Education to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Natasha Eeles portrait

Written by Natasha Eeles

Natasha is the Founder of Bold Voices. She is a passionate advocate for the rights of women and marginalised genders.

The world young people are growing up in today is changing rapidly, bringing with it a need to think more broadly about the education young people require. In the past week the UK has had its eyes opened to the urgent need to challenge the seemingly harmless attitudes towards women and girls that contribute to a culture within which gender based violence is normalised and even accepted, a culture that unfortunately schools are not exempt from.

On Wednesday 3rd March Sarah Everad went missing while walking home in Clapham, south London. She had taken a well-lit, public route, she had called her boyfriend to let him know when she’d be home, she was wearing bright clothes and trainers. She followed all the unspoken ‘rules’ that women and girls follow to keep themselves safe, but it wasn’t enough. Since that day, Sarah’s kidnap and murder has sparked an outpouring of grief and exhaustion from women and marginalised genders across the country who are tired of being harassed, objectified and assaulted with little to no accountability for the perpetrators. The media coverage of Sarah Everad’s case coincided with the release of a UN Women UK report finding that 97% of young women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment. 


Unlike the #MeToo movement of 2017, the moment of the past week has not left young people behind. The Instagram account Everyone’s Invited has gained unprecedented traction, with thousands of school pupils and university students submitting their testimonies of harassment, abuse, assault and speaking to the rape culture that pervades within our educational institutions. As teachers and parents it can be difficult to know what to do in the wake of such a horrific outpouring from young people, how to keep them safe. But if this last week has taught us anything, it’s that to bring up a new generation who do not continue to perpetuate a culture of violence against women and girls is a number one priority. 


Keeping our young people safe and healthy means ensuring they have the right spaces for learning about and discussing these issues. We appreciate that terms such as ‘gender based’ or ‘sexual’ violence can be challenging and daunting, or even extreme, particularly when it comes to discussions about pupils. But, as this past week has shown, young people are not protected from this violence and so we must ensure we move towards a preventative as opposed to reactionary approach. 

At Bold Voices we’ve been delivering education on gender inequality and gender based violence to young people in schools and universities for three years. We’ve worked with over 2000 people through talks and workshops. We are a youth-led team who identify closely with the experiences young people face and understand the many influences that shape their beliefs and outlook on the world. Our education is designed to empower young people, both boys and girls, to see themselves as agents of change. We do this by approaching topics that are often uncomfortable and emotive with an objective, critical lens. In particular, our education focuses on challenging key attitudes and beliefs such as the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, dismissal of casual sexism as harmless and use of language that degrades and objectifies women.

This education is not a ‘nice-to-have’ addition to the curriculum. It is urgent, critical education required to keep young people safe and to disrupt the patterns of harassment, abuse and violence that have pervaded the lives of women and girls for centuries. Bold Voices are here to support you in becoming better equipped to have these conversations with your pupils, your children, and other educators and parents. As experts in delivering this critical education we have all the knowledge and expertise you need – resources, talks, workshops and a community where young people themselves can learn from each other and find support from others on this journey. 


Resources: Activities for the classroom, toolkits, blog posts and lesson plans for discussing gender inequality and gender based violence. Sign up to be the first to hear about new resources we create through our newsletter.

Talks and Workshops: Discover our talks and workshops, led by experienced facilitators and delivering on key topics relating to gender inequality and gender based violence including:

  • Thinking Big About Gender Inequality: From Misogyny to Gendered Violence
  • Preparing Our Teens for the Unspoken at University: Cultures of Gendered Violence within UK Universities
  • Online Sexual Harassment: How Gendered Violence Adapts to New Environments

Delivering Gendered Violence Education: Sign up for early access to our self-paced online course for teachers supporting you to deliver this critical education.

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Doing the Inner Work, to do the Outer Work

Ellie Lister portrait

Written by Ellie Lister

Ellie leads the Big Leadership Adventure programme at Big Education. A multi-academy trust and social enterprise whose mission is to rethink and reshape education.

We have spent the weekend working with our 2020 Big Leadership Adventure group. It is always an energising and uplifting experience – as we learn together as part of their journey as leaders who believe in a ‘big’ education that can change the system. The commitment, passion and dedication of this group of 30 leaders can not be overstated. We salute you all!


The overall theme of the two days was Design Thinking – how can we re-imagine practices by using a range of tools which get us to understand problems differently and then go about solving them in new ways? Inspired by the work of Ideo, this powerful methodology has much to offer us in the sector. 


As pupils return from lockdown, many more schools are looking to do things differently. Our leaders are all working on Innovation Projects that harness the learnings from lockdown, to help us to rethink and reshape education. 


We know that we cannot achieve ‘a big education’ unless our system values and embodies diversity, equity and inclusion. Having some of the sector-leading experts and trainers as part of the cohort gave an incredible opportunity to draw on their expertise and really explore how this is explicitly linked to our work on the programme. We explored the themes of user-centred design, really actually listening to what those with protected characteristics are saying, and creating the spaces where those conversations can happen. 


Adrian McLean and Hannah Wilson skillfully created a safe space for participants to learn, challenge and understand. It was so powerful to start with checking our knowledge of the equalities act – what are the 9 protected characteristics and how many can you name? Between the group we got there – but I for one would not have managed to get all 9 on my own. 


We were challenged to think about which of these are visible in our organisations. Where are there explicit practices in our organisation in supporting or addressing these protected characteristics? It was clear that for so many of us, there is not an equal balance of focus on each of those within our organisations. There were some fascinating reflections on the ‘emotional tax’ associated with some of the invisible characteristics, for example disabilities that are non visible.  Some areas of practice are much stronger than others, and it was powerful and, at times, very uncomfortable to delve into why this is the case. It was also fascinating to reflect on the difference between what is written in policies and what is actually happening which again can expose some uncomfortable truths. Adrian and Hanah recognised this and urged us to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” These reflections and conversations need to happen. 


A large focus was on encouraging us to look inwards first. “Doing the inner work, to do the outer work.” This means we need to look personally inwards and consider our own perspectives, privilege and biases before we can meaningfully bring that conversation into our wider organisations. We used the Wheel of Power and Privilege as a tool to consider our own identity and experience and as a way to consider what might be going on for others.


We made an interesting link with our concept of ‘making entry’ – the idea that an essential prerequisite of meaningful work together in a trusting relationship, and that this is achieved only through self disclosure and sharing information about ourselves. It raises many questions about what we choose to disclose – how much, about what and to whom. What is clear is that if we do not tell our own story, others will make one up for us.  Some of that story is based on what they can see – the visible characteristics – and some about assumptions they make. Whether we choose to inform them further is our choice.


What is also clear, however, is how powerful it is when people are open about aspects of themselves. We heard stories of the impact of staff sharing their sexual orientation with students and the transformation in attitudes this can enable, as well as safe spaces where students were empowered to be openly vulnerable and really challenge a culture of toxic masculinity.  


The group all made pledges for actions to undertake and we will hold ourselves accountable for these commitments.


Day 2 shifted us into some practical action in developing our leadership skills – what we call developing ourselves as a ‘leadership artefact’. We passionately believe that being able to clearly and effectively deliver a ‘stump’ speech is a tool in the changemaker’s tool kit. The ability to convince others, create a compelling narrative and inspire action is essential. Our leaders revisited their stump speech they had delivered as part of the application process, redrafted it in light of the philosophy of education module they have completed, and delivered it to colleagues in small groups. 


It was an incredible experience, for both those speaking and those listening and feeding back. Drawing on the 4 oracy strands as a framework for listening and observing, each leader then received detailed feedback about the impact their speech had had on others in the group. We were all reminded again of the power of feedback – such an important part of developing our self awareness and understanding the effect our behaviour has on others. We referenced the ever useful Johari’s window model as a framework where we consider what is known and unknown to self and others.


The energy, commitment and positivity from this group of school leaders, after the first week back at school, was quite a joy to experience. The power of the cohort and drawing on expertise and support from the group could not have been stronger. It is a pleasure to work with this group of leaders and the future feels a little brighter in their presence.

Are you passionate about the need for a holistic education for young people? Applications are open for the Big Leadership Adventure – closing at midnight on the 3rd of May:

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Voice Led Early Intervention for Student Wellbeing and Belonging

Liz Robson-Kelly portrait

Written by Liz Robson-Kelly

Educator, Positive and Organisational Psychologist, leading expert on Positive Education in the UK.

My research and extensive work for the last 10 years has focused on increasing capacity to prevent young people develop long lasting mental health problems. Listening to and understanding young people themselves, what they want, and need is the key to providing effective early intervention and mental health problem prevention. 

The whole ethos of Worth-it Positive Education CIC as an organisation has been founded on co-produced insights and ideas from the young people we work with and support. This passion for empowering young people to have a voice has led me to publish grounded theory research on how coaching and positive psychology approaches can help young people prevent the onset of common mental health problems. Through this research and our work with young people, time and time again they have said that being sharing their stresses and concerns with another young person ‘like them’ and who understands them, and their situation is essential to the way they want to access support.  That knowing that there is another young person who can share their ‘experience’ and ‘helpful information’, supports them to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Looking beyond the experiences of individual young people and focusing on the wider school environment, school connectedness, belonging and positive peer relationships have also been demonstrated to be essential for the prevention of mental health problems in young people. Students are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours and succeed academically when they feel connected to a school and have positive peer relationships.  Experiencing positive peer relationships and a sense of belonging at school makes a major contribution to young people’s ability to increase their own wellbeing resources. This then enables them to deal with challenging situations, stress, or pressure and reduce the onset of mental health problems. Empowering students to lead projects and interventions that support the development of belonging and positive relationships fosters wellbeing and is integral to supporting a whole school approach to mental health.

To prevent mental health problems, it is essential we support young people to develop and use their own personal resources for wellbeing. This includes enabling them to identify and access support networks provided by peers or the school environment. This ability to nurture wellbeing resources and increase access support networks is something that can be shared peer to peer.  Young people are often more likely to listen to a peer about what helps them increase their own wellbeing than any well-meaning adult.

Combining the importance of offering early prevention and supporting young people develop and share resources for wellbeing, led us to develop our Wellbeing Ambassadors programme. This programme is based on peer-to-peer coaching and positive psychology research. Through testing our approach, gaining feedback from young people, schools and organisations including, CAMHS and local authorities. We designed and shaped an intervention that empowers young people develop their own internal resources for wellbeing and then share them with peers and lead initiatives that support wellbeing to be developed across the school environment. The Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme builds and nurture on positive peer relationships that support the development of belonging and connection at school. 

The Wellbeing Ambassadors programme trains young people coaching skills and supports them to become an empowered team of peer wellbeing leaders. They then decide and implement their own wellbeing initiatives that will support their peers to feel included, develop positive relationships and strategies for wellbeing in their own schools. Nurturing peer to peer relationships builds trust and can increase feelings of belonging and connection. This can have a significant impact on supporting the school to become inclusive and built on a foundation of belonging and positive relationships that promote and protect wellbeing. 

Young people more than anything need to belong and need strategies to learn how to develop positive relationships, and into positive support networks is more important now than ever. Not only to reduce the negative impact to mental health caused by the lockdowns but to support all young people enjoy and flourish at school.

Find out more

We are pleased to be working collaboratively with Hannah Wilson and Diverse Educators who is championing and sharing her passion for supporting pupil belonging, inclusion and wellbeing.  We have come together to share our insights into our Why Have Student Wellbeing Ambassadors? – Webinar. 

To find out more about how a Wellbeing Ambassador Programme, can help you support student mental health and wellbeing join our Live 1 hour Webinar on the 27th April 2021 at 11am or 4pm.

Next Steps 

To find out more and book your place on the ‘Why Have Student Wellbeing Ambassadors’- Webinar follow this link

For more about my work at Worth-it click here.

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You’re Not Just Marrying the Person…

Jackie Hill portrait

Written by Jackie Hill

An experienced teacher trainer, Jackie is a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College, Network Leader for WomenEdNW and Co-Founder / Strategic Leader for WomenEdNI.

“You’re not just marrying the person, you’re marrying the family and, in this case, an institution”   – striking words spoken by Oprah Winfrey to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex in her recent interview. For many couples listening they may well have resonated with them too, in relation to their own particular context and relationship.  

As the editor of the chapter on Marriage and Civil Partnerships in the forthcoming book “Diverse Educators: The Manifesto”, I was particularly struck by those words as they appear, in a deceptively neat and brief sentence, to sum up so many of the issues and influences that impact not just on Harry and Meghan, but indeed on many couples when they decide to formalise their relationship.  Not many will marry into an “institution” but change that to family business or different culture and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, for anyone it’s rarely a case of “just marrying the person” and the underlying story is almost always much more complex than what can appear on the surface so, for this chapter, we’re gathering a really broad range of experiences, stories, insights and views about marriage, civil partnerships and, by extension, families – which, of course, come in a wonderful variety of shapes and sizes.

We’ve already got a team of fantastic writers on the case, each working on their contributions and, between them, covering a wide range of issues.

However, in order to fully capture the collective voice of our community, I would still like to get some additional perspectives, particularly (though not exclusively) views from more men across a range of contexts.   I’m looking for just a sentence or two expressing a view, or giving an insight from experience.

I’d also be interested to gather perspectives from anyone on divorce, re-marriage and blended families.  

So many factors can impact on whether and how a couple may decide to formalise their relationship and for many, their religious beliefs play a large part in this, but can also complicate things when not shared.  I’d also be keen to hear from anyone who would like to share any insights and/or experiences relating to this.  

The diverse lived experiences of educators are essential elements for The Manifesto in order to produce a solutions focused resource in relation to all the Protected Characteristics – one which will impact on practice, pedagogy, people management and policy in schools and education settings.  

It’s understandable that some people may not be comfortable to talk about their experiences in relation to Marriage and/or Civil Partnerships but any insights that are shared will be valued and will help to ensure the collective voice of the community in this chapter is as representative, diverse and relevant as possible (and comments can be anonymised).

If you do have something you’d like to say in relation to Marriage and/or Civil Partnerships, I’d love to hear from you so please DM me (@hill1_jac) or email your comments to

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The Fallout of ‘That’ Interview

Rachel Clarke portrait

Written by Rachel Clarke

Working with many leaders to improve schools, Rachel is a "passionate, dedicated and inspirational educator, who strives for success with students and educators".

Meghan and Harry’s ‘bombshell’ interview was one that has re-ignited the conversation about racism in Britain; our thoughts about it, our experiences of it and more revealingly, the opinions of those who we call friends as well as those who are in the public sphere.

For me, there were no surprises aired. 

That there could be racism in close proximity, or within the institution of the Royal Family, was not a shock. The institution is one that has been predicated upon ideals of ‘god-given’ superiority and has carried out atrocities in the name of Empire and Imperialism.  A family member being ‘concerned’ about the skin tone of Meghan and Harry’s baby, again isn’t surprising. 

I think the real surprise and revealing element is in the conversation that appears to be widespread on television programmes and social media. The seemingly comfortable way in which people speak to justify, make excuses for and explain away the ‘casual racism’ espoused, through “well doesn’t it depend on how it was said?”, or “we all have people from an older generation who say the wrong thing”, is evidence enough that we as Britons in Britain haven’t spoken about race, or racism enough. 

As a Black female, I find the conversations exhausting. Feeling as if I have to justify and prove my experiences doesn’t support me to feel a sense of belonging. Seeing and hearing other Black and Minority Brits do the same thing, further cements the lack of trust I feel and the feeling of ‘otherness’ that is becoming more not less familiar.

Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion. Yes progress in terms of race relations has been made. Yes I often have pride in the country I have been born in and have generational links with that spans hundreds of years. But enough is enough. I am tired. We are tired. Conversation needs to take place where voices of Black and minorities are listened to, not just tolerated. Real commitment to achieving racial justice has to be made if we are to truly live harmoniously. This doesn’t mean challenging conversations can’t and shouldn’t be had but rather, progress has to be made as a result.

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An African Teacher’s Experience of a British Classroom

Chinwe Njoku portrait

Written by Chinwe Njoku

Qualified teaching professional with a background in Engineering. I have written three books related to the education space (Good Morning Year 11, Raising an ‘A’ Student and From Diapers to Doctorate Dollar-Free).

Try teaching as an African teacher in a non-African country to a mix of students from various backgrounds as different as the colours of a chameleon! This is true hard work! All your paradigms of how children should (not) behave are upended and challenged. Sometimes completely obliterated, you wonder why you lived by those beliefs in the first place. Either culture clash or languages blended.

For example, a student from one of the most popular Asian countries that can also be ‘black’, joins in about halfway through the year and it soon became clear that she and her family must have recently migrated to the UK.

Because, at the start of the next lesson, she walked over to my desk where I was sat and greeted me, “Good morning, Teacher”.

I did not know how to respond as it took me by surprise. Without making eye contact, I just said, “You don’t need to greet me like that every lesson”. I felt embarrassed. Thank God I’m brown skinned or I would have turned red.

Next lesson, I made sure I was at the door welcoming students in to avoid the intense attention of being called Teacher, which I am but dang, just call me “Miss” or “Dr Njoku” like the others. 

Second example. A fellow African student was revising after school for her upcoming exams in my classroom, with her friends. But they were chatting quite a bit with this girl being the loudest, most animated and more loquacious of all.

I called her by her last name with the tone of, you need to stop talking and getting on work, or you shall hear from me in a not so fun way! And child, your parents would not be happy either!

Calling children by their last names or rst and last names is an African thing. To remind the child of whose they were, and not to bring disgrace to their ancestors and everyone on their family tree?

In response to hearing her last name, she said “Yes, Ma!” And this was not the first time African students have responded to me this way. I have even had, “Yes, Aunty!”, “Yes, mummy!”

Her friends responded with audible arghs, expecting me to caution her against saying that. She quickly caught herself, recanting that she was just used to saying it. I simply raised my eyebrows, shook my head and carried on doing what teachers do after school. 

Her default response which caught her off guard, got her to be quiet, but only for a while as nature sometimes trumps nurture.

Last example. One Maths topic I teach KS3 students is Introduction to Data, including the different classifications of data that there are. Data can be classified as either Continuous or Discrete, or as Qualitative or Quantitative. To help students distinguish between the later, I typically go through different contextual examples getting them to decide which class the data type belonged to.

Now because Qualitative and Quantitative sound alike, it was difcult to know which one was being said as an answer. I tried enunciating it for my students so that they could emphasize the ‘li’ and ‘nti’. But try as I may, it seemed not to be working.

Ideally, they would each have mini whiteboards so that they could just show me their answers, saving me the tongue twisting/biting! But not this time for some reason.

Eventually, my tongue could take it no more. Repeatedly asking them to repeat themselves and make a clearer distinction in their pronunciation, I blurted out, “Qua-gini?”

Gini, in my native tongue, Igbo, means ‘what’. By the time I realised I had spoken a different language in an English-based Maths lesson in a British school, it was too late. I could not take back my words.

My students who looked at me confused. But since no one else knew what just happened, I kept a poker face, swiftly correcting it to, “Qua-what?” 

All was calm. Teaching and learning resumed. Except in my mind, of course, as I tried not to laugh at my blunder. 

Then it happened again in a different lesson. I was in the throes of solving one question after the other on the board and taking requests from the audience – my Year 11 students. Then, someone called out, “Question 36, Miss!”

To gain time to gure out the solution to the problem, I responded as I walked to the board, “Thirty-gini?”

From the eyes at the back of my head that all teachers have, I could ‘see’ the two students who had Igbo heritage chuckling to themselves in mutual knowing of what they just heard.

Somebody, help!

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As Educators, What Do We Owe to Our Children?

Rosie Peters portrait

Written by Rosie Peters

Has been in education for over 20 years and is currently working as a Deputy Head Teacher.

As educators, what do we owe to our children? Surely it should be an education where each and every child feels represented within the education system and the curriculum.

An early-years setting that says welcome, I hear you and I see you, instantly communicates to the child that they belong.  In turn the child recognises and sees familiarity within the physical environment, the faces they encounter, the words that they hear.

For a child that has little English, a simple hello in their first language can make a world of difference. Books opened and read aloud, bridge reality with the imaginary with ease because someone has taken the time to check there is true  representation of the children entrusted to them as they embark on what should be a wonderful adventure of education, full of excitement and discovery.

We want all our young people, regardless of colour, class religion, gender or ability to experience a shaping of belonging and identity that is positive, clear and authentic.  We are responsible for shaping their views and attitudes of self and others.

Pupils should be made aware of the true contributions made by their ancestors and the ancestors of their diverse peers.

Starting with a Primary History curriculum that gives the full story by bringing back the erased and forgotten:  the Aurelian Moors who were Roman soldiers based in Britain; the Ivory Bangled Lady; Septimius Severus a Roman Emperor.  ‘We can be certain that people from Africa lived here more than 1,700 years ago.’  (Black and British, a Short Essential History; David Olusoga 2020.)

In history wonderful websites such as ‘Another History is Possible’ or ‘Meanwhile Elsewhere’, gives insight to other equally important global events that took place at the same time as the eras covered in the national curriculum.

A curriculum that allows different perspectives to be taught – from the point of view of, for example, race, gender, class, religion, disability and age, would give a strong message that diversity is not only accepted but essential.

A curriculum that develops and champions critical thinkers who are able to question, to ask why, is essential.  Why, for example, during the VE Day celebrations in the summer of 2020 Black and Asians soldiers were barely mentioned.  Why, in certain professions, there is little or no representation from non-white communities.

Let’s empower young people by ensuring that the curriculum and experiences they encounter are reflected through the role models we choose, the places we focus on and the cultural connections we celebrate.  There is no subject in which diversity and inclusion cannot be embedded and made the norm.  With a bit of time and effort it is amazing what can be achieved.

Educators need to be supported and provided with CPD to enable them to become ‘racially literate’ and able to talk openly about racism; in other, words not shy away from uncomfortable discussions. They need to be aware that terminology is forever changing and that it is better to ask someone what they prefer to be called: Black, Black British, Black Caribbean, Roma or Romani … rather than avoid it.

Teachers that go all out to make sure that someone’s name is pronounced correctly show children that their name is important; it is part of their history and culture. ‘It is not the first mispronunciation that stays with the student, it is the failure to learn how the name is pronounced and then the continued incorrect pronunciation on the second, third, fourth attempt. The unfortunate consequence, witnessed first-hand, is that students with names from different backgrounds start to hide their names.  Their pride in their own heritage is eroded. (Diversity in School, Bennie Kara 2021)

We all have the responsibility to engineer change. Lack of knowledge of different people causes a lack of trust, fear, conflict and animosity.  Educators need to be instrumental in changing society in a meaningful way.

The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that exist in our society and the mistrust that some communities have in our institutions such as the justice system, the police and the medical profession. This is built on decades of negative experiences and unfair treatment endured by marginalised communities.  One only has to look at key data sighted in the Office of National Statistics 2017/18: 

  • Fifty-five percent of Black Caribbean pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing & maths (The lowest percentage out of all ethnic groups after White Irish Traveller and Gypsy Roma pupils.)
  • Three times more likely to be permanently excluded than their white peers. 
  • Forty-five percent of Black Caribbean live in rented social housing, compared with 16% White British (2016/17)
  • Black Caribbean women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than their British counterparts.   

This lack of trust can have a devastating impact on minority groups.  A prime example can be seen in the low rate of uptake for the COVID-19 vaccine amongst the Black and Asian communities.  This surely has to change.

We need to come together and work for the common good.  It should not be the responsibility of one community, usually the community being most affected.  It has to be the responsibility of everyone; the majority: white allies, working alongside the minority.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to produce children who have a full sense of belonging; knowing where they have come from and where they are going and, in equal measure, hold the same knowledge of their diverse peers.

Imagine if this were the reality, there would be less racism, prejudice, unconscious bias and the inequalities we see today.

Agency would be for all and not the chosen.

The decision makers of tomorrow would mirror the richness of society’s diversity and therefore decisions on a local and global scale would recognise and address inequality and bring equity where required.

Some educators have already started this journey; a journey we should all embrace in order to bring into being a more equal society for our children, the leaders of tomorrow.

The green shoots of change can already be seen.  Let’s hope they fully blossom.                                            

Teaching is a great profession especially when we recognise that education is a powerful vehicle for creating better human beings.

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How to Communicate Inclusively

Karen Dempster portrait

Written by Karen Dempster

Written with Justin Robbins. Lifetime communication experts, founders of Fit2Communicate and Fellows of the Institute of Internal Communications. Authors of How to Build Communication Success in Your School: A Guide for School Leaders.

Have you ever been in a conversation when …?

  • You’ve not felt you had a voice or even if you’ve spoken you’ve not felt heard?
  • The language or jargon being used has made you feel like an outsider or confused?
  • Worse still the language used has been insensitive and upsetting simply because the other person did not put themselves in your shoes?

You may even have done this to someone else, without even realising. However, these common experiences are simply not inclusive. And they are absolutely avoidable if you consider these points when you communicate.

Listen first to understand

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that you listen through filters, which shape what you hear. They are built up through life-long conditioning and create bias. It’s important to practice regular self-reflection and question your bias, supported through on-going education.

In addition, there are different levels of listening. Some we all do instinctively, for example when we jump to conclusions, are impatient to share our views or listen to surface details.

Inclusive listening takes a little more work but will take your listening to another level. For example, it requires you to acknowledge there are two conversations going on at any one time. The first being what you hear from the person in the conversation, the second is the chatter that naturally happens in your head. To listen fully, consider asking yourself the following questions internally:

  • Do I fully understand what they are saying?​
  • What can I sense from their energy, body language and facial expressions?
  • Am I showing them that I am listening?​
  • What could I ask to help me understand better?​

Now consider asking questions as part of your conversation with the other person to better understand their perspective, such as:

  • I heard you say … is that correct?
  • Can you give me an example to help me to understand better?
  • Can you tell me more about that?​
  • Can I do anything to help?

This will help you to stay present and fully listen. As a result, people will see that you are focused on them, what they are saying and that you value their opinion and ideas.

Watch your words

The words you choose clearly have a huge impact on how inclusively you communicate. The wrong, insensitive words can have catastrophic effects – often simply by not thinking before speaking.

It’s sometimes tricky to know what words to use when is comes to protected characteristics. However, through ongoing education and talking with the right people and groups, you can stay respectful and inclusive.

Also, consider you can be more inclusive by using words that mean something to those around you. Certain phrases or words that you use quite naturally with friends or colleagues, may not be understood by others. For example, those from a certain part of the country may talk about ‘going around the Wrekin’. The same applies for jargon, acronyms and highly technical language. 

It may seem innocent enough but speaking in words that mean nothing to the person you are communicating with can at best confuse them or worst annoy and alienate them.

Recognise that people communicate differently

Without recognising that people communicate differently based on their behavioural and communication preferences, communication diversity cannot be considered. Psychologist, William Moulton Marston, created a personality profiling tool called DISC, to understand these preferences.

Simply speaking, people communicate based on four preferences that are explained below. Everyone is a mixture of these, they are situation dependent, but will have a stronger preference for one type. Which one do you believe is closest to you?

  1. Are you outspoken (extroverted) with a focus on getting things done? Do people sometimes consider you to be direct, blunt, decisive, competitive, assertive and often impatient? If so, you may have a red communication preference.
  2. Are you outspoken (extroverted) with a focus on people? Are you considered social, confident, optimistic, inspiring, collaborative and often emotional? You may have a yellow communication preference.
  3. Are you reflective (introverted) with a focus on people? Are you considered to be calm, co-operative, patient, good listeners, deliberate and often stubborn? You may have a green communication preference.
  4. Are you reflective (introverted) with a focus on getting things done? Are you considered to be independent, systematic, diplomatic, reflective and often detail focused? You may have a blue communication preference.

Each colour has a different filter through which they communicate. If you are red speaking with someone who is green (who are opposites), it could literally be like talking to someone in a different language.

However, there are simple things you can do to spot preferences and adapt your style to communicate inclusively. It takes practice at first but it’s worth the effort to enhance your communication and relationships.

Find out more about your DISC preference (and those of others) here [What’s your communication colour? (].

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Menopause in Education - The Impact on the Teaching Profession

Sharon MacArthur portrait

Written by Sharon MacArthur

Owner of Red Handbag. She works internationally with leaders in business, helping them to develop their leadership confidence though more effective communication strategies.

According to recent government figures, three quarters of teachers are women, so why is support for those in the profession who are going through the menopause glaringly lacking?

The average age that a woman reaches menopause is 51, but symptoms can start much earlier. Women over 50 are also the fastest growing workplace demographic and many women working in education are in senior leadership positions by this stage in their careers.

While all women go through menopause, some will have a more difficult time of it because of the nature of their job role. Teaching is no exception.

How will a female teacher suffering from menopause-related anxiety cope in such a physically and mentally-demanding school, college, or university environment?

How will menopause-related fatigue and problems concentrating fare against dealing with problem pupils, excessive workloads, and strict deadlines?

What about heavy and unpredictable periods? Hot flushes? What if you can’t just up and leave the classroom if you need to?

Some women’s menopause symptoms are so severe that they either need time off from work or questions get asked about their capability to do their job.

Sadly, support from managers, even female ones, is often not forthcoming.

The result is many wonderful educators feel they have no choice but to leave their role, which is very sad, considering that getting there is the culmination of a lifetime’s work for many women in the profession.

Can the teaching profession afford to lose such highly-skilled and valuable teaching talent? That’s what could happen if schools, colleges, and universities don’t become more menopause friendly.

What can be done to better support female educators who are going through menopause?

There’s no getting away from it, teaching is a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding job at the best of times, so when it comes to menopause, we can’t just sweep it under the rug.

When I deliver menopause training to an organisation, I always make a point of saying that menopause should be business as usual. While there are some really positive signs that it’s being talked about more openly, it’s still a bit of a workplace taboo.

Women are still suffering in silence, and considering leaving their jobs, which is bad news for a profession like teaching which struggles to recruit and retain talented staff.

So what can be done?

  • The first step is talk about it. Raise awareness about menopause, bust the myths, and make it everybody’s business. The goal should be to create a menopause friendly workplace where women feel comfortable talking about how it’s affecting them and where they are able to ask for advice and support.  
  • If your workplace doesn’t have a comprehensive menopause policy, put one in place that will meet the needs of women going through menopause as well as providing straightforward guidance for their line managers.
  • Speaking of policies, make sure your sickness absence monitoring policies and arrangements don’t lead to the detrimental treatment of women who need time off for menopause-related reasons. Similarly, bear this in mind where absence and a symptom-related decline in performance can affect things like pay progression. 
  • Improve awareness of menopause across all levels of the workforce, particularly at leadership level.
  • Make reasonable adjustments to support women going through menopause.

Some reasonable adjustments your organisation could and should make:

  • Allowing toilet breaks during lessons where necessary.
  • Providing sanitary products in staff toilets.
  • Providing a place to shower and change if necessary.
  • Considering flexible working requests such as reducing hours or allowing some work to be done from home to help women manage their symptoms.
  • Providing access to cold water and allowing employees to control the temperature of their working environment if possible.

Menopause in the national curriculum

The government has added menopause as a topic to be covered on the sex education curriculum in secondary schools. Surely schools that are menopause aware and menopause friendly will be better placed to give pupils a broader and more enlightened view of the topic?

And it all needs to begin with how they support their own staff.

My mission

Raising awareness about the menopause among people and employers is all about education and making it comfortable and acceptable for people to speak about it. Menopause is not a condition to be treated and cured, it’s a normal stage of life that every woman goes through. Helping people to realise this is my mission.

My training events are aimed at educating HR professionals, managers, and workers about the menopause in a fun, engaging, and informative way.

If you’d like to find out more, contact me at

You can also join my Facebook group or my Facebook and Twitter campaign

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Annemarie Williams portrait

Written by Annemarie Williams

Executive Head Teacher of Humberstone Infant Academy and Humberstone Junior Academy, where she has been Headteacher / Executive Head Teacher for 12 years.

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer. Because I feel like right now there is a lot of highly expressed emotions and publicity around the issues I’m writing about. Many people will have an opinion and this is mine. 

Last weekend I was proud to be part of the online celebrations for International Women’s Day  – last night I lit a candle for the horrific crimes against Sarah Everard and cried.  I woke up to some of the most distressing and brutal photographs from the vigil that was held in her name. In between this, I watched a woman admit to an international TV audience that she felt so overwhelmed by her treatment in the media and by an institution, that she had thought about taking her own life. I have spoken to friends, family, colleagues and the overwhelming feelings are the same. Women are expressing their sadness and anger and the sense of powerlessness that they have felt in so many of these situations. The lack of power in preventing crimes like these, the lack of power in challenging the institutions responsible and the lack of power in affecting meaningful change. 

I’m a mother, a daughter, a niece, an auntie, a best friend, a leader and proud to have been a regional leader within the #WomenEd community for 5 years. I’ve spoken to women of all ages and stages in life and each and everyone of them has a story about being followed home in the dark, shouted at in the street, groped in nightclubs, patronised and interrupted at work and called names on social media because of their body shape. It is heartbreaking. 

I do not attempt to speak for all women but it seems to me that many women who were taught to take a seat at the table…now realise that they will always be sitting on the chair with shorter legs because equality and equity are not the same thing. It’s not enough to have a seat at the table if you don’t feel that your voice is heard. And really to be genuinely listened to and heard is what many women are asking for. In their statements for the media today, the spokesperson for Reclaim the Streets spoke repeatedly about women wanting to be heard and about the need for constructive discussion and dialogue. 

Brene Brown speaks of the difference between “power over” and “power with” and this is the bones of what many women experience on a daily basis. “Power with” can only happen if the people at the table acknowledge their position of privilege and actively and deliberately seek to change the status quo. In this case that means men doing more to address the issues at hand here. In my life I am fortunate to have some truly wonderful, brilliant, enlightened and courageous men who have absolutely and sensitively tried to conduct themselves like the brothers and allies women need. But there still feels like there is more to do. I know that these are the men who would intervene in the case of a woman being harassed in the street, or call out an inappropriate joke in the office or challenge the use of sexist language in the locker room. But there’s more subtle forces at work than this. It’s more than calling out bad behaviour – we need men to actively demand better behaviour and not because they are husbands, fathers and brothers, but because it is the right thing to do if we believe in a fair and equal society. 

This is challenging and requires an active and deliberate awareness. It is almost asking too much – to feel the day to day experience of being a woman. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #choosetochallenge. Women all over the world are providing that challenge but it is not enough if men do not do the same. So what could this proactive stance look and sound like? 

  • Questioning the diversity of a panel that you are asked to speak on
  • Asking what the diversity and inclusion policy is where you work
  • Offering to give up your space at an event for someone who would benefit from the opportunity
  • Initiating open conversations with women about their experiences of everyday sexism and being prepared for the fact that this might feel uncomfortable
  • Insisting that recruitment is transparent and that there are no secret backdoors to get that seat at the table
  • Providing opportunities for women to have open discussion, forum groups and other ways of giving anonymous feedback

If we want things to change then there needs to be an acknowledgement that this is an active and proactive process and if you are not willing to help find the solution, then you are probably part of the problem. 

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