Corelli College Co-operative Academy originally had a fairly pervasive culture of homophobia. However, over the last decade the college has been involved in changing that culture through a range of approaches. Our college, a fully inclusive academy in an area of high level deprivation in south east London, has achieved a sophisticated understanding of LGBT issues among students and staff and is now recognised as a Stonewall Champion School. Here, we offer our advice to other schools.
Start with the staff and challenging homophobia. Everyone needs training, both general and specific, on how best to deal with the kind of homophobic incidents they encounter in their day-to-day duties. This should include an understanding of a whole-institution equality and non-discrimination policy and of what actually is homophobia – staff need to know what words and actions are considered homophobic and how to best deal with situations that occur regularly. You need to have a zero-tolerance attitude.
It’s not a choice
In an average staff body, there will be a range of views – the open and liberal, those comfortable and effective at challenging homophobia, those who wish to be but lack confidence, some who ignore it, and, at worst, some who collude with it. There will also be staff who don’t identify as heterosexual, some who are happy to be necessary role-models, and some who are not comfortable with their sexuality and therefore uncomfortable with discussion of the issues in school.
Whatever the source of discomfort or resistance, including religiously fuelled homophobia, it is simply no longer appropriate to use such reasons or excuses for lack of action and staff need to be clear about this. Expressing homophobic or anti-gay opinions, ignoring or dealing with homophobia ineffectively is no longer a matter of personal choice or belief if you want to continue to work as a teacher.
Language and assumptions
Research shows that LGBT students are now deemed the most vulnerable and disenfranchised group, so much so that Ofsted inspectors now have a specific brief to measure the safety and achievement of these students. All staff need to understand that some students in the school are LGBT, whether known to them or not, or will have same-sex parents or other close members of their family who are not heterosexual. Staff need to adjust their language accordingly and be careful not to make assumptions.
A working party
A key part of the work at our college was to form a working party from a diverse group of staff. This group works on whole-college events together – the more people involved with the planning, the more smoothly the introduction of potentially contentious initiatives tend to go. When the staff group is established, invite students to join too.
Introduce a support group for LGBT students or ask the school council to decide how best to offer support. Some schools have found that LGBT students are reluctant to attend a “gay group” but that a gay/straight alliance club makes it easier. Furthermore, the school council should have an LGBT representative too.
Resources and curriculum
Make sure the resources, materials and thinking behind any staff training, curriculum sessions or assemblies are outstanding. We are happy to share ideas and resources, or you can contact Stonewall. Examine your curriculum for positive inclusion of LGBT issues, stories and role-models and ensure that the personal development sex and relationships education curriculum is inclusive of non-heterosexual relationships. There should be LGBT-friendly resources, including library books, in the school. Again, Stonewall can support the introduction or development of materials.
A rigorous procedure for logging and dealing with any LGBT incidents is essential. Part of the process should be restorative and include developmental interventions for any child involved in such an incident, including a piece of work on anti-homophobia.
On arrival, parents of new students should sign up to the school’s inclusion policy and curriculum on LGBT issues. Ensure that inclusivity and diversity are part of the parents’ contract too.
Aim to create an ethos whereby students and staff can come out about being LGBT if they choose to. Nothing is more powerful than for a community to be aware that LGBT people actually exist and aren’t just famous people in the media. Remember this: how can students feel they can come out and be themselves if staff lack the bravery to do so, or the understanding of the profound difference that this makes to young people who are often growing up feeling isolated?
Contact Stonewall for support and training, and send staff to the charity’s Education For All conference. You could aim to become a Stonewall Champion School like we have. As part of this work, 6th form students can become Stonewall youth volunteers.
LGBT History Month
In February, celebrate LGBT History Month. This could be done annually and marked through several whole-school events and learning opportunities.
We are proud to be a Stonewall Champion School and are happy to support other schools if requested to do so.
CAPTION: Stonewall Champions: Corelli staff and 6th form students at the London Pride march
Sharron Humphrey is vice-principal of Corelli College Co-operative Academy in south east London. You can contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a visit or further discussion about their good practice.