Section 28 is still hanging over us – but you don’t have to be a LGBT+ expert to make your school inclusive

Dominic Arnall portrait

Written by Dominic Arnall

Chief Executive of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people's charity.

One in five (17%) teachers in the UK are uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics with their pupils, our new research at Just Like Us has found.

It may have been 18 years since Section 28 was repealed in England and Wales but clearly things have not changed as much as we like to think. Growing up LGBT+ is still unacceptably tough, as a result, and huge challenges also remain for LGBT+ school staff who are often afraid to come out in their workplace or to pupils.

Just Like Us’ latest research also found that only a third (29%) of teachers are ‘completely comfortable’ talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans topics in the classroom, despite government guidance of course reinforcing the need to include LGBT+ topics.

We found that primary school teachers are even less comfortable with discussing LGBT+ topics at school, with 19% saying they are uncomfortable and only 25% ‘completely comfortable’, despite OFSTED requiring primary schools to include different types of families – such as same-sex parents – in lessons.

The survey, commissioned by Just Like Us – the LGBT+ young people’s charity – and carried out independently by Teacher Tapp surveyed 6,179 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK. So we know this is sadly not an anomaly. 

Why does this matter? Well Just Like Us’ report Growing Up LGBT+ found that having positive messaging about LGBT+ people in schools is linked to all students having better mental health and feeling safer – regardless of whether they’re LGBT+ or not. The evidence is there: LGBT+ inclusion in schools really is beneficial for everyone’s wellbeing.

When so many teachers say they’re uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics, such as mentioning that some families have lesbian mums, this has serious knock-on effects for LGBT+ young people’s wellbeing and mental health, who are currently twice as likely to be bullied and have depression. Having silence around LGBT+ topics only results in shame, stigma and students feeling that they don’t belong in school.

We don’t blame teachers for feeling uncomfortable. Some school staff simply may not have had the resources or personal life experiences – but all you need is a willingness to support your pupils and Just Like Us can help provide lesson plans, assemblies, talks and training so that you feel confident discussing LGBT+ topics with your pupils.

It’s also essential that we get the message out that teachers don’t need to be experts on LGBT+ topics to support their LGBT+ pupils.

You also don’t need to be LGBT+. Often we see in schools that this vital inclusion work falls to staff who are LGBT+ themselves rather than all school staff taking on the responsibility of making their school a safe, happy and welcoming place for all of their young people. This work doesn’t need to be done by LGBT+ staff – in fact, how amazing is it for students to see adults in their lives being proactive allies?

One incredible teacher, who is an ally, and a brilliant example of this is Zahara Chowdhury, who teaches at Beaconsfield High and the Beaconsfield School, in Buckinghamshire. She says it’s a “human responsibility” to include LGBT+ topics in the classroom and has been the driving force behind School Diversity Week celebrations at her schools.

It all starts with a willingness to support your students or simply diversify your lessons using our free resources – sign up for School Diversity Week and you’ll get a digital pack of everything you need to kickstart inclusion at your school. 

Already doing this work? Let a colleague or fellow educator at another school know by sharing this blog – the more we share resources and reassure staff that you don’t need to be LGBT+ nor an expert, the sooner and better we can ensure all young people feel safer and happier in school. 

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Inclusion - A Parenting Perspective

Helen Weston portrait

Written by Helen Weston

Helen has two children with significant medical needs which has resulted in her becoming their part time nurse, teacher and advocate whilst simultaneously attempting to be a reasonable parent! Prior to this she worked in Early Years and family support.

Inclusion is a perpetual discussion amongst both teachers and parents alike. This is likely because it has a number of different interpretations which aren’t always agreed upon, it can also be both an ethos and an action. I want all children to feel safe and secure, welcome and considered whilst being educated. My son wants to be remembered that he exists. 

As a parent of two children with chronic health needs, the navigation of an equitable education for them has been incredibly challenging. During the last 11 years my children have experienced the best and worst of inclusive practices in various schools. 

Effective inclusive practice in my experience always comes from attitudes and ethos and never from  expectations of statutory requirements. Funding has been entirely irrelevant, no amount of funding can influence cultural shift. Ethical leaders create that, not money. If a Head is unable to easily explain how their policies and planning sit within the Equality Act, for example, a rigid 100% attendance award policy, yet has an inclusion poster in their reception area, then as a parent, I know my child will never feel a sense of belonging or self worth in this school. 

Schools that are child centred rather than data driven always value inclusion, they offer a genuine partnership with families and a proactive approach, again this starts with leadership and is embedded within the every day workings of the school. Teachers who are prepared to listen, reflect and act, can make a huge difference to a child’s perception of their illness or disability and reduce their feelings of difference. This enables them to be more readily able to learn. 

One of my children has only ever been able to attend school on a part time basis due to his health. For 4 years he attended his school every morning, his school thought they were inclusive for facilitating a part time timetable, yet he was never offered a broad and balanced curriculum. He was only ever taught Maths and English despite regularly requesting to learn science or do PE with his peers, but their timetable was rigid. 

 We eventually moved him to a neighbouring school, the difference in attitudes was remarkable. He was listened to and the timetable was swapped around. For the first time in his school career he did PE, science, & enrichment. He was 9 years old. He also took part in his first ever Christmas concert because the practices were moved to the mornings so he could be involved . He had real friends for the first time, adults had role modelled to them that he was an equally valuable member of the school community. His friends looked out for him, helped him, cared for him because this was the ethos of the school and these values were their norm. 

At his previous school he had had long periods of time off unwell, upon return to school, staff and children alike would rarely ask after his well-being. In contrast, in his new school his teacher set up a video call with him and his classmates so they could have a chat and check in with one another. 

She would also provide him with allergy safe treats when giving a whole class reward. He had never experienced this before. Ultimately inclusion was everyone’s responsibility and not just the role of the  ‘Inclusion Manager.’ My experience identified that by outsourcing inclusion to just one individual, others were removed from ever having any consideration for inclusion. 

School trips can be a real eye opener as to how inclusive schools are. We have had numerous experiences of schools not bothering to plan for accessibility or do risk assessments therefore having to do them myself  last minute ( and on one occasion discovering the activity was unsafe for our son’s medical condition.)

Yet there have also been examples of how early planning and communication can enable trips to be successful, not just practically, but also emotionally positive. My son attended a school residential as a day visitor. The timings of his visits were chosen in collaboration with him, myself, school as well as the activity centre, to ensure he was able to access all the activities offered at that time safely. He was still allocated a room and a bed, his tube feeds were fitted around activities, pacing was done subtly, a special harness was used. Almost three years later, he still talks about that trip with such joyful memories. 

The ‘what can we do’ approach is the best way of creating meaningful change, including the child & parents in working through solutions in partnership with schools. My youngest is now in secondary and I note with interest, their use of their term, ‘flexible’, over inclusion. Right now, this is what works best for my son, flexibility, trust and regular communication. Inclusion is not the same for every child but the essence of belonging should feel the same for all. 

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Toothless Lionesses

Bhamika Bhudia portrait

Written by Bhamika Bhudia

English teacher and lead teacher in a mixed comprehensive secondary school in North-West London. She tweets as MissMika_Eng

Does the “aggressive” Woman of Colour trope lead to a generation of toothless lionesses?

Women of colour have to navigate the western world with careful footing. Sidelined and stereotyped within the media and underrepresented at leadership tables, conducting herself in offices, classrooms and meetings is a difficult, political affair. Managing standing up for herself, being heard, demanding a seat at the table all the while not being deemed too aggressive, requires strategizing but at what cost? Surely this lack of freedom to express herself honestly and fully has detrimental effects on her confidence, self worth and identity as a whole? 

In my quest to make my workplace and environment a more celebratory and inclusive place, I have had to take a real look inwards at my role as a woman of colour (a term I am still uncomfortable with), and I have had a rude awakening!   

I have always considered myself (and I think have been considered) to be a confident woman. I am able to stand up for what I believe in, I have carved myself a seat at the table and my voice is one that is heard. But as policies are put into practice and ideologies around celebrating culture and acknowledging diversity are being discussed at that very table, I have come to question how many waves I actually make, how often I quietly avoid a stir and how many self-sabotory behaviours I demonstrate.

Diversity-hire:

According to the School Workforce Consensus (2019) only, 6.2% of assistant heads and deputies are from ethnic minorities and while women comprise 67% of the country’s headteachers, a mere 3.9% of them identify as non-white. The statistics speak for themselves, yet despite knowing this, every job and promotion I have ever gotten has been followed by inner doubt questioning whether I was a diversity hire. The odds are clearly stacked against me, but this toxic imposter syndrome based solely on my demographic is obviously very damaging. And it can’t be just me – I didn’t invent this notion or phrasing, it has to come from somewhere. I am very doubtful that I am the only one who has felt this way yet my achievements are continually downplayed in my mind because I happen to fit this box that ironically enough, isn’t actually getting filled in the real world!

Say my name!

It is now widely acknowledged that continual mispronunciation of people’s names is a microaggression and is damaging. Spending my entire life as Bhamika Bhudia has been tricky. I have always expected people not to get my name right to begin with – it’s an unusual name – and I take absolutely no offense when people don’t get it right away. I have been quick to correct them, the first, second and third time but after that, I drop it. I have worked with people for years that have continued to call me by some other moniker. Until this last year, I have let these aggressions slide for fear of being rude, making things awkward or making other people feel bad. It is not ok, and should not have taken me 37 years of life to realise this. It is my duty as a role model for children to address this but for my entire life, I have placed the feelings or others ahead of my own; clearly I did not feel my name was worthy enough of causing a stir.

Bite your lip:

On the same note, causing that stir is a real predicament for those in my demographic in far more contentious circumstances than pronunciations. I have heard many a story of meetings, conflicts and general grievances of women who look like me, shut down because they were deemed too “aggressive”. Conducting myself in sensitive circumstances is a tight-rope I tread very carefully on. I always say, with a strong hint or irony and an even stronger note of bitterness, that my life would be so much easier if I was a cryer. If, when it came to conflict, I was the sensitive one who could alleviate circumstances and even shift responsibility by showing my emotions and expressing my hurt/offense in a more “feminine” way. Now I’m not saying all tears are manipulatory nor am I condoning toxic femininity but there have been times and continue to be so where I am unable to express my offense at derogatory comments or behaviours towards me, no matter how professionally or politely I handle them, for fear of becoming the aggressor. I have bitten my lip, publicly and privately because when it comes down to it, I am afraid that I will be blamed for upsetting the other person despite being the offended party. I always assumed it was a “me” thing, perhaps even a “female” thing, but once again, this reflection has led me to connect the dots. Women of colour being branded and dismissed as “aggressive” is a historical thing; it does not stop at me nor did it begin there.

This post has been very difficult to write. I have taken a look at myself and honestly I do not like what I see. I thought I was strong, I thought I was a good role model and discovering that I am far from that has been a difficult discovery indeed. But now I have seen that despite my “aggressive” nature, I am still doing myself and every woman of colour after me, a huge disservice by bowing down, and sitting quietly. My teeth may have been blunted up until now, but at the risk of ending with a huge cliche, I will make sure my lioness comes out in full force, not only for myself but also for those I model my behaviour for.

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Unlocking Identity for the 21st Century - Building Identity Literacy with Children

OICD Maze logo

Written by Chikara Shimasaki and Bruce White

Chikara Shimasaki: Project Development Officer at OICD. Former primary school teacher, vagabond permaculturalist, part-time pizza oven master.

Bruce White: Anthropologist. A consultant to international NGOs. A Founding Director of the OICD. Former Dean at Doshisha University Kyoto, and an honorary research fellow at University College London's Department of Anthropology.

Mass displacement and migration due to climate change, resource wars and sea-level rise are now near certainty, meaning that many communities will likely experience a greater influx of ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity. 

Political polarization, racial, ethnic and religious disharmony and conflict already characterise the nature of community life for increasing numbers of people around the world. The potential for the problems in the global economy to exacerbate the large-scale migration we have seen over the last decade seems higher than ever.

How, then, can we prepare our communities and our children for an increasingly complex future? Can we resist and counteract division as fear is used to turn ordinary men and women against those that are seen as different? Can we equip children with the ability to resist propaganda disseminated through social media and the pressures of their peers, parents and manipulative influencers? 

Can we give them the resilience needed to fulfil their potential and maximise their development? What can we do now to better prepare the next generation to cooperate and thrive in the rapidly changing world that is unfolding?

The Potential Power of Identity

One path forward is harnessing the latest understanding of how identities work – as a psychological and social system that helps to fulfil universal human needs and solve everyday problems. With increased identity literacy we can empower ourselves to self-actualise, build resilience and find freedom from self-concepts which lead to division.

Nobel Prize Laureate Amartya Sen, states that the richness of identity comes from the fact that “…the same person can be, without any contradiction, a Norwegian citizen, of Asian origin, with Bangladeshi ancestry, a Muslim, a socialist, a woman, a vegetarian, a jazz musician, a doctor, a poet, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights”. This plurality means that identities can and should be entities that empower and liberate us to fulfil our potential and stimulate us to grow. 

However, when this ‘state of plurality, of multiplicity and choice’ is diminished and restricted, we are only able to see ourselves in singular ways such as members of only one ethnic, religious or political group, diminishing the ability to meet our core human needs through many different expressions of identity. 

For example, during terrorist or gang recruitment or in preparation for genocide, an individual’s identity options are gradually stripped away. The subject’s sense of who they are, where they come from, and who their enemy is is rewritten. A “depluralised” identity can convince people that they are divided from one another, severing their ability to feel an affinity with manufactured enemies and potentially turning these targets of manipulation into weapons capable of orchestrating terrible acts of violence.

With the ever-expanding reach of the internet and social media, these manipulations of identities are now easier and more scalable than ever before in human history. When compounded with the disruptive climatic and demographic trends we face, these technological vulnerabilities represent an existential threat to humanity as we know it. 

Identity Literacy in Education

But there is hope. Schools and educators are in a powerful position to recognise and help solve this urgent problem. By identifying the risk of ‘identity depluralisation’ in each child as well as in the community in which the school serves, we can intervene effectively in the early stages. And we can do more than just safeguard and protect. All those involved with children can learn to empower them with the understanding and mastery of how their own identities function, in turn helping them to recognise and maintain flexible and diverse identities. 

Helping children to build “Identity literacy” will allow children to better understand the deeper roots of their own and others’ behaviours, build empathy, and hone their skills to effectively resolve issues at their root. As a consequence, mastering identity not only allows more effective learning experiences to take place within and beyond the classroom, but also increases the resilience and actualisation of the child and, eventually, the wider community.

We believe that identity literacy must be integrated into our education as it is the foundation of our lived experience and a critical component in how we prepare for and thrive within the increasingly complex and diverse world of the 21st Century. 

The Organisation for Identity and Cultural Development (OICD) has developed a program to help educators and schools incorporate identity literacy into their classrooms, policies and communities. The organisation offers schools the ability to conduct an ‘identity audit’, as well as train staff with a CPD course ‘Helping Children to be Identity Literate’ available through Goldsmiths University’s Teaching Hub

For more information on the OICD’s work on Identity Literacy in Education and how it might be useful to your institution, contact Chikara Shimasaki at cshimasaki@oicd.net

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Aspiring Heads Leadership Summit Conference 2021

Javay Welter portrait

Written by Javay Welter

NPQ, MSc, Outstanding MFL teacher, public speaker, mentor and linguist.

On the 16th of October, I witnessed greatness. The Aspiring Heads Leadership Summit was phenomenal. Nadine and Ethan Bernard hosted a truly remarkable conference. Above all, this was the first leadership conference I had witnessed led by a current existing Black Headteacher, Nadine Bernard. Well done Nadine for your initiative, creating this platform and elevating future leaders. This was a pioneering conference, very timely and extremely forward-thinking.

The wide array of speakers in different fields provided a variety of perspectives and insights. Topics ranged from mentoring, strategic leadership to financial literacy. The speakers were all leaders and thought leaders in their respective fields. They shared their journey, resilience and barriers they had to overcome. The optional workshops were uplifting, insightful and edifying. I left feeling empowered, inspired and acquired so much wisdom. 

The first keynote speaker Bose Onaboye, who is a business strategist and leader, spoke about finding your leadership style and being highly reflective. Leadership development is a process. She encapsulated that leadership is a journey and not a destination. Leaders are readers. Therefore, one must strive to keep developing oneself and undertake CPDs. I fully agree that leading is a journey, not just a title. We must strive for excellence.

Another charismatic speaker Karl Pupé, an educator and author, highlighted that we must step out of our comfort zone to grow. Leadership is not easy and we must embrace change to grow. We must embrace more black leaders in all walks of life and value their unique and valuable skill sets and contributions. He mentioned that his various previous jobs have helped to strengthen his behaviour management, for example, negotiation, conflict resolution and dealing with challenging behaviour. His book Action Hero Teacher: Classroom Management Made Simple is an exemplary book on behaviour management. A must-read for new teachers.

Diana Osagie, a former black Headteacher and CEO of Courageous Leadership focused on being a human first and a leader second. Well-being is key to longevity. If you do not have health, you cannot lead. Sayce Holmes Lewis, Founder and CEO of Mentivity advocated that we need more servant leaders rather than being ego-centric ones to promote positive change. We need to lead from the back like Nelson Mandela. Sayce passionately highlighted that positive black male role models are crucial and that Devon Hanson, a former black Headteacher acted as an inspiration. Lavinya Stennett, founder and CEO of the Black Curriculum pointed out that Black History should be incorporated in the national curriculum and that representation is vital to success.

The second keynote speaker, Dr Leroy Logan MBE who is a former Metropolitan Police superintendent. He was also the chair of the National Black Police Association and discussed fear. He eloquently commented that his father feared his career choice. His father suffered police brutality. However, he had seen black role models and police officers in Jamaica which inspired him and it was his calling. Leroy emphasised that he entered the police profession to make a positive contribution and to help change the Met. His book ‘Closing Ranks’ shares his incredible journey from humble beginnings to becoming one the first black police superintendent in the UK. Leroy faced many adversities, barriers and did not give up. Importantly, he had a dream just like Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 

In conclusion, representation matters. Young pupils deserve a diverse education, inspiration and representation. Fundamentally, it is pivotal that they see leaders from diverse backgrounds to prepare them for the world of work. I believe that it would be beneficial to have more black and global majority leaders like Nadine Bernard leading conferences to elevate future generations and make a difference. Nadine has started a legacy. The next step is a follow-up conference.

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Audit Your Curriculum for Gender and LGBTQ+ Inclusivity

Katherine Fowler portrait

Written by Katherine Fowler

Katherine Fowler is a specialist content editor at The Key, a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act.

Committing to improving diversity across your school’s curriculum is a big task, but it’s also a really important one. You’ll know that lasting change isn’t created by talking about gender and sexuality in a few PSHE or RSE lessons, but by really taking time to embed inclusivity throughout your curriculum. So how can you do this?

  1. Ask questions of your current curriculum. In particular, look for weaknesses or gaps in each subject and consider how you can fill these with inclusive materials (such as books written by female authors, or LGBTQ+ STEM role models). Specialist audit tools are available to help you spot these gaps and make changes, such as The Key’s LGBTQ+ and gender curriculum audit tool.
  2. Always take a moment to think about intersectionality. While you’re focusing on your representation of women and LGBTQ+ in your curriculum, it can be easy to slip into defaulting to, for example, white, able-bodied examples. Try to balance your examples to include women and LGBTQ+ people of colour, and of different abilities and body types.
  3. Encourage staff to educate themselves. If your staff don’t understand the importance of doing this sort of curriculum review, you’re not going to achieve lasting change. Ideally, you’d want to spend time with all your staff, but, if time and resources are tight, at least make sure the staff who are going to take the lead on the audit are aware of current issues surrounding gender and sexuality. There’s a host of reading material, podcasts, documentaries and TV shows that cover these topics – signpost some to your staff, and make sure they are given an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings (for example, in a dedicated staff meeting).
  4. Create a cross-curricular working group to take the lead. As already mentioned, committing to this curriculum review is a large task, and shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of one or two people. Get a group of staff together to work on this instead. As a minimum, you’d want to involve:
  • The subject leader/co-ordinator for each subject
  • PSHE/RSE leads, who will be most familiar with the content of this audit 
  • Any other members of staff who show interest in the work (these don’t have to be teachers – passion is what’s key!)

Even though different members of the group will be focused on different parts of your curriculum, the kinds of questions in an audit and their overall aims should be aligned, so encourage them to work together and support each other.

Useful documents to review include:

  • Curriculum maps
  • Short and long-term plans
  • Individual lesson plans and resources

The working group should also take into account cross-curricular events/days, trips and assemblies.

Get the working group to meet regularly and review progress. This also lets the group share ideas and resources. Aim for a meeting at least once a term, but half-termly would be ideal.

  1. Involve the wider community. Consider running an INSET or CPD session for all staff to kick-off the curriculum review, to encourage interest and participation. All staff should feel able to feed in suggestions or ideas of what needs to improve via their subject leader.

Parents and pupils should also know that you’re carrying out this audit and be able to share their thoughts and ideas.

Your governors should know you’re doing this, too, especially any curriculum link governors. Give them the opportunity to get involved in the working group if they’re keen!

  1. Be prepared for this to take time. A full review could take up to a year, and will never truly be ‘finished’ – your working group should continue to meet, review and look for more ways to adapt and refine the curriculum. Encourage this by making sure the group has protected time, such as INSET days and staff meetings, to dedicate to the work. Consider adding the audit to your school improvement plan, so the work gets tracked and resources can be considered at the start.
  2. Go beyond your curriculum, too. If you want a truly inclusive environment, you’ll need to think about the ethos and culture that surrounds your curriculum. Consider whether you can improve inclusivity in the following areas:
  • Staff hiring and training
  • The school environment (e.g. displays, shared spaces such as the library)
  • Policies (e.g. anti-bullying policy, behaviour policy and child protection policy)
  • Meeting your requirements under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)
  • The language used across your school (Stonewall’s primary curriculum contains useful glossaries for pupils and staff)
  • Your school’s involvement and engagement with your wider community

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How can we raise anti-racist leaders?

Ayo Awotona portrait

Written by Ayo Awotona

Ayo Awotona specializes in confidence building for girls in education. She does this through programs, workshops, and keynote speeches.

When it comes to speaking about race, white privilege, and colorism; things can often get a tad bit uncomfortable or even awkward, to say the least.

This is understandable. More often than not, these are difficult conversations for most people, and difficult conversations are often characterized by emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, conflict, and other strong dividing — not unifying — emotions. These emotions are often suppressed and can be released rather strongly. 

Why is this?

It’s because emotions can run high on both sides, and there is room for the conversation to become quite heated on either or both sides. 

This is just one perspective as to why uncomfortable conversations are hard.

So I hope that takes some pressure off of you depending on your curiosity as you first read the title to this blog post 🙂

So let’s dive into this simple (yet, rather complex) question.

How can we raise anti-racist leaders? That is, how can we empower our young people in the world today to make a change by first recognizing racism and challenging it in this seemingly never-ending cycle of systemic oppression?

Before I continue, I must add here that this question is not thrown out to one particular race. This is a question that’s being thrown to each and every one of us reading this (yes! Even me as a Black-British Nigerian woman), because the reality is… change starts with every single one of us. All races and denominations. Change looks different on each and every one of us – rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

To kick us off with answering this question, it’s important for us to acknowledge/be reminded that children are not colorblind. Children are very much aware of racial differences.

Permit me to simplify how young children learn about race to:

  • what they see (both directly and indirectly), 
  • what they hear, and;
  • what they are taught (both at home and in school).

This is really encouraging because it means we (as educators and leaders) play a big role in positively influencing the trajectory of their lives. 

Now let’s talk about developing an anti-racism strategy for our young people.

There are different ways to make a change so I’ll give 3 examples of practical things that can be done to help raise anti-racist leaders.

Behavioural Change

As leaders, we ought to know and lead ourselves before we lead others. This means we essentially can’t give what we don’t have. Here are some tips for being intentional about our own growth:

  • Listen to other perspectives and de-center yourself
  • Boost the voices of the marginalized
  • Educate yourself
  • Acknowledge your own privilege and propensity for unconscious bias
  • Challenge discrimination, even when you feel scared
  • Keep the conversation going

Raising Awareness

Sometimes, one of the most powerful things we can offer young people is awareness. This is where we’re focusing their attention on a cause or issue in the world (in this case, related to race). The objective is to increase their understanding – but of course, we must be in a position where we are practicing this ourselves.

Action Planning

A great way to empower young people to take charge of their own learning is through projects – whether this is through achieving tangible or intangible objectives. Action planning activities are designed to support students to build the necessary skills for work and life, as active local and global citizens.

So what could this look like?

Running a workshop where students come up with a project idea to take action on!
During the workshop and overall project duration, it’s important that we support students with their ideas, but steer them in the direction of what is realistic. It is important not to stamp out their creativity, but equally important to ensure students have a clear understanding of how their action plan can be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-bound)

Some suggested questions to guide your students are:

  • What issues do you see happening in your local community that make you upset/angry/you would like to change?
  • What issues do you know of happening in your global community? Have you read or seen anything in the news recently?
  • If you could change one thing in your local/global community, what would it be?

I strongly believe that for us to move in the right direction of raising anti-racist leaders, change starts with both you and me.

My name is Ayo, Ayo Awotona.

Let’s keep the conversation ALIVE!

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Building Leadership Presence through Awareness of Self

Yamina Bibi portrait

Written by Yamina Bibi

English Teacher and Assistant Headteacher

During the #WomenEd Global Unconference 2021, I spoke about how we can go about tackling our inner critic so that we can limit the influence of it on us as women. 

I shared some specific strategies that have really helped me like labelling how I am feeling and seeking support from other women through coaching. 

Despite presenting on this, I have really struggled this week to mute my unkind inner critic. 

Having started as an AHT role in a new school this year, I have felt like a novice despite being a senior leader for a few years now. I guess in some ways I am because I am new to the system, rules and routines of the school. I know that it’s normal to feel this way but unfortunately this week I have been unable to soothe my inner critic, which tells me that I should be able to do this since I’ve done this job before. This negative self talk then creates a heaviness in my heart and mind and has even stopped me from sleeping well. 

These are the unkind things that have played over and over again in my head:

‘You’ve been doing this for a while and you’re still not good.’

‘You can’t even teach properly so what makes you think you can lead?’

‘You were better as a classroom teacher instead of being SLT.’

Through coaching, I have been able to listen to this negative self talk and interrupt my tendency of letting it control me and all I do. I have learned to notice when I go from pressure to stress and acknowledge these thoughts and feelings. I have learned to notice when I am comparing myself to others and telling myself that I’m not good enough because they are better. 

However, what I’ve really noticed is that when we’re on social media, it’s so easy to assume that everything and everyone else is doing better than us. It’s easy to believe that other teachers and leaders are superhuman experts who know all there is to know and can do everything and that, in comparison, we can’t do anything. 

Let’s be honest. In schools, we are all working hard especially during these challenging times. We are all doing our best for our staff and students but no, we don’t know everything and it’s absolutely fine to say that. 

As part of Resilient Leaders Elements™, we learn to share our strengths as well as our areas of development. I’ve been so afraid to do this in the past because I have feared that everyone would know what I knew about myself: I’m a fraud and failure. I now know that being open about my developmental needs  with the people I trust and who support me does not make me a failure, it makes me an authentic leader. 

Before RLE, I always thought I was an authentic leader but I realised that only allowing people to see my strengths and never sharing my struggles meant that others thought I was a superwoman. Maybe that’s what I wanted then but I definitely don’t want that anymore. 

As leaders, we have a duty to model vulnerability and authenticity. True authentic leaders increase their leadership presence by modelling that we all have strengths and areas of development. In sharing this, hopefully others in our sphere of influence will do the same and then we can truly support them and their needs. 

Alongside this, we must also pause, reflect and acknowledge our successes. Write it down, read it on paper and read it aloud to ourselves and others. What we are doing is so important and we cannot diminish that because our inner critic is telling us otherwise. 

Let’s share all of who we are so that we can continue doing what we love without fear and that unkind inner critic holding us back. 

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Men, women and the rest of us: a brief guide to making university classrooms more accessible to trans and gender non-conforming students

Kit and Onni Flag

Written by Kit Heyam and Onni Gust

Onni Gust: Associate Professor of History, University of Nottingham. Author of Unhomely Empire: Whiteness and Belonging, c.1760-1830.Kit Heyam: Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, freelance trans awareness trainer, and queer public history activist.

This is a guide for academic teachers who want to get the best out of their trans and gender non-conforming students, and to ensure that they can fully participate in the classroom and in their studies.

1. Avoid making assumptions 

 

Don’t assume you know a student’s gender based on body-type, voice or even dress. If they do disclose their trans status, don’t assume that they have or will undergo any form of medical transition; ask them how you can support them. All you really need to know is how to address them.

2. Names and pronouns are all you need

 

Names and pronouns are all you really need to know from your students.  For trans and gender non-conforming students, the name, sex or title on their student record may be wrong. Using a student’s ‘old’ name may force them to come out, which can be incredibly distressing as well as violating the Equality Act.  To avoid this:

Names:

  • Instead of calling out the register, ask students to either write or say their names.  
  • Be up-front with students and ask them to see you, or email you, after class if for any reason their name has changed.  
  • Online platforms often automatically display names from University records. Familiarise yourself with your university’s name-changing processes – and if there aren’t any, insist that they be put in place.

Pronouns:

 

  • Even if you think it’s obvious, explain to students how you like to be addressed.  This models the process for all students and makes it much easier for trans and gender non-conforming students to state their own pronouns.  Regardless of whether you’re trans or not, it also sends a powerful signal, showing you’re aware you can’t tell someone’s gender just from looking at them.
  • If you ask students to introduce themselves to the class, give them the opportunity, but not the obligation, to include their pronouns. 
  • Gender-neutral pronouns, which some students will use, include the singular they/them/their; ze/hir/hirs; fae/faer/faers.  The list is growing: if you’re unsure, ask the student to model the usage for you, or research it online.
  • If you get a student’s pronoun wrong, apologise, correct yourself and move on.

3. What if other students constantly misgender a student in your class?

If a trans or gender non-conforming student brings this to your attention, it may be worth taking that student aside and talking to them.  If, as a transgender teacher, I suspect that this is active transphobia, I would probably ask a cisgender colleague to intervene. 

4. How else can I make learning more inclusive?

 

Consider your syllabus.  It may be necessary to teach material that uses outdated/pejorative language, or ideas, about gender and sexuality (and/or race, class and disability).  Flag up the problems, explain to your students why these texts are necessary to engage with, but make it clear that you do not support these ideas and that you invite critique.  

 

Think about how you’ll manage any resulting questions or disagreements. How can you help your students to create a trans-inclusive seminar environment without making them feel overwhelmed, alienated or defensive? 

5. Pastoral care for trans and gender non-conforming students

 

Awareness of trans and gender non-conforming identities is moving at a fast, but very uneven, pace.  While your students will hopefully have support at home and at university, that’s still not the case for the majority. In a recent UCAS report, 17% of trans university applicants reported having had a bad experience at school or college, and trans applicants were less likely than LGB applicants to have good expectations for university. The report recommends that universities and colleges introduce bespoke resources to support trans students.

 

Trans people remain disproportionately affected by mental health problems.If your trans and gender non-conforming students disclose mental health problems to you, treat them as you would any other student, butbear in mind the following:

 

  • Not enough counselors or GPs are trans-aware; some have been known to do more harm than good.
  • Specialist gender services have waiting lists of over two years from referral by a GP.  

 

If a student comes out to you as trans part-way through a semester:

 

  • Think about your reaction: this is a vulnerable moment for the student. If you don’t understand something, ask politely and calmly for clarification.
  • Don’t make any assumptions: trans people differ in their identities and their choices about social and/or medical transition. 
  • Let the student take the lead: support them if they want to come out to their class, but don’t force it.

Further resources:

 

For you: 

UCAS, Next steps: What is the experience of LGBT+ students in education?

Equality Challenge Unit, Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences

 

For trans and gender-nonconforming students: 

GIRES (Gender Identity Research & Education Society – including a directory of support groups) 

NUS Trans Students’ Campaign

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Empowering Our Students - Let’s Start With Their Names

Anu Roy portrait

Written by Anu Roy

Anu began her journey in education as a TeachFirst trainee in 2017. Since then she has transitioned into being a TeachFirst Ambassador and she is chair of the TeachFirst BAME network. She is a Digital Learning Coordinator for UAL. She is a member of the Teachers Committee for the charity Be Her Lead.

I remember as a quiet and nervous NQT attending a meeting where myself and other English staff would chat about our incoming Year 7 cohort. As we worked our way through the Excel spreadsheet, a joke started forming where a member of staff referred to a student as ‘Chaka Khan’- alluding to the famous singer who goes by the same name. It felt harmless and I am sure the intention was not to cause embarrassment or mock names, but it felt wrong regardless. I would know. I am sure this happened when I moved from India to Wolverhampton to start Year 7 in a predominantly white school. 

 

I remember all too clearly squirming at the back of a classroom when a teacher confidently made their way through ‘Beth, Laura, Jess, Zoe’ and then the dreaded moment came closer. The teacher paused, squinted at the list with a frown on their face. 

 

‘Ama?

Amu?

Anaaa…’ 

 

Now the girls in the room were sniggering. They glanced back at me quickly and I did my best to force a small, to laugh it off even though I felt so humiliated inside. Especially because at that very moment the teacher who could not pronounce 

‘Ah-New-Rad-ha’ gave up altogether and said, ‘it’s too much for me. Can we just call you Annie?’. 

 

To have my name, my Bengali name given to me by my grandfather- a name which means ‘goddess of the gods’- reduced so casually to a westernized format that would be comfortable and convenient for my white teacher set the tone for my experience of education that year in Wolverhampton. It made me squirm whenever attendance was taken, it made me hesitant to raise my hand despite being confident about my subject knowledge and eventually-it made me reluctant about going to school. I wanted to feel invisible, to blend into the classroom walls because I was not British enough, I did not feel valuable. 

So fast forward 11 years and now I am the teacher. I am supposed to have more knowledge, more acceptance and confidence. However, in that meeting when this student had their name turned into a joke, I felt the same pangs of feeling small, feeling embarrassed on their behalf. 

 

So I spoke up, “it’s actually Shah-kir. Shakir Khan”. This was followed by some nodding, an acknowledgement of the changed atmosphere in the room and we moved on quickly to the next student. 

 

BAME students experience incidents like this every day and this must change. Here are some simple ways for educators to ensure this is avoided:

 

  1. Ask them exactly how you would like their name to be pronounced 
  2. If you can, ask them where their name comes from. Many ethnic-minority names have symbolic religious and cultural meanings. 
  3. Do not hesitate to correct colleagues who mispronounce a name in front of you if you are aware of the correct version 

 

Our names are the blueprint of our identity. Let us ensure we honour this for our students.

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