Schools offered resources to discuss disfigurement with pupils

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
School resources: Changing Faces is a UK charity that provide support, advice and psychosocial services to children, young people and adults with a scar, mark or condition on their face or body that makes them look different (Image: Changing Faces)

“Having a disfigurement means never having a day off. I don’t get to take my scars off and forget about them.”

When Tulsi was 10-years-old she was involved in an airplane crash and sustained second and third degree burns to around half of her face and body. For years she was bullied about how she looked, which affected her mental health.

An estimated 18 per cent of people identify as having a visible disfigurement such as a mark or a scar and schools are being urged to make use of resources to help raise awareness and discuss this sensitive issue with young people.

The call has come from the charity Changing Faces, which published a research report this week revealing that six in 10 people with a disfigurement have experienced hostility from strangers,

The report – My visible difference – includes a survey of more than 1,000 UK adults with a visible difference and reveals how people with a disfigurement continue to be excluded from public life, with many facing discrimination, isolation and loneliness.

Almost a quarter said they felt self-conscious or embarrassed going out in public while other problems include discrimination at work, trouble finding work in the first place, and mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

Tulsi’s story features in the report. She said: “I associated my scars with being ugly and had no self-esteem. I would read about beautiful celebrities and want to be like them. I never felt beautiful. Having a disfigurement means never having a day off.

“I don’t get to take my scars off and forget about them. Every day when I leave my house I need to check in with myself to see how I am going to handle the stare or comments.”

The Equality Act (2010) requires schools to ensure that no student is disadvantaged at school because of a disfigurement, both in terms of academic performance and mental wellbeing, and to increase all students’ awareness and acceptance of differences.

Changing Faces has previously written for SecEd advising schools on how they can support pupils living with a visible disfigurement and steps they can take to avoid discrimination and to tackle issues such as bullying (SecEd, 2018).

Another case study in the report features the story of Julie, who was 14 when all her hair fell out in just a few weeks due to alopecia.

Now 35, she says the condition has had a profound impact on her career: “I worked very hard to blend in and not be noticed. That’s really career-limiting. By the time I realised I was doing this, I had missed so many opportunities career wise. I never believed in myself enough to put myself out there and talk about what I could do. I know I’ve held myself back, underselling myself.”

One of the recommendations in the report is that schools use the Changing Faces resources to talk about disfigurement with pupils.

Resources from the charity include assembly plans, classroom activities, whole-school guidance, use of language and other advice for teachers (see below).

The charity has also published this week a resource pack directly related to its My visible difference report and campaign. The pack offers classroom activities and also encourages schools to take on fundraising campaigns for the charity’s support work.

Changing Faces CEO Becky Hewitt said: “People with a visible difference deserve to live the life they want, but are still facing multiple challenges. They are vulnerable to isolation, loneliness, social anxiety and low self-esteem. They face staring, harassment, bullying and hate crime.

“We need to act now to challenge stigma and prejudice, achieve better representation for people with visible differences across the media and in brand campaigns, and increase awareness and education across schools, workplaces and amongst the general public.”

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