Josh Breach is the PSCHE and Careers Lead at Ark Charter Academy in Portsmouth. Outside of education he works as an LGBTQ+ Specialist Worker and prides himself on being a local community activist. In October 2018, Josh won a Teach Portsmouth Award for his work educating children about diversity.
At Ark Charter Academy, we take supporting diversity and equality very seriously. And it’s a subject that’s close to my heart in particular.
When I became a teacher, one of the most important things I wanted to focus on was diversity, and the culture that surrounds it. The first challenge was making clear to everyone that this was a necessary action. It is easy for people to perceive that “our LGBT+ students feel safe and secure”. It’s not always obvious that an intervention might be needed. I felt that this perception needed to be investigated further.
There’s always more we can do
In Stonewall’s School Report (2017) a study of over 3,700 lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) pupils across Britain found that fewer than a third of bullied LGBT pupils (29%) say that teachers intervened when they were present during the bullying. A further seven in ten LGBT pupils (68%) reported that teachers or school staff either ‘only sometimes’ or even ‘never’ challenged homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language when they hear it.
These stats prove how easy it is for us to be reactive to situations, rather than proactively engage in positive practice for our students.
Build positive practice
Building the infrastructure for this practice can take time and effort. You need to:
- Reassess policies, including bullying, and uniform
- Change language, ie "Good afternoon ladies, lads"
- Change practice, ie splitting classes for games by gender
- Ensure curriculum and display boards promote a diverse range of celebrated icons
- Get staff buy-in.
The last is probably the most important task. You may have some contention or ‘pull-back’ from members of staff – but this doesn’t mean they are ‘anti-diversity’. In my experience, I have found this is a reaction or resistance to change and not to inclusivity itself. Staff may need to be guided with open, frank and safe conversations, where everyone is encouraged to ask any questions they need.
As school leaders, we need to present a unified message on diversity, and building a staff script is an easy way of supporting. For example, when comments like “That’s so gay!” pop up, teachers are able to question the origin of the phrase: “Why did you say that? What do you think it comes from/means?”. This approach is more investigative than abrasive, and the objective questioning challenges the behaviour without being personal or putting our students at risk.
Celebrating diversity events like LGBT History Month, Black History Month and UK Disability Month are great ways to remind everyone that diversity is a cause for celebration. Incorporate this into drop-down days, PSHE lessons and whole school activities to bring diversity to life beyond the classroom.
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