Languages in the Community

Mair Bull portrait

Written by Mair Bull

Former teacher and content writer for BBC Bitesize. Now works at Manchester Metropolitan University in the Curriculum and Rise teams.

Recently, we launched our first flexible learning Short Course, a trailblazing Office for Students pilot, part of the Government’s lifelong learning and upskilling agendas. We started with the unit ‘Languages in the Community’. We have a fantastic first group who really enjoyed learning about the course structure and being introduced to Urdu. Each week we will explore another of Greater Manchester’s most popular languages and learn more about the city and our community. In addition, the unit explores how we communicate (using both verbal and non-verbal forms) and create inclusive and welcoming spaces, no matter the level of spoken English.

This innovative pilot enables students to study flexibly and from 2025 to ‘stack’ their courses to build up to a full degree. We have started initially with Level 4 and students can ‘stack’ to achieve a Certificate of Higher Education (equivalent to first year of a degree). 

Initially, our Short Courses are aimed at those working or volunteering in education, health and social care. Most students in the pilot do not have degrees and so this new and exciting opportunity offers them a chance to gain a qualification whilst still working in roles such as classroom assistants, nursery staff, childminders and social care associates. However, the flexibility of the structure means the courses have also attracted those with degrees, such as teachers, using the courses as part of on-going CPD, especially as they recognise the importance of staying up to date following the significant impact of Covid-19 on young people and families. 

The Short Courses have been developed each step of the way with equality, diversity and inclusion at the core. Initially, we hired independent consultants from Diverse History UK, as part of our quality assurance review panel to scrutinise our inclusion curriculum planning.

The courses aim to role-model the best in flexible, inclusive and innovative practice. We want these courses to inspire and empower students, building that bridge between their previous experiences and these new level 4 opportunities. Our structure means that students come together in-person weekly for workshops, plus additional asynchronous online activities, which students work through independently at a time that suits them. There are no essays or exams, instead the assessments are authentic and can be applied directly to the students’ own setting. 

Key to the success of the Short Courses is the importance of creating a welcoming community, where students from all backgrounds and experiences feel they belong and can enjoy sharing the learning journey with others. 

The potential of the Short Courses model has really captured the attention of the sector and beyond, and we are exploring opportunities with our engineering employer partners creating a CAD (Computer Aided Design) and 3D printing course, with our award-winning Print City team. In addition, we are bringing on new units all the time, including Speech, Language and Communication; Mental Health and Wellbeing; plus Risk and Safeguarding.

To find out more visit: www.mmu.ac.uk/study/short-courses


Bye bye Birmingham – a personal reflection on EDI work

Gemma Hargraves portrait

Written by Gemma Hargraves

Assistant Head (Pastoral), Deputy DSL and History Teacher.

After seven years teaching at a wonderful school in Birmingham, I’m moving on. This felt like an opportune moment to reflect on what I’ve learnt from leading on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the youngest city in Europe. I was asked to take this on in Spring 2020, (whilst on maternity leave) and I hope I have done the role justice (although I know there is so much more to do). I have also visited dozens of primary schools as part of my responsibility to oversee transition, and whilst my experience has perhaps been limited due to the nature of my school (independent, selective) I have some sense of what makes Birmingham such a fantastic place to teach and learn today. 

It has to be acknowledged that EDI work is challenging – it can be incredibly rewarding, frustrating and demanding in equal measure. Conversations about race, gender, sexuality and class are not universally welcomed, and some colleagues are sensitive, defensive or disinterested when inclusive language is discussed. Here I would add a Maya Angelou quote that guides me and helps me appreciates even small gains (because she says it better than I ever could) – Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know betterdo better.

A challenge and opportunity of a Birmingham school, especially a selective one, is the range of family backgrounds. Some have same sex parents, whilst some have strong beliefs that this is not acceptable. Some embrace SEND support, others shun it. Some welcome conversations around identity, others shut this out. As Josiah Isles mentioned in his April blog  here We need to step into the shoes of a Muslim student who attends school five times a week, an Islamic school on Saturdays and their local mosque every evening. This quote is more meaningful to me as Josiah’s school is actually where I went to school 11-16. For me, to see that my old school is undergoing this important work as I myself am reflecting as a senior leader in education means a great deal.

Reading recently The Birmingham Book: lessons in urban leadership and policy from the Trojan Horse Affair really made me appreciate the wider landscape I’d walked in to when I started at a Birmingham school. Initially, I hadn’t fully appreciated the context and impact of all the publicity on schools not far away. The book, edited by Colin Diamond, professor of Education at Birmingham University (just across the road from my school), is a collection of essays from people who “have lived and breathed Birmingham education for many years”. The accounts opened my eyes to a challenging period in recent educational history, but also to positives to have come out of it – relationships between school and communities, a greater understanding of the impact of deprivation and a celebration of the potential of Birmingham. This is reiterated in the aforementioned blog by Isles where he says A school is, after all, the heart of the community. The leadership takeaways at the end of chapters are useful reminders – about values, integrity, culture and understanding community dynamics, I plan to take this forward to my next school. I’ve also discovered some great YA fiction from Birmingham authors such as If Your Read This by Kereen Getten who we are lucky enough to have visiting our school to talk to pupils soon. 

Birmingham Commonwealth Games showcased the city and featured volunteers from our staff and student body (and countless other local schools). To see the city receive this positive attention was heart-warming and well deserved. The beauty of the Commonwealth Games coverage was in the showcasing the heritage and identity of modern Birmingham and this is where future EDI work must focus, in any area – an appreciation of the history and heritage but also a celebration of modern identities. As a History teacher, it is also clear that we can critique previously accepted interpretations of the past, and view the past anew through lenses of today.  This is how we can promote an authentic sense of belonging.

I am incredibly grateful to have worked at my school, which is playing a leading role within the King Edward VI Foundation in the city. The Foundation values state that The schools … should be rooted in the communities that they serve and be responsive to the nature of those communities. In particular, all of the schools are committed to making themselves as accessible as possible to all pupils, whatever their background or circumstances. I have to believe that this is achievable and that my school, with an excellent and developing Assisted Places programme, will be an appealing option for academically able students from across the region regardless of socioeconomic status. Personally, it may be indulgent but I have to acknowledge here how much I value the incredible pupils I’ve taught along the way; many of whom have driven EDI and helped maintain momentum at times of conflicting priorities. And of course, the staff – those who lead tirelessly, those who teach incredible lessons and support pupils every day, and those who support the workings of a school in subtle but vital ways. 

Over the past three years of leading on EDI I’ve realised that we need to shout about the work – raise the profile. Avoiding performative activism on social media, but celebrating progress (whilst acknowledging that the work goes on).  I’ve nominated colleagues for Rising Star Awards and National Diversity Awards and have nominated pupils for National Diversity Awards, NASEN Young Advocate of the Year and West Midlands Young Active Citizens Awards. I hope this helps people feel valued but also shows the whole school community that EDI work is valued and recognised. I would encourage more schools to recognise their staff and pupils in this way, alongside small daily acts of gratitude and recognition that mean so much to colleagues and pupils.

We are now three years on from when many schools stumbled or strengthened their EDI efforts following publicity around the Black Lives Matter movement and then Everyone’s Invited. There is more to do but I have faith that the schools of Birmingham, especially the King Edwards Foundation can lead the way.


Addressing the Legacy of Section 28 & Supporting Diverse Families

Troy Jenkinson portrait

Written by Troy Jenkinson

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, children’s author, public speaker and former Primary Headteacher and Executive Headteacher. https://troyjenkinson.com/

Today, more than ever, we should strive for equality in our schools. Seeing how LGBTQ+ culture has been embraced in colourful Pride events and the peppering of queer characters in the media, you could be forgiven for thinking we had turned a corner in equality. We have come a long way, triumphing over the Section 28 policy (the 1988 amendment to the UK Educational Bill silencing queer teachers) and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. We have fought hard for rights to marry, adopt and live our lives showing our “True Colors” to quote Cyndi Lauper. 

Digging deeper, you realise how far we still need to go. The ILGA (2020) reports 70 countries still criminalise homosexuality; 6 punishable by death, 57 with lengthy prison sentences. Only 68 countries offer broad protection for their LGBTQ+ population. High profile media events point to continued educational need. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill (March 2022) mirror’s Thatcher’s vindictive 1988 Section 28. We have not learned. Cripplingly unfair acts such as harsh laws to imprison LGBTQ+ people for life in Uganda reported by the BBC in March 2023 marginalise our community.

The UK once topped the ILGA table of European countries for LGBTQ rights (2015), but slumped 14 places by 2022, accredited to governmental failures and its abandonment of its promise on gender recognition and equality plans. The statistics speak for themselves. Galop (2021) reported “LGBT+ hate crime is disproportionately on the rise in the UK.” Two thirds of LGBTQ+ people experienced homophobic violence or abuse. This likelihood only increases for ethnic minority and trans people.

The question we have to ask ourselves is; why? 

Bullying is borne from ignorance. Section 28 has long-lasting effects on our educational establishments. Stonewall reports LGBTQ+ students are twice as likely to have been bullied than their non-queer compatriots (42% compared to 21%). Teachers echo this; 85% of secondary and 45% of primary staff acknowledge homophobic bullying in their schools.

With less than half of LGBTQ+ students (48%) experiencing positive messaging to support them, it is high time we as educationalists did something about it. The government introduced Relationships and Sex Education Guidance (2019) but left it open to interpretation stating:

“Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate in approach and content. At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.” (DfE, 2019)

Robert Long (2023), concludes schools are still not required to “promote” same-sex marriage:

“Governors, teachers and non-teaching staff in schools, parents and pupils, are free to hold their own religious or philosophical beliefs about marriage of same sex couples.” (Long, 2023)

Schools need help to sensitively support all pupils and tackle the endemic victimisation. They need to address inequality and inclusion in their curriculum and how they support diverse families. There is little guidance for parents themselves.

From my own experience of coming out, my parents found it traumatic; relating it to grieving as they tackled a myriad of questions, hyped by media negativity: 

  • Would I grow up happy and fulfilled? 
  • Would I be bullied? 
  • Would I die of a terrible disease? 
  • Would they have grandchildren? 

Though this was in the 2000s, it is still a very real issue for some individuals today.

Recently, I worked with international colleges supporting staff and students from countries with poor human rights for LGBTQ+ citizens. I became fascinated by the term “Straight Privilege.” Those not identifying as LGBTQ+ do not have to come out, or seek out role models in the public eye. It is an interesting concept to explore.

As a headteacher, influenced by Andrew Moffatt, I introduced weekly “No Outsiders Assemblies.” Using news images, I positively identified people who stood up for their rights or succeeded despite potential marginalisation. This ranged from Malorie Blackman’s interpretation of historical figure, Rosa Parks for Doctor Who and Jacinda Ardern’s maternity arrangements as New Zealand’s Prime Minister, to discussing the controversies of a gay kiss at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Working with a family whose children experienced bullying for having same sex parents, inspired me to publish my first children’s book “The Best Mummy Snails in the Whole Wide World.” Since, I have delivered countless assemblies, workshops and key notes speeches aimed at fighting the corner and being the role-model, I never had in school.

 


What Does it Mean to Belong?

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

Some people think that framing DEI work under belonging softens it and dilutes it, whilst I do understand this critique, I personally believe that belonging is the door-opener to the conversations about DEI, it is the way-in for many to enter the space.

Belonging to me is being seen, being heard, being valued, being safe. Belonging is not about fitting in but about being accepted, loved and respected for who we are. When we belong, we feel included, we feel connected and we can flourish as we can be ourselves without fear of judgment. We belong when noone makes us feel like an outsider, noone others us. We belong when we are celebrated, not tolerated.

I always start my training session with any stakeholder group by exploring the language and unpacking the acronyms that can inhibit the work. I share the linguistic/ acronym journey of DI (Diversity and Inclusion) becoming EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) and iterating into DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). With the J for Social Justice appearing with some saying DEIJ and others saying JEDI. Noticeably, the addition of the B has been a more recent  trend in the last 3 years.

Belonging appeared in our consciousness and in our vocabulary in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. As we saw corporate commitments to doing the work, I observed a trend on LinkedIn. People in my network who were Heads of DI/ EDI/ DEI were becoming Heads of Belonging. A subtle shift in language which reframed their role. Their remit was to be responsible for levels of belonging in their organisation and to use this lens to scrutinise policies, processes and practices.   

I started sharing this observation with the school people I was training and it always resonated – show me an educator who would answer No to the question: Do you want all of your learners to belong in your classroom/ school? In some ways it is a bit of a trick question when you then follow up with more probing questions about belonging in the curriculum and in the library.  They have already said Yes so how do they now do a U-turn and say No? 

I began to extend the questioning to the adult experience: Which adults belong in your school? Which parents belong in your playground? Who belongs in our education system? Each question was a provocation to invite some reflection and discussion, to shift people out of their own bubbles and to exercise some awareness and some empathy for others.  

Using my coaching skills to create a safe space, to take people beyond their comfort levels and to increase their consciousness is a facilitation strategy I am constantly refining. A safe space means that we can be courageous and that we can challenge one another but that we do it in a mindful way. The wheel of power of privilege exercise I regularly use is a tool that can create high levels of discomfort but it is a great way to unpack the ‘perception gap’ and emphasise why some people might have a greater sense of belonging than others. 

Linking the census data for the country to the workforce census for our profession to attrition data for the sector to hate crime data in society to staff and student survey data, is another way to increase awareness of who belongs and why this might be. As an English teacher I use the data to tell the story of a space and I ask the question: What story is the data telling us about who belongs here?

So when I am delivering keynotes and workshops on Creating a Culture of Belonging, with the acute awareness that I am a cis-het, white, able-bodied woman who is facilitating the conversation, I am not letting people off of the hook, but I am instead creating a container for some radical candor. I am holding up the mirror to myself and to others to recognise that we might have taken our own sense of belonging for granted and that we might assume that others feel/ experience our spaces in the same way as we do, when the reality is that there are gaps which can quickly become gulfs.  

I remind people in our training sessions that belonging and love are at the centre of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Noone can progress to the upper tiers of esteem or self-actualisation without a sense of connection. More importantly it is also a reminder that we do not belong if our physiological and safety needs are not being met. A stark example of this is found in the Just Like Us 2021 Report – Growing Up LGBTQ+ published as we came out of lockdown. 

Belonging is the goal of our DEI work. Belonging is also the outcome of our DEI work. Belonging surveys can be helpful as they baseline how people are currently feeling about their experience – we can baseline and benchmark belonging by role, by group, by identity and listen to/ learn from what we are being told. Belonging is not fluffy, when used intentionally, it instead creates insight from the different portals it opens up for us to explore.    

For example, women between 30-39 who are parents/ carers and who are seeking flexible working vote with their feet and leave our sector in droves each year. How can we create more family-friendly schools to create a greater sense of belonging for that group of professionals? 

For example, mixed race is the fasting growing racial identity in primary school pupils nationally. How can we recruit and retain more teachers of colour who represent the communities that we serve? How does having increased role models in the staff increase the levels of belonging for our pupils?       

A culture of belonging is one where we are courageous and curious, one where we are open to challenge and committed to change. It is one where we ask searching questions and where we listen to the often hard truths that are revealed. 

So as everyone jumps on the ‘Belonging Bandwagon’ and it becomes the newest buzz word at edu-events, can we make sure we are not skirting around DEI issues but getting to the heart of the matter? And when we are talking about belonging at events and in our schools can we be more aware of who is in the room, of who is talking, of who is listening and what that also tells us about the sense of belonging or the lack of?   


LGBT+ Inclusion for Catholics

George White portrait

Written by George White

George White is an experienced teacher of RE and a Diversity & Inclusion Lead at a Catholic secondary school in Leicester. He holds a BA in Philosophy and Theology from Heythrop College, an MA in Global Ethics and Human Values from King’s College London and a Secondary PGCE in Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge. As an openly trans and Catholic educator, he has delivered conferences on LGBT+ Inclusion in Catholic Schools to the NEU as an LGBT+ rep for the East Midlands, Schools Inclusion Alliance, ASCL and more.

The official teaching of the Catholic Church, found in the Catechism, states that ‘[LGBT+ People] are to be accepted with sensitivity, compassion and respect. Any form of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ 

One of the greatest privileges I have had in the last 12 months came from my role as one of the committee members at Quest, the charity aimed at LGBTI Catholics and their families providing pastoral support. In the summer term of last year, we hosted an online conference titled ‘LGBT+ Inclusion in Catholic Schools’ with Fr James Martin SJ who has always been a vocal advocate for the LGBT+ community despite the vast number of threats he receives online.  In spite of that, he has received commendation from Pope Francis for his ministry towards LGBT+ Catholics when he said, ‘I pray for you and your work’ in a letter received in 2023 and prior to that Pope Francis thanked him for his ‘pastoral zeal and ability to be close to people with the closeness Jesus had’ in reference to his LGBT+ ministry.  I was able to interview Father James Martin SJ in a conversation that lasted the best part of one hour and thirty minutes in which time he gave several helpful ways in which schools – and all Catholics – can be more inclusive of the LGBT+ community. I was set with my questions and after the interview has finished, I tried to process this into some simple tips that anyone might be able to take away from the session. I have settled on the following three, some of which have even been picked up by the Holy Father in the last few months. 

Firstly, as Catholic educators and ministers, we are invited to listen to the stories and experiences of the LGBT+ community. In particular, we are invited to listen to the language that the community uses to describe ourselves and our stories. Pope Francis is the first Pope to say the word ‘gay’ instead of the outdated phrase in the catechism ‘homosexual’. When we listen to the stories of others, we are more easily enabled to accept with compassion, sensitivity and respect. Pope Francis encourages us to reach out to those on the peripheries – and very often – LGBT+ people can feel as though they are there. In the school resources provided by each diocese for Synod 21-23, pupils are asked the question, ‘who are the people who feel excluded and left out of the church?’ In my experience, lots of pupils labelled the LGBT+ community amongst others. From what we have seen of the synod responses, the contributions of LGBT+ people and women have been recorded, visibly – perhaps most obviously included for the first time in the history of the Church. I invite my fellow educators to recognise the language they are using in schools; use the preferred names of trans pupils, use ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ instead of ‘homosexual’ and invite LGBT+ Catholics to tell their story to pupils and staff. Reprint lanyard cards with pronouns and new photos for pupils who come out. Use LGBT+ people and symbols in marketing material. I was fortunate enough to be selected to be in a campaign for the Department for Education’s ‘Get into Teaching campaign where I spoke openly about being a transgender and Catholic teacher of Religious Education. These visible signs help pupils and staff who are LGBT+ to know that they are welcome and accepted, as church teaching says that we should be. 

Secondly, there are many opportunities in the academic calendar that are fitting for both Catholics and the LGBT+ community. Fr James Martin SJ spoke about meeting young people where they are, accompanying them and celebrating their journey in life with them. For example, he has written that Catholics can absolutely celebrate Pride month, providing the focus is on human dignity. There are many ways to celebrate and/or remember the LGBT+ community throughout the year. For example, in my own diocese, we hosted a mass with the intention of remembering ‘Transgender Day of Remembrance’ on November 20th. This is a day where we remember those who have lost their life due to their transgender identity; whether by murder or suicide. We pray for the souls of the departed and also pray for an end to the persecution that they may have faced which led to their death. We wrote bidding prayers with this in mind and came together to remember this event with trans people and allies in our community. In addition, you may choose to look at material that goes out in February which is LGBT+ History Month. We wrote prayers for our morning registration in which we included the scripture from Psalm 139, ‘I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ and we invited the school to come together for an end to LGBT+ persecution around the world. This kind of education helps us to prevent discrimination which might be directed towards the LGBT+ community especially from a religious perspective. 

Finally, and perhaps the most obvious way to help contribute to the avoidance of persecution, we are called to stand up for the legal rights of our LGBT+ communities and relationships around the world. Pope Francis recently publicly spoke about the great injustice in several countries in the world who give a prison sentence or death penalty to those who are LGBT+. Prior to this, the Pope has advocated for legal same sex unions saying that LGBT+ couples have a right to be protected as families. This is perhaps a little harder for us to easily translate into life at school but not impossible. For a start, we can use clips of Pope Francis talking about these things to educate pupils on the realities of the world and what this means for LGBT+ people. We can also use it to guides our policy writing. As published by the Catholic Education Service in 2018 ‘Made in God’s Image’ we should deal with homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying the same way we do other discriminatory bullying. Our policies should clearly state that these types of behaviours will be treated in the same way as racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. If we do not treat homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in the same way, then we are guilty of breaking the law. Policies (such as those around uniform/make up and behaviour) should be gender neutral so that they apply to all students fairly. 

The conversations I have had around LGBT+ Inclusion have led more generally to a review of the way in which we talk about diversity, equality and inclusion for all in our school. We host two ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ weeks a year where we have sessions from outside visitors as well as students sharing with their peers on things like race, faith, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental health, neurodiversity and the intersectional nature of lots of these characteristics. It has helped us to reassess the way in which we raise awareness to and celebrate our own diversity as a Catholic school community. We were commended in our recent Ofsted inspection as being an ‘inclusive’ school and we now have a dedicated staff and pupil group working towards our initiative to celebrate all human dignity in our community and ensure that everyone has a place – and more importantly a voice – at our table. We are guided by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching; solidarity, common good, participation and, of course, human dignity. 


The Time is Now

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

Former international school Principal, proud father of two transgender adult children, Associate Consultant with LSC Education, and founder of #themonalisaeffect.

I write this as a father, and as an educator. I am angry, and I am scared.

Occasionally, partly as an experiment, I will share simultaneously on Facebook a) an innocuous post with a smiling photo of me; and b) a ‘call to action’ in support of my two trans children in an alarmingly transphobic world. The former consistently attracts lots of engagement, and the latter virtually none. My inference, corroborated by conversations I have had, is that a majority of people do not want even to enter what they see as a polarised and toxic debate.

This seems to me to be a victory for transphobia, and the ‘gender-critical’ right wing: that it is now widely accepted that we need to debate this at all, when any debate over the human rights of any other protected characteristic would be widely deemed abhorrent. Therefore, whilst some would argue that now is the time for calm debate, and for pause and reflection, this post is none of these. For I would argue that there is also a time for advocacy and allyship, and for activism and action. And the time is now.

I was young enough to experience the acidic effect of Section 28 as a teenager. Growing up in the 1980s, I was oblivious of the identities and expressions of the LGBTQ+ community: in part, this was due to a cowardly and shameful lack of representation in the media, sport and public life, and, in part, to the ignorance and fear of the blinkered society which tried to bring me up; but it was also due to the inability and incapacity of educators even to talk about those lives, even as so many of those same lives were being decimated by a new, deadly virus.

This violent clause was repealed in Scotland in 2000 (it seems the nation I now call home was ever ahead of its southern neighbours), as one of the earliest pieces of legislation enacted by the nascent Scottish parliament and, eventually, by Westminster in 2003. Peace had defeated violence, and love had vanquished hate. However, violence and hate, it seems, had not been beaten, but had merely lurked, waiting for their renaissance; and a new Section 28 lies on the horizon.

At the time of writing this, just over 205,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition calling for the government to “Remove LGBT content from the Relationships Education curriculum”, and this is now awaiting a date for parliamentary debate. Meanwhile, just over only 92,000 people have signed a counter-petition calling for that same government not to do so, and the government is only obliged to ‘respond’. 

That is 120% more hatred than love, and 120% more violence than peace.

There is no debate, when it comes to deciding who has human rights and who does not. There is no calm when some of the most oppressed, attacked and marginalised children, young people and adults in our society are under attack. There is no reflection, when the facts and the statistics instantly destroy the hatred, on the too few occasions they are shared. And there is no pause, when children’s and young people’s very lives are in danger.

I write this as a father, and as an educator. I am angry, and I am scared.

Please give your voice to peace and love, both through this petition, and through literally any other means possible.

The time is now.


What if we replace toxic masculinity with intersectional masculinity?

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

Zahara is founder and editor of the blog and podcast, School Should Be, a platform that explores a range of topics helping students, teachers and parents on how to ‘adult well’, together. She is a DEI lead across 2 secondary schools and advises schools on how to create positive and progressive cultures for staff and students. Zahara is a previous Head of English, Associate Senior Leader and Education and Wellbeing Consultant.

In 2021, I led a conference at Beaconsfield High School on how schools can overcome toxic masculinity by revisiting their gender behaviour policies. 16 schools, students and parents heard from Hira Ali, Harry Moore, Leila May Lawrence, Aaron Pandher and the Global Equality Collective, The Terrence Higgins Trust and Headteacher, Peter Tang, on how we can create equitable behaviour policies and create a culture of respect in secondary schools. Over a year on, the discussion continues as schools are now tasked with tackling the rise of online hate and misogyny fuelled by Andrew Tate. 

In schools, amidst the pressures of a recruitment crisis, a cost of living crisis and exam period, education about misogyny and sexism is being called on. As someone who is heavily involved in leading, researching and writing about this area, I worry, as an educator, as a parent and as a human, we’re talking more than we’re listening. An uncomfortable opinion perhaps: in the age of social media, content consumption, likes, comments and information overload we are overwhelmed with the problems, the dangers and fear. Whilst these feelings may be justified, we are looking for quick solutions before we understand the problems of toxic masculinity. 

For those of us who parent and teach, we know young people can be insecure sponges, looking for a sense of belonging, validation and acceptance. Amidst the doom and gloom of school, online comparison and tackling their mental health, they’re also looking for fun.  We know how impressionable young people are. We know for the most part, they just want to fit in – and therefore they look and listen for where this might be. So many have found a sense of belonging, entertainment and acceptance online with accounts and material that perpetuates – in this case –  historic and systemic misogyny. The conference I led and articles I’ve written are tools to support schools to resolve this. What I realise now, though, is I was yet again facilitiating a great deal of information (albeit, valid and necessary) without listening to those it affected: the boys. 

Professor Scott Galloway explains that our understanding of masculinity has been misconstrued and in many ways, caught up, in toxic masculinity – or what we perceive to be toxic masculinity. The data, research and case studies show that young men need support, whereas social media and the news imply masculinity is the problem – this all becomes a vicious cycle of information where many of us end up none the wiser. 

Of course, as a woman and a woman of colour, I am well aware of the whataboutisms, counterarguments and rebuttals that may be flung my way. For the sake, success and safety of all our students, we now need to pause and create space for intersectional male experiences of our young people. 

I say this because, as simple as it may sound, every young boy we come across has a different lived experience and whilst we hurry to find out how to make sure our children are safe, educated and staying away from the vile content they come across online, are we actually listening to them? 

  • Are we listening to the boy who has sisters he loves and respects, and knows exactly how to ally with women – because he is surrounded by strong people? 
  • Are we listening to Black and Asian boys who are still living amidst the trauma of George Floyd’s murder, and recently, the tragic murder of Keenan Anderson
  • Are we listening to Muslim boys who feel their faith and identity are constantly under a negative spotlight, or a spotlight entrenched in patriarchy and misogyny? 
  • Are we listening to boys who don’t like sport, but don’t know where else to go on the school playground? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are gay and don’t know where to turn, who to talk to, out of fear of what may happen? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are constantly told to be strong, but don’t know how?
  • Are listening to boys who are vulnerable, without dismissing their feelings? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are struggling with their mental health but don’t know where to turn? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are told they will take on responsibility for the family once they’re old enough? 
  • Are we listening to girls who have wonderful relationships with their fathers and brothers and are collectively working together for equality and equity? 
  • Are we listening to boys and girls who share healthy relationships? 

I could go on, and on and on. And, I know the same questions apply to women – intersectional feminism is perhaps a more well known term than intersectional masculinity. Equally, there is an absolute understanding and appreciation that intersectional masculinity is systemically privileged and of course, within that hierarchy of privilege, some men are more privileged than others. Having taught boys for a good few years and now, parenting a boy, I think part of the solution here is not just to teach them, but to listen. To understand who they are and who they want to be; to listen and then question their understanding of social norms, gender stereotypes and more. To understand their relationships, their communication, their hobbies. 

There is research to suggest teenagers fare better in group therapy; the best conversations I’ve had with boys is in small groups, in the classroom. It’s the best place to listen to their lived experiences, challenge and discuss their views and form trusting and safe relationships – for them and young female students, too. Plus, the banter can be pretty entertaining. 

Listening is a part of a wider solution and I know we are all still trying to figure out what that is. For now, though, let’s change their algorithm and introduce them to positive online male role models such as:

  • Steven Bartlett
  • Vex King
  • Jay Shetty
  • Marcus Rashford 
  • Ali Abdaal
  • Dr Alex George

…and I’m sure the list can be much longer. There is absolutely a need to rid systemic and social structures of misogyny. Part of that battle – perhaps, part of the solution –  is to listen to the experiences of young men too. 


“Andrew Tate is a father figure to me” - lessons learned from talking to young people in schools

Bold Voices logo

Written by Bold Voices

Bold Voices is an award-winning social enterprise preparing and empowering school communities to recognise and tackle gender inequality and gender-based violence through the delivery of educational talks, workshops, training and resources for young people, teachers and parents.

On January 3rd, the Bold Voices team arrived for our first staff training of the year. We love delivering staff training in schools, and we were excited to be back, if slightly unprepared for the early start and January rain. The session ran smoothly and the staff were engaged and passionate, all seemed as usual until we asked if there were any questions. Dozens of anxious hands shot up and they all had the same question – what can we do about Andrew Tate?

It wasn’t a surprise to any of the team, especially after the most recent news over the Christmas break, but the number of times his name has come up in schools in January has been unprecedented.

Back in July 2022 we began to hear students talk about Tate, and in order to get ahead of what we could see was a growing issue, Bold Voices released our Parent and Staff Toolkits to equip adults with the skills and confidence to have conversations about the ‘King of Toxic Masculinity’ with the young people in their lives. As the education sector catches up with the fact that this popular figure is not going anywhere anytime soon, we have seen a whole range of approaches to dealing with his popularity amongst teenage boys.

One strategy which we’ve seen is the blanket ban – sanctions for anyone who says his name in school. Another approach is whole school assemblies to speak about the harms of his content and messages. The young people we’ve spoken to don’t feel this works; they either say they feel silenced, or that the school is making too much of it. It is completely understandable that this is how many schools are responding. We certainly don’t have all the answers at Bold Voices, and we are always keen to hear back from other educators and parents who have found effective ways to address this issue (please let us know!) but for now we are encouraging schools to focus on one method that we know can have an impact: starting a conversation.

However, the reality is, these conversations are not easy. Here is a snippet of how they normally go:

“Miss, can I ask you a question? What’s your opinion of Andrew Tate?”

“Well, I’m much more interested in your opinion – what do you think of him?”

“He’s a top G miss. He teaches men how to be men. He makes money. He gets females. He’s a fighter. He is a traditionalist. He has four Bugattis. Those trafficking charges are lies. Those things he says? Taken out of context. Miss, it’s the Matrix. He’s a father figure to me.”

These conversations don’t always feel possible, or respectful, because these young people have internalised the message that anyone arguing against Tate is an idiot, hasn’t woken up to the truth, or they’re simply wrong. This makes it much harder to do our jobs – but we have seen success. In a school which had banned any mention of his name amongst pupils, when we opened up a conversation in a classroom, the feedback we received afterwards was: “I thought Andrew Tate was good but I realised what he does and all the hate against women.”

So what can we do to make more of those conversations successful? How can we move from fear of even starting a conversation, and those that go nowhere, to helping young people to choose for themselves if they want to continue to support Tate and his harmful messages?

Our response is three things (and they’re not easy):

STEP 1: TALK ABOUT HIM – BUT DON’T CONDEMN HIM

This can feel extremely difficult when the messages Tate puts forward are so explicitly dangerous and incite violence, but the more we condemn his words, the more we play into a right or wrong binary that pushes defensive teenagers even further away. Narratives around the Matrix incorporate the idea that there is a “great lie” going on, and figures like Tate (and Trump and other populists who brand themselves as anti-establishment) use this condemnation to push the idea: “that’s what they want you to think”. Break out of this binary by opening a dialogue and empowering young people to see all sides and opinions and to have the autonomy to make their own decisions about who they follow and believe. The aim should not be to have our children believe everything we believe because it’s scary when they don’t; we want to raise a generation of critical thinkers who can form their own opinions.

STEP 2 – MAKE ANDREW TATE UNCOOL AGAIN 

This ties into avoiding condemnation – when we stand up and tell young people he is dangerous we give him notoriety and power. Andrew Tate has branded himself as the antidote to cancel culture, so his popularity is not tied to his morality. Not only that, his messaging around gender roles mean that he can discredit those who speak out against him with misogynistic myths – case in point, I asked a student if he would stop liking him if Tate was convicted for the trafficking charges and he said “well, the women are probably just lying for money and attention.”

Attempts to laugh at Andrew Tate have been more successful in damaging his reputation than pointing out how dangerous he is. The closest to this that I’ve seen is this twitch streamer’s video and Greta Thunberg’s infamous tweet. What I don’t like about these tactics is that they use old tropes of emasculation to put a pin in his puffed up performance of masculinity. Relying on his tools to tear him down won’t create meaningful change in the long run (we’ll just see a newer version of him spring up to his place).

STEP 3 – ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

This brings us to the most important point – we need to change what questions we’re asking about Andrew Tate – instead of asking “what can we do about him?” we need to ask “what is it about him?” And “what is it about this current climate that allows his version of masculinity to thrive?”

His brand of masculinity is what draws people towards him: words like traditional, realist, role model for how to be a man. To most adults he looks like a cartoon of all the most ridiculous tropes of toxic masculinity; the cars, the money, the ideas about mental health. The alleged trafficking of women, the misogyny. So when we’ve looked at why he’s so popular the next question needs to be, what is the context and climate that means he is appealing?

When having these conversations I like to zoom right in, then all the way out. Instead of arguing his actual points with evidence or debating his intentions, I ask questions about what he represents, then look at the bigger picture, and ask why is that appealing right now?

The context in which boys are gravitating towards Andrew Tate is one in which they feel victimised and powerless. As an educator in the gender-based violence sector this can feel frustrating. But ignoring it and saying, “suck it up”, men have had power since the beginning of time, is not helping anyone.

Conversations around violence against women have completely transformed since I was at school less than 10 years ago. In a way that we can see paralleled with the movement for racial justice, conversations around gender-based violence have been radically shifted by events of the past decade: The #MeToo movement, Everyone’s Invited, Ofsted investigations, Sarah Everard’s death and many more. It’s confusing for young people.

Girls, trans and non-binary pupils have more awareness and knowledge than ever (thank you TikTok) about the ways in which they are victimised within a culture of gender-based violence. And they still suffer many different forms of this. But boys feel under siege too. They feel more under threat of being falsely accused than ever. Andrew Tate offers them a different narrative from the one in which they feel they’ve been cast as the baddies. There are no alternative models of masculinity on offer. We go into schools and tell young people that what Andrew Tate puts forward is an unrealistic stereotype of masculinity that ultimately harms everyone. Sometimes they see that, but when we exist in a system that punishes those who don’t fit a stereotype, we construct a reality where it is preferable to be an Andrew Tate rather than a man who can express his emotions and show weakness and vulnerability.

The quote at the beginning says it all. “Andrew Tate is a father figure”. This is how teenage boys feel when there aren’t any other role models for masculinity that seem valuable in today’s world.

The options are; see the problem with masculinity and try your best to not embody it, or go sit with Andrew, the realist, who can show you how to stop apologising for being a man in a world where stereotypes are just ‘the way things are supposed to be’. 

As educators on this subject we can tell you that having these conversations on the ground is hard work. It’s a painful slog that feels unrelenting and sometimes futile. Watching boys copy his physical stance, treat me with suspicion, shout down my logic and questions and cling to their idolisation of him makes me realise something; they are clinging tightly because he makes them feel safe and understood. And taking that away is difficult and can feel cruel when we aren’t offering good enough alternatives. If it was anybody but Tate, I would never question a vulnerable year 9 boy’s father figure and role model. I’m so glad he has that. I wish it wasn’t one who would teach him that depression isn’t real, that he should value women as possessions, and that his worth is measured in what he can win, and how dominating he can be. I want to give him a hug.

LET’S COME BACK NOW TO OUR THREE SOLUTIONS.

1- Talk about him, don’t condemn him. At Bold Voices we will keep going into schools and having these conversations. And if you have young people in your life please use our toolkits to start having these conversations too. This part is the intervention and it’s more necessary than ever. The aim is not to condemn and create a right or wrong, it’s to open a dialogue where there is more than one narrative to choose from.

2- Make Tate uncool – but not him specifically and not through emasculation. Instead through promoting other role models of masculinity who seem more appealing than Tate. We look to people like Marcus Rashford, Stormzy, and Steph Curry (get in touch if you have others you promote!)

3- Look at the conditions that make Tate popular. Ask questions and don’t stop asking.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? 

HOW CAN WE HELP?

Bold Voices is an award-winning social enterprise preparing and empowering school communities to recognise and tackle gender inequality and gender-based violence. 

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Belonging on Purpose

Andrew Morrish portrait

Written by Andrew Morrish

Andrew is a former headteacher and founder trust CEO. He has also been an NLE, inspector, LA adviser, chair of governors, and trustee, so he has seen it from all angles. Andrew is now Director of Makana Leadership Ltd, a consultancy he founded in 2020, and author of The Art of Standing Out (John Catt). Andrew also co-founded Headrest during the pandemic, a free wellbeing support service for headteachers.

One of the greatest challenges during my two decades as a headteacher was trying to build a culture of belonging. 

For many schools, this becomes the holy grail. It’s easy to understand why. Research tells us that if staff feel isolated and vulnerable at work – that they feel as if they don’t belong – they are more likely to lack engagement, motivation, and commitment. As a result, productivity declines, and we see this often in the lowest performing schools. On the flip side, where there is a strong culture of relational trust for example, the likelihood of this impacting positively on student outcomes is significantly higher.

Leading change must always lead to impact (in this case a culture of belonging). Just because you think you are going about your business of leading, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are changing anything. Leadership without impact is not leadership at all. It’s just you being busy. 

So in order for change to lead to meaningful impact, it needs to be done on purpose. It also needs to be done from purpose. The two are very different. Let’s see how.

When we lead from purpose, we do so authentically from a position of strength. The main source of that strength comes from within; our core values and beliefs – the stuff that drives and motivates us. These are the things that we choose to do, not because we have to, but because we want to.  These beliefs also determine whether staff are more likely to feel as if they identify with you and the team, department, phase (or school even) that you lead. 

In order to lead successfully you need to know that everything starts and ends with you. Who you are, what you believe in, and why you do the things you do. This is at the heart of what it means to lead from purpose.

When we lead on purpose, we do so deliberately, with accuracy, and care. We’ll take both of these in turn in a moment. First though, we need to appreciate that leadership – authentic and purposeful leadership in particular – is too important to lead to chance. It doesn’t just happen. We need to plan for it and to think deeply about when, where, and how it happens. 

It’s a bit like going shopping. You have to know what it is you need to buy (make a list), and then when you’ve bought it you then need to know how best to combine them in order to turn the items into something meaningful (i.e. meals). This is the whole point of doing the weekly shop –  to keep yourself and others sufficiently nourished. Leading is no different. 

The process of shopping (as with leading) is merely a means to an end. It needs to lead to something. And if we just left it to chance, who knows what we’ll up with. We most likely won’t starve, but it will hardly be enriching and enticing. 

When planning to lead well, leaders need to take care when thinking about their actions and behaviours. Careful leaders are ethical leaders, and – as would be expected – care passionately about the things they believe in. More importantly, they care passionately about the beliefs of others in a diverse workplace. 

If we do this all of the time, consistently, constantly, and convincingly (my three habits of authentic leaders) chances are these behaviours will become normalised. They become habits. Habits help us ensure that we do things automatically and precisely. They are done right each time, without thinking, such as driving to work, talking to a parent, or giving feedback to a pupil. 

Precision is essential but only if it’s accurate, for it is this that ensures we are being precise about the right things. It’s accuracy over precision every time. 

You can be as precise as you want about sticking meticulously to the speed limit or the ingredients in your recipe. But if you are heading in the wrong direction, or adding salt instead of sugar, then you won’t achieve much. 

Accurate leaders do the right things on purpose, and from purpose. 

Authentic leaders are accurate leaders because it is done with care. They know that people rarely succeed unless there is purpose behind their actions. It is this sense of purpose – and associated success – that is the bedrock to belonging.

Success is the residue of belonging. It’s what’s left behind long after everyone has gone home. It sticks and lingers and is what makes people keep coming back for more. Success is permanent. 

And by success, I don’t mean Ofsted banners outside the school gates, or fancy logos on headed paper. I mean a true sense of deep accomplishment and belonging where self meets the world, the interface of which we call the workplace. 

It is of course the place where young people to go to learn, but it’s also the place where we, as adults work. It’s where we spend most of our waking moments, so it makes sense to at least feel as if we belong there. 

As poet and philosopher David Whyte says (quoting Blake’s words), “To have a firm persuasion in our work – to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the exact same time – is one of the great triumphs of human existence.”  

It is also one of the greatest challenges of school leadership. Known strategies such as allyship, empowerment and mentorship all make for great starts. In my new book, The Authentic Leader, I tell the inspiring true story of Dikgang Moseneke, a man who knew all about the value of these. But as Dikgang reminds us, unless all of these things are done through ‘collective agency’, on and from purpose, we may end up falling short when it comes to providing one of the most fundamental human needs: belonging.


Tidying up: a lesson in values from the Japanese football fans

Esther Cummins portrait

Written by Esther Cummins

Course Leader MA Education (online) at Falmouth University

Every four years, the World Cup offers schools a theme around which to focus their learning.  The links to geography and sport are obvious, but further learning opportunities include the application of probability, time zones, languages, and textiles.  Unexpectedly, this year we have all been shown an example of community values from the Japanese fans and players.

The pictures and videos that have circulated of spotless dressing rooms and tidy stadiums show the communal value of respecting your hosts held by the Japanese visitors.  This representation of fans and players is a far cry from the embarrassing behaviour that is often seen in media reports about English fans.  So why is there such a difference in the behaviour?

Interviews with Japanese fans have commonly cited the term, “atarimae”; the English translation is similar to ‘obvious’ or reasonable.  From a young age, children take on the responsibility of cleaning their schools before they leave for the day.  This task is not an ‘add-on’ to be squeezed into the curriculum if there is time.  It is not a quick tidy-up or asking the students to put their chairs on the table.  Without this cleaning, the school would be dirty.

I have cleaned schools out of necessity; in a small school where I was a senior leader, the headteacher and I were the contingency plan when the cleaner was absent.  I have asked children to wash some toys at the end of a school term.  I have asked university students to put their rubbish in the bin.  But I have not worked in an environment where it was a regular expectation for the educators or the students to maintain the tidiness and cleanliness of the learning environment.  

Within our society, we pay cleaners and caretakers less than we pay our educators.  Perhaps this mentality is a hangover from the British Empire, where the wealthy expected their servants to clean up after them.  Our values impact our behaviour (Steg et al., 2014), thus it is important to consider what and who we value.  When we litter or leave a mess, we are saying we are more important than the environment or those that are paid to clean.  Is this who we want to be as educators, and as a nation?

Respect is part of who we are; indeed, “The teaching of respect for others is not only one of education’s more important objectives, but in its absence little, if any, real learning can take place” (Ungoed-Thomas, 1996, p152).  If we are viewing our pupils as the citizens of the future, we need to think carefully about the values we are instilling in their lives.  Saying we are respectful is different to being respectful; we need to model and insist upon behaviour that mirrors this value.

This issue is about more than tidying up.  It can be applied to any of our inclusive values, our desire for equality, and our drive for fairness.  If atarimae means stating the obvious, which behaviours and values do we need to instil in our classrooms, from nursery to university, that creates a respectful community we are proud of?  

We are yet to see who takes home the trophy, but I know whom I see as the winners of this year’s tournament.