LGBTQ+ teachers don’t receive the training and support they need

Dr Adam Brett portrait

Written by Dr Adam Brett

Adam has completed a doctorate exploring the experiences of LGBT+ secondary teachers. A presentation of his findings can be found here. He also co-hosts a podcast called Pride and Progress, @PrideProgress, which amplifies the voices of LGBT+ educators, activists and allies.

Originally posted on The Conversation in May 2024:

https://theconversation.com/lgbtq-teachers-dont-receive-the-training-and-support-they-need-228162

Republished with permission of the author.

LGBTQ+ teachers report feeling stressed and even discriminated against in the workplace due to their identity. This is a problem when keeping teachers in their jobs is vital. Teaching is facing a crisis in both recruitment and retention: in 2021-22, more than 39,000 teachers quit the profession.

But there is no formal support or training offered to LGBTQ+ teachers by the Department for Education. Supporting the teaching workforce who identify as LGBTQ+ and making teaching a welcoming profession should be a priority for the government.

For LGBTQ+ teachers, working in UK schools may no longer be the deeply traumatic and dangerous experience it was under Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which was repealed in 2003. This law sought to ban local authorities and their schools from promoting the acceptability of homosexuality as a “pretended family relationship”.

But LGBTQ+ teaching staff continue to face challenges such as feeling unsafe in their workplace.

Throughout their careers, LGBTQ+ teachers are placed in the difficult position of deciding whether they should conceal or reveal their sexual or gender identity. This is not a decision they are trained to deal with, nor a decision they make just once. It is particularly tricky in schools where teachers must decide if, when, and how to be open with different groups – staff, students, parents, and others involved in school life.

As an LGBTQ+ former teacher, I know first-hand the emotional tax that comes with continuously negotiating LGBT+ visibility and identity within school.

Unsafe spaces

For my doctoral research I worked with 12 LGBTQ+ teachers from a variety of contexts, including faith, private, and single sex schools. The teachers took photos to represent the spaces where they felt most and least safe within their school, and described the significance of their photos.

The teachers changed how they behaved out of fear of being seen as LGBTQ+. They did this in particular in open or visible spaces, such as when on break duty, leading an assembly or in the staffroom.

In these spaces, the LGBTQ+ teachers were fearful of comments or incidents related to their identity that they felt unequipped to deal with. One teacher said:

I give my assemblies quite often, and I don’t hide my sexuality from anybody, so the student body knows that I’m gay … but when I’m doing my assemblies I feel, I feel scared and I don’t know if it’s because I know that they know that I’m gay and therefore, I’m like afraid of them … I don’t know hurling a slur or something.

By contrast, the teachers often described their classrooms as the spaces where they felt most safe. Here, they had created their own routines, relationships and systems.

Among the 12 participants, there were teachers who had been told not to discuss their sexual or gender identity. One teacher told me that they and others had been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement in a Catholic school: “We weren’t allowed to talk about the fact [that we were gay],” they said.

These are extreme examples. Generally, though, the assumption of heterosexuality in schools can lead to personal questions and situations that LGBTQ+ teachers often feel unequipped to deal with.

Cisgender and heterosexual teachers might be asked about their partners and families and would feel no fear of retribution or backlash in answering those questions. But what might be an entirely unremarkable conversation for a heterosexual teacher might well be deeply fraught for an LGBTQ+ teacher. This can be understood as “heterosexual privilege”.

Despite thousands of the teacher workforce identifying as LGB+, they receive no formal support or training for the challenges that they are likely to experience in their career. Sending LGBTQ+ teachers into schools without adequate support or training will probably lead to these teachers experiencing discrimination and stress.

Some teacher training providers ensure that trainees from minority backgrounds receive training and support to help them face the additional barriers they may experience in schools. However, implementation remains inconsistent.

Future reforms to the Initial Teacher Training and Early Career Framework, which outlines the minimum entitlement for trainee and early career teachers, must reflect these challenges to ensure a minimum and equitable level of provision for LGBTQ+ teachers. If they don’t, fewer LGBTQ+ teachers will enter or remain in the profession. Students and families won’t see themselves represented, and young people won’t be equipped for life in a diverse society.

LGBTQ+ people have the potential to make exceptional teachers and leaders. With the right support, they can thrive in the profession and provide young people with the role models that they desperately need.


Should schools provide prayer spaces?

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.

The recent High Court decision, ruling in favour of headteacher Birbalsingh’s decision to ban prayer spaces has created quite the media storm. The decision has raised concerns about the precedent it sets for schools creating safe spaces for students and staff, Muslim students and staff in particular. It has also raised conversations about what schools are for and how schools and workplaces can fulfill their obligation to adhere to the Equality Act and The Public Sector Equality Duty – and how they can get around it too.

The responses to the verdict reveal that we live in a society and online world in which Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate is increasing; whilst we have ‘come a long way’ in overcoming Islamophobia since 9/11, a high court ruling like this makes me wonder if we’ve made any difference at all to the safety of Muslims for future generations? The verdict also reveals the disconnect that exists within the school system itself: we have some leaders who are not interested in creating unity and understanding within a diverse country – yet at the same time they ‘tokenistically’ take pride in multiculturalism too. And, we have other leaders in education giving us hope, embedding inclusive and equitable practices in everyday school life. I find it baffling that a simple question about prayer spaces ends up at the gates of a High Court. To me, this not only reveals a lack of unity and understanding in a school but also an absence of a critical skill that should be at the centre of schooling: listening.

Many educators and commentators have been sharing their concerns and outrage about the decision. It will also concern parents and students who regularly use prayer spaces in schools, maybe even at work (many teachers use prayer spaces too). It’s a disappointing decision and whilst several anti-woke keyboard warriors rejoice at the ruling, we cannot let it set a precedent for schools – and I don’t think it will. Schools absolutely should provide prayer spaces and they will continue to provide such safe spaces for students – it’s quite simply common sense. For this blog, examples and explanations are practical and experiential, based on what life is like ‘in school’. Whilst research and data are important, progress, collaboration and community cohesion are also nurtured by listening to the candid, lived experiences of staff and students in schools.

Time and space to pray

In line with the Equality Act, allowing students and staff to pray is reasonable and proportionate to a school and working day. It is comparable to allowing students to have break times, music lessons and god-forbid, toilet breaks. Different forms of prayer and spiritual practice are a part of nearly every faith. In Islam, praying 5 times a day is an integral part of the faith. It takes 5-10 minutes to pray. For the duration of that time, a prayer mat takes up just as much space as a two-seater desk. Depending on the time of year, prayer usually fits into a lunchtime. Just as schools host extracurricular clubs, music lessons sports fixtures and more, prayer can usually fit into this time too. It is not a big ask and it is not disruptive.

Some schools may have a designated prayer room, which is great. Other schools may allocate a classroom, usually near a space where a teacher is ‘on duty’ anyway; the last time I checked, prayer doesn’t require back flips, cartwheels or balancing on one’s head…the health and safety risks are fairly manageable. Some schools might even say, ‘if you need to pray and you have what you need with you (prayer mat, head covering, beads, holy book etc…), feel free to use a designated safe space. It does not need to be complicated.

Prayer spaces are not the problem

To blame prayer and collective worship for peer pressure and bullying is deflecting from the real problem. If children start praying as a result of seeing others pray, or if they simply observe with questions and curiosity, why is this such a problem? If they find it to be a positive experience, surely that can only be a positive learning experience. If the opposite happens, it’s not necessarily a problem either. Rather, it’s a teachable moment and reveals hostile attitudes any school should be aware of. Knowledge about the prejudices within our communities is the first step to safeguarding young people in education. ‘Cancelling’ or banning prayer spaces is not. 

‘Banning’ or ‘cancelling’ (on and offline) doesn’t work. It is a power-based behaviour management tool fuelling a notion that education is based on ‘controlling the masses’. We all learn through conversation, discussion, listening, knowledge, understanding, boundaries and respect, not necessarily in that order. By no means are any of the latter ‘easy’ to achieve, but from working with teenagers I’ve found they’re open to a heated debate, discussion, learning, understanding and compromise. 

School is a place of work and I’m not sure why we expect teenagers to just abide by ‘yes and no’ rules with little to no explanation. Plus, if they find a reasonable solution (like praying in a classroom for 10 minutes at lunchtime), what’s the big deal? Secondary school students are a few years away from further education and the workplace, which we all know thrives on innovation, creativity and autonomy. In this case, a blanket prayer ban in a school (their current place of work) completely contradicts the 21st century workplace they will inhabit. It doesn’t make sense. 

‘It’s inconvenient: we don’t have time to police prayer spaces’

Like any theory of change, whether that be introducing a mobile phone policy or changes to a uniform policy, navigating any arising teething issues (by students, parents and the community), takes time and flexibility. None of this is impossible if it is built firmly into the school culture, relevant processes and policies. These policies and processes may be safeguarding, anti-bullying, behaviour management and curriculum. All of the above are part of a teacher’s and a school’s day-to-day functions; navigating prayer spaces is no different to introducing a new club or curriculum change. Plus, we somehow managed bubbles and one-way systems post-lockdown…I think schools are pretty well equipped to create a prayer space for all of a matter of minutes in a day!

Prayer is not ‘an add on’

Faith is observed differently, from person to person. It is a way of life, and an ongoing lived experience; for some it is an integral part of their identity and for others it is their identity. Prayer is a major part of several religious practices. Like some people are vegan and vegetarian, prayer is not just a choice and something to switch on and off – it is an intrinsic part of an individual’s life. Some individuals, as far as they possibly can, plan their days, weeks, holidays and more around prayer. Not only is it a religious obligation, it is also a source of wellbeing and peace. In a time where health and wellbeing are paramount in education, denying prayer spaces seems counterintuitive. Enabling some form of space (like we do options on a menu) for individuals to pray is a minimal request and something schools can do with minimal disruption. However, if cracks in the system are revealed and outrage spills online and at the High Court, there are bigger questions and concerns to address.

Schools don’t need to be ‘impossible’ or difficult spaces – and they shouldn’t be made out to be like this either. One high court ruling does not define the state of schooling in the UK. I have too much respect and experience (or maybe good fortune) of working in schools that enable, or at the very least, welcome conversations around inclusion, safety, flexibility and authenticity. None of the latter disrupts mainstream education and a student’s chances of attaining a grade 9. However, many other things do and those are inequitable opportunities, ‘belonging uncertainty’ (Cohen, 2022) and denying the identities of the young people we teach. 


So You’re the Coachee

Dwight Weir portrait

Written by Dwight Weir

Dwight is a Deputy Headteacher and Life Coach. He is also an inspector for British Schools Overseas. Dwight has a passion for coaching and leadership development.

Oftentimes we hear about the coach and the skills required to be an effective coach. Not much is said about the coachee – the other very important one in the relationship. The coachee, is a person who receives training from a coach. My learnings from various coaching experiences as a coachee have allowed me to craft certain skills and attitudes which I share as the skills or attitude needed by coachees.   

  • You answer your own questions. In answering your own questions, you are often engaged in a radical thinking process, examining your challenge and context and then finding the best way through the challenge. The thinking environment is a philosophy of communication developed by Kline (2009), which enables people to think for themselves and think better together. It is a simple, rigorous and radical set of processes. Coaches don’t answer your questions but provide you with the means to think through and find answers yourself.
  • You take more risks – It is through risk taking that you know if your ideas will work. On the journey to success – radical decisions are made. You make these decisions as you know you’ll be able to reflect and discuss your thought process with the experienced other – the coach.
  • You become more reflective – a great amount of the discussions with the coach is reflective. Researchers such as Muir and Beswick (2007) suggest that there are different levels of reflection that can take place, which move from descriptive to critical forms. It is the critical reflections that help us transform our practices.
  • You must embrace quiet moments – embrace quiet moments as you think through your own hurdles. During the mentoring process these quiet moments are filled with answers by the mentor. Within the coaching relationship you don’t need answers you need a sounding board – the experienced other – the coach, to discuss your ideas. Here you find out for yourself. Notice ‘find out’ not told about. 
  • You become open to criticism – great coaches are frank and open. In coaching relationships you are told the brutal truth about your observed movements, dialogues, expressions and attitude. During your intake session a good coach will ask you how you’d like to be challenged or not. Does it make sense you start this journey, not wanting to hear the truth? Feedback is a gift. You can return the gift. But on these occasions, you keep the gift, as in true coaching relationships trust is the base from which change is realised.

A lot can be gained throughout coaching journeys and relationships. What is more and more apparent is, coaches don’t give answers but feed with questions which enable meaningful thought and self-discovered answers to your challenges. This is a skill only the experienced other could exhibit flawlessly and empower the coachee to unravel options and find answers. I describe this process as a journey, this relationship develops gradually after establishing trust and an openness to feedback from your coach.  

Coaching relationships should be for a proposed period of time. It should be anticipated that the experienced other will equip coachees with the skills to enable their success then release them to grow. 

Can you be coached if you don’t display these attitudes? Of course – it just might take you a little longer.   

 

 


Make Yourself Heard

Bennie Kara portrait

Written by Bennie Kara

Founder of Diverse Educators

Public speaking is a fact of life in the teaching profession. We speak to students all the time in classrooms, but every so often, we are called to deliver assemblies, or to deliver training to staff, or to speak to governors. Some of us are supremely confident in talking in front of students, but shudder at the thought of talking to a group of adults. If you’ve ever felt a sense of dread when you are asked to stand up and deliver spoken content outside of the classroom, you’re not alone. According to the British Council, 75% of us suffer from anxiety about talking in front of a crowd.

Speaking in front of the crowd may tap into a range of fears. We might fear being nervous and how that might affect our assignment. We might fear judgement, or fear that we won’t get everything across that we want to say. We might fear that people won’t listen. We might fear forgetting what we are saying in the moment, stumbling, freezing, feeling embarrassed. These are valid fears and affect most of us.

Whose voices are valued in the public space? Some people are less confident in their speaking abilities because their voices have been silenced. In the UK, global majority teachers work in a predominantly white British teaching workforce; we know the statistics on the ethnic make-up of leadership teams in education. Global majority teachers may suffer from the voicelessness that is part and parcel of existing in marginalised groups.  This isn’t just true in terms of race and ethnicity; it is also true for sexuality, gender, disability, and neurodiversity.

Voicelessness erodes confidence. So it is hugely important that we learn how to find a voice in the public space and to feel like we belong there. 

Finding your message

Regardless of the occasion, it is important to define the message. Speaking in a staff meeting, delivering a talk to parents – what is it that we want to get across? Not just in terms of the information, but also about you. How are you defining your leadership in the moment through what you say and how you say it? 

The message might be small, or it might be momentous. In either case, we need to find ways to define a sense of who we are as engaging speakers and to ensure that we can convey our message effectively. This takes thought, planning, and crucially, constructive practice.

The best public speakers have elements in common. One of the most powerful tools in public speaking is your ability to tell a story.  Storytelling is vital in public speaking, in the appropriate contexts. An assembly without a story, a keynote without anecdote can feel dry and impersonal. The most skilled public speakers I have encountered know how to weave a story into the talk with a deftness and ease that seems intuitive. 

But storytelling is not intuitive for all. Some people are completely comfortable in selecting anecdotes, examples, stories, tiny useful narratives for the public engagement. Others have to think more carefully, but that careful process can lead to brilliant, engaging public speaking. 

The Diverse Educators ‘Make Yourself Heard’ Course

Designing this course, for us, means that we can support you in developing the right mindset for public speaking and provide you with practical strategies to make yourself heard.  It aims to develop a voice with you in small groups so that you have the chance to listen, learn, practise and hear feedback. 

If you would like support in developing your voice, join us on the ‘Making Yourself Heard’ course using the details below:

Monday 15th January and Monday 11th March 4-5pm

Part 1 – Monday 15th January 2024 4.00-5.00pm

The first session is an intensive look at how you can plan, develop and deliver talk in public so that you can create impactful messages.

Part 2 – Monday 11th March 2024 4.00-5.00pm

This second session aims to support you in considering how to speak impactfully in public. It will cover planning, rehearsal and delivery style in a safe, supportive space with fellow educators.

Nb/ Both sessions will be held on zoom, they will be recorded so purchasing the recording is also an option if you are unable to make either of the dates.


‘What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There...’

Audrey Pantelis portrait

Written by Audrey Pantelis

Audrey Pantelis is an associate coach, consultant and trainer. She is a former Headteacher of a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities school and a current Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant and leadership coach.

We are, without a doubt, going through some tumultuous changes right now.

It’s a challenge not to be impacted by the troubles that surround us, and I do find it interesting that there is so much backlash regarding the lack of commenting on the Israeli-Hamas conflict by diversity, equity, and inclusion leads.

Do we HAVE to speak on everything?

The conflict is especially complex, and I find it interesting that it has a long historical narrative.  Naturally, what is happening right now is horrific and deserves our voices to decry, denounce and condemn all those who are causing the horrendous losses of life.  That is not in dispute.  However, these same voices have been silent during the past ten/twenty years – or did I miss something?

This idea of difference and the subsequent displacement is something that I can resonate with – and while the conflict is not just about race and religion – there is a similarity with the concept of superiority and inferiority that is echoed when considering the definition of racism.  As I have said, this is not about racism.  

I don’t know how many of you have watched ‘This Is Us’ (2016-2022).  It is an American TV series that follows the lives and families of two parents and their three children born on the same day as their father’s birthday.   It tells of the trials and tribulations of triplets – Kevin and Kate are the biological children – of parents Jack and Rebecca – and Randall is adopted by Jack and Rebecca following the death of the third biological triplet.  Randall is Afro-American and was ‘left’ at the fire station – a fireman takes Randall to the hospital and Jack speaks to the fireman following the death of the third triplet and adopts Randall.  During Season 5, the episode entitled ‘Brotherly Love’ shows characters Randall and Kevin having a deep and healing conversation that addresses their upbringing and the way that they perceive one another.  The discussion confronted issues around race and their family dynamic, specifically Randall’s experience of being a black child adopted by a white family and the microaggressions he faced.

It was a fascinating watch – most notably because Kevin admits that he has been actively racist in his sibling rivalry – he connects Randall’s blackness to the way he was treated within the family and then tries to take him down a peg or two because of it.  I was moved by it because of the admission by Kevin and how it resonated with my own lived experiences.  Randall was always made to feel that he should be ‘grateful’ for being found and taken in by a white family.  The parallels between my understanding and Randall’s understanding of whiteness aren’t that different:  wanting to be part of the majority when you are the minority; attempting to ‘blend in’ using language, accent, and behaviours; ensuring that you are no ‘different’ than anyone else through an understanding that merit gets you where you aspire to be.  Emotionally detached and focusing on what can be ‘seen’ rather than ‘felt’.  However, the idea of ‘whiteness’s superior identity to blackness’s inferior one’ is not enough for Kevin’s character and his need to try and ‘take him down a peg or two’ appears to be predicated on fear.  Fear that Randall just might be better than Kevin.  Randall plays into this – he is a high achiever, and he aspires and achieves success.  Would he have done this if he had been raised in his own biological family?  This we do not know, but we do know that Randall is living his life as best as he can – but he still feels ‘othered’ and not ‘enough’ despite his achievements.

Back to the title.

The history books tell us how one-sided life has been for those who are considered ‘other’, and it feels as if we are now at that reckoning.  

By continuing as we were doesn’t cut it in the world – different times.

When George Floyd was murdered in 2020, the world watched, horrified and stunned at seeing what had been happening in plain sight.  Maybe it’s a modern characteristic that we now seem to have ringside seats to horrific and heinous crimes, but with this opportunity, we need to be change-makers – not from our keyboards and phones but from our platforms, our places of work, wherever we have influence.  Consistently chipping away at the rock will disintegrate the mountain.  

But it’s difficult.

Why?

Because we cannot control everyone’s attitudes or actions and approaches to everything.  However, polarisation appears to be king – you are either FOR something or AGAINST something, and nuance is not brought into the narrative because it doesn’t fit the ‘for or against’ stance.  Equally – having a strong conviction about right and wrong is not to be condemned either – but we do need to listen to and be able to understand viewpoints that differ from our own, even if we don’t agree with them.

The hierarchical, colonial, and restrictive structures of the past no longer serve us – the old rules are now proving to be obsolete and hanging on to them scares the heebie-jeebies out of most of us – change can be considered to be fearful.  However, what I believe is more fearful is the desire NOT to change, adapt, or try to do things differently.  

We can aim to do what we can, with intention and with integrity; and with the idea that the next generation brings their energy and innovation to understanding old and entrenched viewpoints.  We need new eyes on old situations.  As educators, we are responsible for ensuring that nuance is part of how we think about things and how we can apply it.


‘I’m so glad we have one of you here!’

Nabiha Mohamed portrait

Written by Nabiha Mohamed

I am a British born Muslim Pakistani Geography teacher, who loves rocks and the Marvel Universe. I have spent 13 years living in Abu Dhabi but have now returned to the UK and am living in Bristol. I have taught in both comprehensive and independent schools, both of which I have enjoyed very much. I am a creative being who overthinks everything! I love to learn, and I have recently woken up to the fact that I am one of the few teachers of colour in this country and am now feeling the responsibility of this weighing heavy on my shoulders. Keen to ‘make a difference’ in the schools, I would love to connect with other teachers of colour in the UK.

We have been hit with comments like these throughout our lives. We have become accustomed to these ‘microaggressions’ in every aspect of our daily routines, and by ‘we’, I mean, people of colour. 

As a British Asian Muslim woman (that’s a lot of labels already) born and raised in this country, I had never heard of the term ‘microaggressions’, until about 2 years ago in a CPD session at school. It was a turning point for me, in my career and my personal life. I have since been educating myself around the topics of unconscious bias, microaggressions and sense of belonging, particularly in schools. It’s been a rollercoaster ride since then, highs and lows in my teaching career, in my understanding of the issue and trying to work out how best to teach students to be assertive and staff to be ‘awake’. I am no professor in this area, I am not perfect, but I have grown to become passionate about this topic as one I can relate to and hopefully, an area I can help change in schools.

I have come to realise that many people who fire microaggressions at you, are often wonderful, kind, well-meaning people. They just don’t think about the gravity of their words; if you did have the courage to call them out on their inappropriate comments, they would be utterly devastated, which also makes us hold back on speaking up. Three recent examples I can think of (all said by adults):

  1. I can never learn the names of the girls who wear hijabs, they all look the same. 
  2. I’m so glad we have one of you here now at school, the kids really needed someone like you.
  3. I loved culture day; it was my favourite day of the year! I loved all the costumes students wore; they were beautiful. 

Costumes? I don’t wear my salwar kameez on Halloween, love.

I have delivered CPD sessions and assemblies on Unconscious Bias and Microaggressions to both staff and students recently, with the aim to give students of colour the confidence to speak up and say, ‘that’s not okay’ and to educate teachers on what many of their students go through daily as they go about their lives. 

The thing is… I said in my assembly that I promised myself, whenever anyone was to say anything inappropriate directed at me, I would speak up and tell them. If ‘we don’t do this’, I said, ‘things will never change.’ Did I speak up when the above microaggressions came my way? Shamefully, no I did not. WHY, oh WHY did I not say anything?! Because, they were all lovely people who didn’t mean any harm. Because I, aged 47, did not know how to handle the situation at that exact moment, and if I couldn’t, how could I expect a child to?

However, I want to break the cycle. I want to have the confidence to say ‘errmmm, no’, and I want to teach students to be able to do the same in a respectful way, but I don’t know how to. We have school policies on explicit racism but there is nothing in means of reporting the implicit microaggressions from students or staff. Should there be? Is there a need? Do we ask our EDI Leader to speak to the guilty ones or should we have the guts to do it ourselves? But the interesting, or annoying thing amongst these questions in my head is, why am I struggling to speak up like I am the guilty one? I haven’t done anything wrong. 


Pupil Voice and Agency – DEI Pupil Leaders

Kiran Satti portrait

Written by Kiran Satti

Senior Assistant Principal; Primary Trust - Literacy Lead Practitioner; #WomenEd Regional Leader; Contributor to Diverse Educators: A Manifesto.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – what does it mean to the children we serve in our school communities? 

One of our DEI Pupil Leaders shares what it means to her… 

I am very proud of being a DEI leader because it is an important job. It is important because we are helping the children learn about the Protected Characteristics, we are reading important stories to the children to help them become aware and most importantly, help the children understand what it might be like for someone living with some of these Characteristics, such as disability. 

The stories she is referring to are our DEI Story Escapes. At the beginning of this year, the newly formed DEI Pupil Leaders (another branch to our Pupil Leadership Team) sat and discussed which books they believed were best representative of each of the Protected Characteristics. Most powerfully, this group of Pupil Leaders were representative of the increasingly diverse learning community they are part of. The DEI Pupil Team have 6 members who are very passionate about equal and human rights – this was evident when I was sharing the Pupil Training, where we learnt about the Protected Characteristics and the importance of understanding intersectionality. 

In alignment with the Pupil Training, I also delivered staff training to ensure the teachers and educators shared the same understanding of DEI as the Pupil Leaders. It was important everyone in our school community had a shared language and understanding to draw from as the children started to read the DEI Story escapes to the classes. 

Here are some of the Pupil Leader’s favourite DEI Story Escapes: 

My favourite DEI Story Escape we have shared so far is There is a Tiger in the garden! There is a tiger in my garden is my favourite book because it has amazing illustrations and lots of emotive language. “Wow!” says Nora is my favourite part of this book because of how beautiful the dragonflies were and how they drew them! This book is about the protected characteristic AGE – it doesn’t matter what your age is, we can all still use our imagination, young or old. 

My favourite DEI Story Escape is Pink is for Boys. My favourite page is where blue is for girls and pink is for boys. Ut is my favourite book because it tells us that colours are for everyone – they are not gendered. There are no colours for particular people – all colours are meant for everyone. 

Pink is for Boys is my favourite book because it shows us thar all of the colours are for everyone. My favourite pages are the ones with the unform and where it says pink is for girls and boys. 

Sulwe is my favourite DEI Story Escape. It is my favourite book because at first she thought she wasn’t pretty because she wasn’t the same skin colour as her sister but then she realised people needed the darkness to rest – my favourite page is where they told her, “When you are the darkest is when you are most beautiful.” 

The DEI Story escapes have been an incredible success, mostly because the Pupil Leaders have read and led the discussions. Pupil Voice is at the heart of our DEI work at Wallbrook Primary Academy because they are the future – the pupils are being enabled to use language which is instrumental to creating a future that accepts and nurtures differences. 

Developing the power of story, the Pupil Leaders are currently sharing Braille stories with their peers. They lead on teaching their peers how to decode using Braille, and have developed several games to enable the children to learn and practise reading and writing in Braille. 

I can not wait to see how DEI continues to grow and the DEI Pupil Leaders continue to flourish into the next academic year! 


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?   


Diversity Doesn’t Begin at School

Josiah Isles portrait

Written by Josiah Isles

Josiah Isles is an Assistant Headteacher and science teacher at Ladybridge High School in Bolton. He is passionate about improving the life chances of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As a member of the Diverse Educators community, I am clearly preaching to the converted when I talk about the importance of diversity in our educational settings. Instead, I want to discuss how you build positive relationships within a diverse school and the wider community. It’s a journey my school has embarked upon, full of unexpected twists and turns.

Listen to your student body

As a school, we lead by example, championing the values that are important to us. We want students to understand and see who they are, how their views fit in and how to develop their opinions. By pursuing that path, the school demonstrates behaviours that students can replicate in their lives.

But we have found that there are issues more important to the students that we wouldn’t even think of. For example, our Year 11 students recently highlighted the issue of colourism within the Asian community during a whole school presentation. We have also had to learn more about what our students call ‘pretty privilege’, a term associated with those deemed ‘conventionally pretty’. By listening to our student body, we can understand more and be better prepared when issues and challenges arise. 

Immerse yourself into the community

We need to create an environment whereby students don’t have to switch codes or behaviour to accommodate school life. We should allow students to proudly display their cultural identity, which they can embrace as they transition into adulthood. 

To do this successfully, we need to reach out enthusiastically to our local community. At Ladybridge High, we have a lot of Muslim students and have actively developed a relationship with our local mosque. Imams have been invited into the school to meet senior leaders. When an issue arises, we look at it from the student’s point of view. 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. 

We need to remember that being a diverse school can have a huge impact on the wider community. A school is, after all, the heart of the community. Start by organising small events that will bring the community into the school. Low attendance doesn’t mean you are failing; staging regular events will send a powerful message to residents.

Ladybridge High recently held a Warm Hub event for our local community. We had people able to answer any questions visitors had about Universal Credit or food banks. They could purchase pre-loved school uniform. We even had NHS nurses offering smear tests. Attendance wasn’t great, but we will persist by staging further events. Why? We want people to see us as part of the community and an accessible resource.

Training, training, training

Yes, staff training is important when developing relationships within your school and local community. But remember to take your time. Change won’t happen overnight. Think about how you will embark on the journey. Identify areas where there are issues such as unconscious bias.

Ladybridge High has a zero tolerance to any student that uses racist or misogynistic language. The severity with which we challenge such behaviour sets an important tone for the school. Of course, there can be a wariness on the part of teachers about approaching the concepts of diversity. Individuals are rightly concerned about causing offence. Training should help teachers be comfortable with using the right words – especially when explaining offensive language. The BBC Teach website, for example, has articles written by teachers sharing their views and experience of diversity. Many more of us need to pore over its contents to take ideas that we can implement in our schools. 

Let me be clear, building positive relationships within a diverse school and the wider community is not easy. It’s not something that can be completed in a term or even a school year. And you need to persist – even when you face insurmountable problems. 

Josiah Isles is an Assistant Headteacher and science teacher at Ladybridge High School. For more information about BBC Teach, please visit www.bbc.co.uk/teach


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.