David Lowbridge-Ellis (Deputy Director of School Improvement at Matrix Academy Trust)
Pride Month is celebrated in June each year but Pride is too important to be confined to a single month. Even with LGBT History Month in February (the shortest month), that’s still barely a sixth of the year. The opposite of pride is shame. So does that mean for ten months of the year we are OK with a significant proportion of our pupils feeling ashamed?
This might be hard for people who aren’t LGBTQ+ to hear and understand but: all LGBTQ+ people grow up feeling more or less ashamed. And the longer it’s allowed to go on for, the worse it gets.
(trans people are still on a far from equal footing). Even if laws do change, social attitudes often lag behind legislation. In a 2019 report, the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, who also administer the PISA tests comparing academic attainment across countries), concluded that the UK was still barely above average in terms of acceptance for LGBT people (countries such as Germany, France and Iceland were well ahead of us).
Schools are used to being relied upon to make up for wider society’s inadequacies - as if we aren’t busy enough teaching pupils maths and all the rest! But the truth is, we are ideally placed to combat ignorance and ensure generations of school children grow into open-minded adults. We also need to make our schools spaces where LGBTQ+ pupils feel valued and do whatever we can to mitigate for the discrimination they may face when they leave our school gates.
Even if a LGBTQ+ child has the most supportive parents and teachers, they are still going to face considerable hostility, whether it is spoken or unspoken. This isn’t just an equality issue, its an equity issue: we need to do more so our LGBTQ+ pupils don’t feel they are less.
The consequences of not making LGBTQ+ pupils feel proud of who they are is potentially dire. Even in recent years, there have been several high profile cases of queer youths taking their lives, like teenagers Dominic Crouch and Anthony Stubbs, who both killed themselves after being bullied.
Fortunately, although it seems like painfully slow-going at times, more and more schools ARE making LGBTQ+ pride a priority.
What we can do next
I always reassure leaders: you have to see it as a journey. You’re not going to solve this one overnight. And we’ll all be at different points. What you do next will depend on where you are right now. If you’ve not done anything, you may want to start small (training staff on challenging the inappropriate use of the word ‘gay’ for instance). If this isn’t a problem at your school (check by asking the pupils first!), tackle the bigger things, like a fully inclusive curriculum celebrating LGBTQ+ experiences in every subject. Or you may want to try approaching it on several fronts simultaneously if you have capacity. Starting on the curriculum may work well alongside educating people on appropriate language usage: prevention and cure working hand in hand.
Important: Don’t be discouraged when you don’t immediately ‘fix’ society as a whole. We can’t do everything by ourselves, even if we want to. But we can do quite a bit to make life better for LGBTQ+ people.
The reassuring thing is, that you can make a big impact by doing some small things. In 2020, I wrote an article for ASCL which was originally entitled ‘10 things you can do in 10 minutes for LGBTQ+ people in your schools’. The title was almost longer than the article so I’m not surprised the sub-editor changed it to ‘Be LGBT Inclusive’, but my original title more accurately represented the article’s contents: http://www.leadermagazine.co.uk/articles/be_lgbt_inclusive/
Even though nearly two decades have passed since Section 28 was repealed, there are a lot of misconceptions about what we can and can’t do and say. I unpicked 3 of the most common misconceptions in this article here:
In terms of supporting our LGBTQ+ staff, there are several myths urgently in need of debunking. After I had been asked by yet another trainee teacher if they were allowed to tell pupils they were gay (“of course!”) I wrote this to clear things up a bit: https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/07/ 18/being-open/
I’ve delivered many talks and workshops on implementing LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula so do get in touch if you would value something more in-depth, but this paper I wrote for the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools might be a useful starting point. The link to the knowledge organiser no longer works as it’s moved but email me for a copy (I’m always updating it!): https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/-
I was recently asked by LGBTEd and The Key For School Leaders to consult on this curriculum audit tool. It contains many helpful suggestions for curriculum content you might include across primary and secondary phases:
Not everything fits neatly into the SEF
It’s hard to measure the impact of our efforts to make our schools more LGBTQ+ inclusive and thereby alleviate some of the shame our pupils feel. For a start at least, the number of reported homophobic, biphobic and transphobic incidents (which we have to log by law) will probably go up. Consciousness-raising tends to have that effect. But we’d much rather know what’s really going on than turn a blind eye, right? And in the long-term, things will get better.
What you CAN evaluate is the shorter-term, the impact of an inclusive curriculum. For instance, by interviewing pupils about what they have learned about people with different characteristics for instance. But, like a lot of what we do for Personal Development, the lasting impact of LGBTQ+ inclusion is felt long after the pupils have left us. Ofsted have made this point time and time again: we shouldn’t just teach healthy eating because we want our pupils to make better choices at lunchtime; we are preparing them for a happier and healthier life, preventing them from having health complications decades down the line.
Queer inclusion may be hard to measure (not everything fits neatly into the SEF!), but that doesn’t make it any less vital than everything else we do. What we do to support our LGBTQ+ pupils will change their lives. It may also save some.
David Lowbridge-Ellis is Deputy Director of School Improvement for Matrix Academy Trust and is based out of Barr Beacon School in Walsall, where he has been a senior leader for more than a decade. In addition to writing extensively on equality and diversity he has been published widely on topics ranging from curriculum and assessment to workload and well-being.
He recently contributed a chapter to the LGBTEd book ‘Big Gay Adventures in Education’ published by Routledge.
David can be found on twitter @davidtlowbridge or via email at email@example.com