces where students can explore difference and consider their role in creating a world where we all feel accepted. To ensure sustained change they supplement student workshops with training staff, governors and parents/carers.

Graeme Smith
Graeme Smith
Headteacher, Harris Academy St. John’s Wood

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