Calling for inclusive education on Purple Friday

Promoting a safe space for students to grow and develop is an important role as a teacher. As young people mature, learning more about themselves, it is imperative that school is forthcoming with education and guidance.

The time for inclusive education is now. In 2015 a campaign was launched in Scotland to promote inclusivity and tackle issues around homophobia, biphobia, transphobia in schools through LGBT-inclusive education.

Last year, the Scottish Government announced that inclusive education would be fully implemented across Scottish schools to spearhead knowledge, acceptance and a safety network within the school environment.

As one school in England saw 17 pupils come out as transgender or questioning their identity: knowing how to support students has never been more crucial.

UNDERSTANDING

“Young people shouldn’t feel that they’re not being accepted,” emphasises Jenny Smith, deputy head teacher for Queensferry High School.

“We are a very inclusive school, and we are passionate about what inclusion looks like for twenty-first century education.”

In a bid to encourage understanding, share knowledge, and most importantly, change attitudes, Queensferry High School got involved with LGBT Youth Scotland’s LGBT Schools Charter.

The Charter is a fantastic initiative working to help secondary school effectively support the LGBT community.

Supporting schools to undertake training, review policies, provide educational resources alongside working with a dedicated Charter Manager: schools are guided every step of the way to encourage inclusivity across the school environment.

Jenny continues: “We raised awareness by running assemblies and we would put communications out to parents, so the wider community understood the work we were taking on.

“One thing that was really powerful: we gave staff the choice of wearing a rainbow lanyard.

“We wanted this to be meaningful, and sometimes the simplest things are the most effective. My goodness, some of our young people were being really positive and having conversations with members of staff they felt they could trust and talk to.

“It might not be a LGBT issue, maybe bullying, or issues at home; but, the lanyards have allowed our LGBT community to come forward and seek the support they need.”

And students are completely embracing the work of the Charter.

AWARENESS

Megan, a student at the school, has been heavily involved with the Charter during her time in education. Now a senior student, Megan has seen first-hand the positives that come from participating with the Charter.

“Acceptance is really important and the Charter gradually informs and allows the school be aware of the issues that are happening, identify them, and tackle them,” explains Megan.

“I feel it’s really having such an impact. Some teachers didn’t know what transgender meant, and now they’re so educated and working on being really correct.”

Raising consciousness on different issues is imperative in the classroom and wider community.

In a 2017 survey of young Scots in the classroom, 71 per cent of LGBT young people experienced bullying in school.

Similarly, nine per cent of LGBT and 27 per cent of transgender young people left education due to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in their learning environment.

As a student, experiencing tension or bullying in the classroom can be detrimental to learning.

Megan emphasises: “School is so stressful, it is a difficult time for anybody: it’s busy, there’s no stopping, especially in your senior phase.

“It can be very overwhelming. When you’ve got that on top of discriminatory behaviour, and things in general that are not polite or nice, a bad atmosphere will hinder your learning.

“When your school begins to work so diligently to make that up to their young people, you can definitely feel it. You can feel the shift in atmosphere go from something really unpleasant to smoother, and it helps people learn and progress.”

PROGRESSION

Working with LGBT Youth Scotland, and partnering charities, schools across Scotland have the opportunity to stand against discrimination, promote progression to ensure staff and students are getting the best experience in school.

Promoting inclusive education is not just beneficial for students in the LGBT community, allies, or raising awareness on the terms and languages that can be offensive; inclusive education is also a positive for teachers across the board.

Jenny enthuses: “Staff have received this brilliantly. They are explaining that it has been a learning experience for them; they feel more confident in knowing how to support a young person who now wants to use different pronouns in class.

“Engaging with the charter has ensured we are abreast of current good practice in relation to the equalities agenda in schools.

“From a teacher point of view, we’re not just raising awareness we are changing attitudes – plus, we’re changing how we are with one another. Respect is at the heart of our school values.”

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