I work in a school that celebrates every one of its pupils with pride. I hope this experience is not unique but it is certainly unusual. My school, Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS), offers a truly inclusive curriculum, in which we can drape rainbow flags in the hallways and can provide explicit points of support for LGBT pupils.
It is imperative to me that the children I teach understand the real meaning of equality and tolerance.
Recent research by the Teacher Support Network (TSN) has shown that nearly half (48 per cent) of LGBT teaching professionals have experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation (see boxout, below).
The numerous policies and systems in place at my school prevent such discrimination through education. Now we can finally stop tiptoeing around in the shadow of Section 28, which prevented “the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality” it is time for progress.
The first step was to challenge the hetero-normative curriculum. Sex and relationships education (SRE) in our school has been completely overhauled.
Our aim has been to develop the culture of the school and improve the experience of our pupils for the better. Today, pupils at my school enjoy a balanced learning experience that will help them grow into adults without prejudice.
The TSN survey also found that 67 per cent of staff in schools do not feel adequately prepared to teach same-sex marriage and LGBT-related issues, preventing an open and tolerant environment for teachers and students.
To overcome this significant barrier, in our school we have integrated the teaching of LGBT issues into other curriculum subjects. We have moved beyond biology and embraced the relationships aspect of SRE, focusing on the issues that are relevant to the students, such as different kinds of love, pornography and sexting. The aim is to give pupils the skills as well as the knowledge to be contented individuals who are able to make choices that they are happy with.
We explore LGBT issues in a variety of ways that challenge prejudice and promote understanding. We examine the impact of explicit and casual homophobia and transphobia, we ensure that pupils are aware of terms like “pansexual”, and we emphasise the positive nature of diversity.
The PSHE curriculum more broadly has been adapted to be more inclusive by avoiding heterosexual assumptions and by creating a safe environment for all pupils where open dialogue is encouraged. Similarly, the opportunity to consider assumptions of hetero-normativity within our approach to SRE in the junior school has been refreshing for staff and positively received by pupils.
Another important step in shifting the culture and mind-set of some pupils has been to create a specialist role for a member of staff providing support for students and championing LGBT in the school.
As head of pastoral curriculum, an explicit part of my role is to be the point of support for LGBT pupils. This is advertised on the wall of every classroom and every pupil (and member of staff) knows that they have somewhere to go should they need it. Some do, some don’t. There is no expectation that they should.
Our most high-profile strategy has been the introduction of the Pride Society, a club and discussion group that meets every other week. The school has supported me in this potentially controversial venture but the risk has paid off.
PGS Pride has been well received by students and staff. Part support network, part academic enquiry, the society has attracted pupils from years 9 to 13 and is so full that it’s often standing room only. Every member of Pride is issued with a rainbow badge which they can wear on their school blazer.
Many staff also wear the badges as a way of showing their support and solidarity. Notice boards and screens around the school are covered with the rainbow posters advertising the events. Even the school catering staff are fantastically supportive, baking rainbow cakes and rainbow cookies and even a same-sex wedding cake when we met to celebrate the first UK same-sex marriages.
Our first meeting was a brainstorming session where pupils offered ideas about what they wanted from the society. They were very keen to make the society as inclusive as possible, and there was a real desire to continue to improve attitudes at the school.
They wanted the Pride Society to be a safe place for young LGBT pupils and their straight allies to meet and celebrate all their similarities and their differences. And above all, cake was high on the agenda!
Most weeks, PGS Pride meetings begin with a pupil presentation. So far these have included a celebration of same-sex marriage and an introduction to pansexuality.
One student presented a very strong argument that Britain is one of the best places in the world if you are LGBT. These presentations are followed by questions, debate, socialising and cake. We have also invited an outside speaker to give a presentation about the fluidity of gender and sexuality. This is hopefully the first of many.
Later this year, I will take a small delegation of four pupils to Stonewall’s Education for All Conference. Last year, I attended the event on my own and it really inspired me to do what I could to make learning more inclusive at my school. We have already made so much progress and I am really looking forward to taking this further. Much of what we do in PGS Pride is built around what the students themselves want. They are gathering ideas and picking up inspiration from their own experiences, and this will dictate what we do next.
TSN has played a really valuable role in supporting the development of these ideas and more broadly in empowering teachers to challenge the status quo and do better for their students.
The TSN helpline receives thousands of calls from teachers struggling to cope with the pressures they face and access to support is vital in order to meet the challenges of teaching today.
As well as accessing support from the wider school community, advice and support from peers is essential; they are in the best position to help teachers to do our jobs better because they have real first-hand experiences of meeting these challenges.
We are experiencing an important moment for equality. As teachers have an increasing role in nurturing students’ wider development, we can use this opportunity to promote equality and help children to embrace difference and be proud of who they are.
The TSN researchTwo-thirds of teachers (67 per cent) have witnessed homophobic harassment, while half (48 per cent) have been personally discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, a Teacher Support Network poll revealed in March. The survey of more than 420 teachers and lecturers found that the harassment came from both colleagues (68 per cent) and students (47 per cent).The poll was carried out to coincide with the first same-sex marriage taking place, but found that two-third of teachers (67 per cent) feel unprepared for discussing same-sex marriage or LGBT issues in the classroom. Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network, said: “For many teachers, their sexuality has resulted in severe levels of discrimination by students but also surprisingly by colleagues as well. This has left some LGBT teachers unable to do their job properly, affected their mental wellbeing and even left them considering leaving the profession altogether.” He continued: “The focus of LGBT policy in schools has tended to be on students, but teachers need to be equally supported.”For more on the findings, read Mr Stanley’s recent SecEd article, Are you ready to discuss gay marriage with pupils?, at http://bit.ly/1lY6Hyw
Jo Morgan is head of pastoral curriculum and a teacher of philosophy and religious studies at Portsmouth Grammar School.