Building a Multi-Faith Space

Hollie Panther portrait

Written by Hollie Panther

DEI Lead, Mental Health First Aider, secondary Science & Psychology teacher and Teach First Ambassador.

Experiences of, and learnings from, establishing a space for prayer and celebration of religious diversity in a secondary school.

The last school I worked in had a majority non-religious student population, but a diverse spread of religions among those who did follow a faith; many religions had just one follower within the student body. A parent of one such student had mentioned that they were uncomfortable being open about their faith due to the amount of discrimination they’d received in the past. As D&I Lead, a large part of my strategy to improve religious inclusion in the school was to open a Multi-Faith Space. When I started, there was no designated place to pray; my previous school did have a prayer room, but it was hidden away and only students or staff who asked about it were encouraged to use it. I wanted to create a space that people from all religions could use, so that it would encourage some sense of community, which I thought those who were the solo followers of their faith within the school might’ve been lacking. I also wanted it to be a place of celebration and curiosity, so that any student could learn about diverse faiths if they wanted to. The space was initially opened as a work-in-progress during Ramadan, to give Muslim students a place to pray and be away from food if they needed it. During this time I also designated a toilet block for Wudu, the practice of washing before prayer, and delivered whole school talks educating students about Ramadan and how to support students who were fasting. Feedback from this was unsolicited and overwhelmingly positive — parents of Muslim pupils wrote in to the school to congratulate and give thanks for the ‘exemplary inclusion effort for Ramadan’; my wish is for this approach to Ramadan to become the norm in all schools, so all pupils can celebrate the diversity of religious practices alongside one another.

Working alongside the Multi-Faith Space was the Religion & Spirituality Society, which I established as a student-led club who met at lunchtime to explore and learn about various religions. The leaders of the society planned activities and presentations for the group, and brought in occasional themed snacks too — I’m hoping the society will meet in the Multi-Faith Space going forwards, to ensure they are surrounded by diverse religions, with the opportunity to learn about them being easily accessible.

The Multi-Faith Space is two small rooms off of the Library, where I have put up shelves on each wall and designated each of the six walls to a major world religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism). I reached out to religious leaders in the community to see if they would be happy to donate a copy of their religion’s text or any artefacts that could go on the shelves. This took the form of finding email addresses of local Mosques, Churches, Gurdwaras etc, or filling in contact forms on their website, and Googling ‘free copy Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist etc text’, and making sure in my message I invited them to send my request on to anyone else they thought might be able to help out. As a result of this I had an incredible array of items gifted to the Multi-Faith Space by several local religious groups, and had an insightful and useful meeting with the representative of Judaism from the West Sussex SACRE (every county council have representatives of world religions, who are keen to come into schools to deliver lessons / assemblies etc on their religion, I’m hoping the next D&I Lead and teachers of RE will be able to make use of this otherwise untapped source after my introductions — none of the RE teachers in the school had heard of them). Several sources of items and books posted them to me or dropped them in to the school, but I also visited several organisations to collect their donations, which I really enjoyed, as it took me to places I wouldn’t have ordinarily visited within my local community.

I organised a Grand Opening for the Multi-Faith Space to which I invited all the local contributors, as well as staff and religious students. The student leader of Religion & Spirituality Society was invited to cut the ribbon; it was a great opportunity for me to connect up school staff and the pupils who will be running the Religion & Spirituality Society next year with community religious leaders (over donuts and cookies), so that they are able to lean on them for support with the society and also with RE teaching as the school grows. One community attendee at the Grand Opening came from the Baháʼís, a religion I admittedly hadn’t heard of when they initially made contact, but which I learnt much about through talking to this local follower at the event. They also donated several items and books to the Multi-Faith Space, and though they didn’t have a designated wall and shelves, I set up a table in the space to display their information, and was really glad to be representing a greater diversity of faiths than I had originally planned for.

I had a student volunteering with me for their Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze award, who helped me plan the space and also worked in the Design Technology (DT) room on a signpost to go outside of the Multi-Faith Space, which featured laser-cut arrows, each one with a different place of worship on it — ‘Hindu Mandir’, ‘Sikh Gurdwara’ etc. Unfortunately, because the student could only work on this under supervision by the DT teacher, due to technology issues and absence, the sign was not finished in time for the Grand Opening — I look forward to seeing photos of it in pride of place when it’s completed in the Autumn term.

My advice to anyone thinking about building such a space would be to absolutely go for it — the only spend was on the shelves and snacks for the Grand Opening, as well a couple of items to represent religions who didn’t get back to me to contribute anything. The rest was furniture that was already in the school, and the items and books gifted by the religious community were invaluable — so it’s doable on a tiny budget, I would just encourage anyone wanting to build one to start early, and get your message with the call for help / donations really clear and send it to as many people as possible, ideally alongside an invite to a Grand Opening — and then chase them up if they haven’t replied; I got the impression that everyone wanted to help, but that sometimes there are multiple people within a place of worship who read the emails, so they may not get picked up the first time around.

On the whole, I really enjoyed building the Multi-Faith Space and I’m really proud of what I achieved with this — the Grand Opening was on my penultimate day working at the school, so it really feels like a legacy I’m leaving behind; a tangible asset to the school community that will continue my work without me.


‘There was no one left to speak out for me’

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

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

Over the past week, most of the candidates for the leadership of the UK government have been seeking power in part through rabidly attacking an already marginalised and vulnerable group, in scenes reminiscent of some of the most repugnant moral panics in the darkest corners of history.

Every day, my two adult trans kids wake up to a world whose media and politicians render their very existence problematic, dangerous and contingent. This week, along with the hundreds of thousands of other trans and non-binary people in the UK, they are especially under attack.

In order to help my children, and an entire community, gain and retain protected access to the very same things you would wish for yourselves and your family – the right to be, love, and be loved unconditionally – I would like to invite you to consider some of the following steps:

🏳️‍⚧️ LEARN: In a time where lies run rampant, read and discover the truth about trans identity and what it means to be trans or non-binary today. I provide training for schools across the world on this, and I am happy to signpost resources on any possible question you might have too. 

🏳️‍⚧️ LISTEN: Listen to the voices of trans and non binary adults and young people. Here is a very powerful, short film which makes this point far more powerfully than I can: bit.ly/3yHxGJ2. And listen to my podcast, “Jack and Me”, on Apple (apple.co/3HI5SXA), Spotify (spoti.fi/3MqC3OU) or wherever you get your podcasts. 

🏳️‍⚧️ CHALLENGE: Once you have listened and learned, be brave enough to challenge and inform others. This is where the most potent activism happens – in everyday conversations. This is where minds are changed. 

🏳️‍⚧️ ADVOCATE: Speak truth to power. Our government and our media need to be held to account. And give voice to the voiceless. There are lots of ways we can do that, from letters to petitions, and in the very choices we make.  

I believe that our country is so much better than this. I believe that, in years to come, we will look back at this time with the same horror and shame with which we remember the provenance of Section 28.  

But I also believe that the only way that the benevolent many can drown out the noise of the hateful few is if we do not stay silent. In this, I am reminded of Niemöller’s 1946 poem: 

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

 

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

 

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

 

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

 

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

 Please stand with me, and speak out for my two children too – because #TransRightsAreHumanRights. 🏳️‍⚧️


#Miscourage: The Worst Week of My Life

Amy Keenan portrait

Written by Amy Keenan

Having been an English teacher since 2006 across a range of different settings, I have seen a lot, done a lot and struggled a lot. Whilst holding departmental and whole school TLRs, I have learnt a lot about teaching, realised I've still got a lot more I could learn and realised the importance of looking after ourselves and our teams.

Firstly I want to make it clear that I’m not writing this for sympathy but because I’m still in need of talking / thinking this through and the reality is that this is quite a lonely issue when it really shouldn’t be. So, I’m gladly joining Tommy’s #MisCOURAGE campaign.

In August I got the best news ever: a little + in the window of a Clear Blue pee stick. It was something I’d been waiting to see for 10 months and worried that I may never see when it looked like there may be a problem with my ovulation.

However on 11th September a scan saw my pregnancy was only 4 weeks along when it should have been around 10.

Words cannot explain the emotions that follow such an emotionless phrase: “it’s a non-viable pregnancy”

Holding back my tears caused me physical pain. Once at home I had to go through the trauma of calling another hospital, one with an early pregnancy unit, to discuss my options.

My surgical miscarriage was scheduled for the 16th September (sadly the day before my birthday) and the nurses were so kind. However with only a handful of people who knew I felt so alone.

And to be honest, I still do.

Miscarriage, whether natural or medically induced, seems like our version of Voldemort. Everyone’s scared to say its name out loud. Maybe we’re scared of breaking down? Or making people uncomfortable? Or inviting it into our or our friends’ lives? Who knows, but it leaves those who go through it in pain and without many people to talk to.

I’m lucky to have my husband, who was exactly what I needed when I was in hospital. But I’m scared to talk to him now. I know it’s irrational, but I do feel guilty. Not because I did anything wrong but because it was my body that didn’t do what it was supposed to. And, worse still, I’m terrified that it may happen again or that the problems they were looking into before the pregnancy (and never found an answer to) will turn out to be something real, something serious, something that means it’s unlikely that I’ll have a healthy pregnancy.

I don’t wish to sound melodramatic, and maybe that’s another reason I’m finding it easier to talk to anonymous internet people. The problem is, as well, that I ‘stiff upper lipped’ it when I went back to work so now feel that I can’t break down and let out what’s inside when one of the few who knows asks if I’m OK.

In these past months I’ve found that the pain remains and sneaks up on me. I’ve shed a few tears while I’ve been driving to or from work and I’ve found myself withdrawing from life recently. This past fortnight  I’ve forced myself to go out and although I enjoy myself once I’m with my friends the desire to curl up under my duvet and sleep is very strong. This has also had an impact on my job; once I returned from my week off I had a lot to catch up on, but I didn’t feel the same enthusiasm and passion as I normally did. I struggled to stay focussed during my frees and have found it hard to motivate myself to work once I arrived home. All this has kept me with my head barely above water these past few months. Luckily, once I started drafting this blog post last week I started to feel a bit better and I felt some of my passion return and with it my motivation; I still have an enormous pile of marking to catch up with, but I’m not hiding from it any more. I don’t want to hide from it any more.

And I don’t want to hide from what happened. I want to confront it head on:

I had a miscarriage and I still feel pangs of guilt & sadness about what my body took away from me and my husband.

I am worried that it will happen again.

But I will not live in fear of it happening again.

I will have a family, I just don’t know when yet and that’s OK.


Parents overwhelmingly support LGBT+ inclusive education and students want it, so how do we get started?

Rob Ward portrait

Written by Rob Ward

Education Programmes Manager at Just Like Us

LGBT+ inclusive education has a history of being intensely scrutinised.  Social media continues to bubble away, highlighting the dynamic landscape of support for, and respect of, LGBT+ people, meanwhile educators grapple with exactly what is classed as “timely” and “age-appropriate” for LGBT+ inclusive education within RSE.  

Without skipping a beat, Ofsted is fulfilling its commitment to reviewing schools for their adherence to RSE guidance – guidance which became compulsory for schools in the midst of a period of upheaval in education and wider society not seen in living memory. Educators currently find themselves juggling advice from exam boards, a student body still reeling from isolation and disruption over the last two years, and ever-growing working hours to try to bridge the gap between the two. The backdrop that LGBT+ education finds itself in today could not be more crowded, with competing stakeholders from across society offering opinions on what should be happening in our schools.  

Independent research published by Just Like Us on the most varied stakeholder of them all – children’s parents – has found that the overwhelming majority is supportive towards LGBT+ inclusive education. 82% of UK parents believe that it is ‘important’ for their children to learn about LGBT+ families, such as some pupils having gay parents. However, parents also reported a lack of resources to help with this – only 34% said they felt their school was adequately resourced to help educate their children and 33% have never spoken to their child about what LGBT+ means.

In the context of increased commentary and scrutiny on LGBT+ in education, these findings highlight the importance parents place on fully inclusive education for their own children. It’s a clear signal that parents are looking for teachers to take the lead and support them in providing high quality, fully LGBT+ inclusive education for their children, as they do across other areas of the curriculum. Students report the same; previous research has highlighted how the majority of young people are looking for LGBT+ inclusive RSE education, alongside subject curriculums that embed LGBT+ inclusion throughout (79% and 67% respectively). More than half of LGBT+ pupils are looking for support from their teachers to set up inclusive initiatives like Pride Groups for LGBT+ and ally pupils to help a wider network of their peers.

When taken together, these findings should represent a green light to educators to push for inclusive education. Parents are expecting it, students are asking for it, and all the while Ofsted is continuing to check for it. So how can teachers go about it?  

Engaging in visibility days, LGBT+ History Month and School Diversity Week throughout the year can be powerful, visual ways that a school can demonstrate its commitment to building safe, inclusive environments for all its students. Sue Sanders’ work on usualising vs actualising LGBT+ topics within subject curricula also offers a strong framework to review and edit schemes of work to embed a variety of stories and viewpoints within existing topics across the school.   

Beyond engaging in visibility days and reviewing who and what gets taught about, setting up LGBT+ and ally groups is the best way to make long-term change. We help schools to set up and run these on Just Like Us’ Pride Groups programme, by providing staff and Student Leader training as well as ready-to-go resources for just £99 a year. Pride Groups also help to incorporate inclusion and celebration of LGBT+ lives within a school’s ethos, and provide a platform for student voice to help guide further development of inclusivity within schools long term.

While the backdrop for LGBT+ inclusion may be loud, dissonant and confusing right now, educators are used to cutting through this. Parents want their children to be educated about LGBT+ lives, while students continue to show a desire to learn about them. More than ever, teachers should feel empowered to explore how they can incorporate LGBT+ stories within their teaching and dispel misinformation, putting their fine-tuned teaching practice and pedagogy to use to meet their students where they are, helping them along their journey to exploring and celebrating the LGBT+ lives and history around them.


SEND Perspective: Why is it important to introduce intersectionality conversations in UK schools? Exploring seven top tips to address it.

Dilma de Araujo portrait

Written by Dilma de Araujo PhD (c)

SEND specialist. She has more than ten years of experience in education working in different educational institutions in the private and public sectors from early years to higher education levels, addressing special education needs; education policy research; gender inclusion and diversity.

‘A year nine  boy of Black Caribbean heritage, claiming free school meals and with special education needs to represent a ‘typical’ student likely to be excluded from school.’

(Hawkins, 2019 p.14)

The Special Education Needs field involves a broad spectrum, where intersectional topics and issues such as gender, race and socioeconomic status are susceptible to emerge and often become a matter of great concern if the appropriate support and awareness initiatives are not in place. Hence, reflecting in the above statement by Hawkins (2019), it suggests that there are some significant points concerning financial, social and academic disadvantage and vulnerability indicators that should be addressed differently in our schools and educational institutions, raising awareness and incorporating a culture of dialogue, involving parents, carers and local communities actively in dynamic and creative activities in which different participants and agencies work in constructive partnership and collaboration (e.g. mental health and wellbeing practitioners; Local Authorities representatives, teachers, special education needs coordinators, local and national community activists and artists) aiming to improve not only black students, but all the multicultural and non-multicultural spectrum of school.

Thus, the role of schools, teachers and educational leaders can represent a crucial transformational factor. Hence, schools are designed to be a place where inclusion patterns and strong affinity bows of compassion, understanding and unity are consistently nurtured by adults, children and local communities. Aiming to generate diversity and equal dimensions within our multicultural society. To provide a healthy, safe and inclusive teaching and learning environments. Thus, school leadership teams have the responsibility to explore and address the following issues:

  • Bias in the assessment process indicating over, under, misidentification and diagnosis; 
  • Rational parental response to historical discriminatory bias in the identification;
  • Assessing migration’s resulting in different family health and cognitive endowments;
  • Differential parenting behaviours and home learning environments;
  • Differential experiences of deprivation between ethnic groups (Haye, 2021).

             School senior leadership teams’ responsibility towards the implementation of an inclusive and diverse curriculum, programmes, initiatives and cultural activities in order to improve the multicultural perspective in their schools, taking into consideration students mental, cognitive, physical, emotional conditions, needs and circumstances raising the bars towards a positive learning performance and outcomes. In this line of thought, seven essential foundational strategies focus on the improvement of a culture of dialogue and reflective approaches concerning language, thoughts and actions, aiming to clarify different points of view and perspectives related to race, social, cultural inclusion.     

Tip 1: Nurturing a culture of dialogue

Promoting dialogues involving racial matters in school can reduce bias, prejudice and pejorative attitudes. Thus, it is important reshape the teaching and learning approaches and behaviours may improve mutual respect, compassion, self and multicultural knowledge. E.g. cooperation involving students, teachers and other school staff. They can organize special pod-cast, webinars and school radio where life testimonials and experiences could address topics related to racial discrimination, macroaggressions and microaggressions.

Tip 2: Promoting reflection in and on action

Applying reflective practices to enhance teaching and learning is crucial to obtain valuable and effective results. Reflecting in-action provides the opportunity to explore and evaluate the academic practice and activities while the learning is taking place, opening the horizons not only for behaviour alignments and changings but also delivering and feedback strategies. Thus, promoting reflection-on-action practices is essential to improve the educational experience and activities built after interaction between teachers and students, mitigating biased attitudes and thoughts during teaching and assessment practices. 

Tip 3: Preparing for and welcoming different perspectives

For many children and young people, teachers and school endeavours are the primary sources of information and knowledge. Hence, education institutions should be ready to face and address complex ways of think, behaviour and acting. To introduce potentially challenging conversations about race is essential to give quality training to teachers and staff, organizing regular meetings with parents and local communities and invest in multicultural representation in senior leadership posts in the educational organization.

Tip 4: Identifying students’ mental & emotional, cultural and traumatic journeys

The mental, emotional, cultural and traumatic journeys can impact and determine how children and young people absorb information and knowledge. Therefore, continuous evaluation, assessing, screening and reviewing students is vital to support teachers and students. Teaching practices can improve effectively when students’ needs are identified and properly monitoring based on child-centred approach, diverse curriculum, strong values and beliefs. Consequently, a positive impact can be generated in students’ performance, experiences and outcomes.   

Tip 5: Encouraging the use of inclusive and diverse materials, resources and activities

The art of generating a culture of promoting human and racial rights, educational acceptance between adults and children, and constructing positive and dominant social and educational role models becomes the lynchpin of approaching complex topics. As a result, curricula, educational materials, schools’ displays and decorations, learning and leisure activities can be practical tools to combat the nature of privilege, supremacy and oppressive attitudes.

Tip 6: Exploring affective and embodied dynamic of learning

Starting from years early to higher education, recognizing and embracing the critical pedagogy in the daily schooling environment impacting teaching and learning practices through literature and other forms of creative arts aiming to explore and obtain the best of students’ ideas, beliefs, thoughts and aspirations. Learning dynamics could pass through a moment in which creative reflections are based on realistic expectations about a sense of identity, belonging, and existence, thus they could be co-related with all topics, disciplines and courses.

Tip 7:  Creating a safe community learning environment 

Local communities are an extension of the classroom and learning environment. It is crucial to the communication, interaction and mutual respect between school staff, local organizations and communities. Solid connections can be established through parents, governors and charities. It can help exchange experience, knowledge and update policies and general information.

In this context, addressing race paradigms and curriculum decolonization in the special education needs field can potentially represent a way to liberate bias, discrimination, preconceived thoughts, pejorative language. Additionally, all the changes and adjustments should be raised with the desire to generate productive and constructive empowerment by implementing effective anti-discrimination, SEND race and multicultural policies (also addressing migrants and refugee students). Thus, the field of SEND involving multicultural, race and education can essentially be empowered when individuals from different social, cultural, racial and educational backgrounds join forces not only to change policies but to be the ‘maker, developer and keeper’ of each one of them, aiming to embrace an open door of opportunities to nurturing the teaching and learning best practices.

Reference:

Hawkins, A. (2019) School Exclusion: The Parent Guide. London.

Haye. M, (2021). Special Education Jungle. Finding the racial minority voices in SEND. Retrieved [07/12/2021] from https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/finding-racial-minorityvoicessend/?utm_source=hootsuite&utm_medium=linkedin&utm_term=special+needs+jungle+ltd&utm_content=SocialOroMedia.

PjBL, (2020) Project Based Learning Toolkit. Retrieved [17/12/2021] from https://project-based-learning-toolkit.com/reflection/.

Thurber, A., Harbin, M.B, & Bandy, J. (2019).Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice. Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching, Retrieved [07/12/2021] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-race/.


“Grandmotherly Duties” – Let Loose!

Jackie Hill portrait

Written by Jackie Hill

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

NB This blog is suitable for all ages…

“Grandmotherly duties” – thoughts around this phrase have been rumbling in my head for some time. I’ve never been quite sure if, when or how I should share those rumblings and it was only on a recent trip to a “soft play” centre with my two favourite little learners that I decided it was time to “let loose”!  

Firstly, I want to make it very clear that, in my experience, becoming a grandparent can be one of the best new roles that you can ever take on. However, I have been surprised to find that it can also bring an unwelcome “tag”…

Let me explain: in January 2019, both my husband and I moved to a more flexible working pattern (3 days a week) but the processes to arrive at that, and the perceptions regarding our motivations, were quite different.

For me, the consequence of my request for a more flexible working pattern, was that I had to accept a move to a new role, giving up the one that I had loved and had hoped to retain.  Of course, this is a scenario which has faced many other women in education – I just had not expected it at that stage in my career.  I had explained that I wanted to be more actively engaged in certain professional networks, interests and activities – all of which would actually have enabled me to carry out my workplace role even more effectively.  These included DiverseEd, WomenEd (I’m Co-Founder and Strategic Leader in WomenEdNI and a Network for WomenEdNW), and The Chartered College (as a Fellow, and more recently Council Member).  

Coincidentally I had become a grandmother a year beforehand and when the initial communications announcing the change in my professional role appeared, the focus had shifted.  Yes, the explanation given for the move was that I wished to focus on other things, but only one was mentioned – “grandmotherly duties”!  I was really taken aback as I felt it created such a false impression – so I asked for it to be changed immediately. And it was, straightaway, thankfully.

Now, anyone who knows me, also knows that I adore my grandchildren (more than one now!) and may be wondering why I would be so annoyed at this interpretation. Well, in my view it goes to the core of my identity or rather the way many people’s perceptions of identity change when they find out you’re a grandmother – you’re now “over the hill” / past your best / on the way out – too OLD!   I subsequently discovered that one of my colleagues had a 4 year old much loved grandson but rarely spoke about him, for exactly this reason!  

Of course, this is a reprise of something similar that many colleagues in education experience earlier in their careers when they are told “it’s time to just focus on being a mum”.  However, when your children have grown up, you would think those judgmental assumptions would now be relegated to the past, so it’s a shock when they reappear in another way later in your career.

Jo Pellereau’s blog “Concentrate on Being a Mum” (and forget about work) outlines her experiences beautifully (Pellereau, 2020). Her assertion that “in many ways my commitment to education has been increased by my new identity as a mother” really resonates with me.  My new identity as a grandmother has not only re-invigorated my commitment to education but has also taken it in new directions which have been both challenging and uplifting.

I asked my husband if anyone ever said to him “Now’s the time to focus on your “grandfatherly” duties”.  His look of disbelief, said it all!!!  Of course, they hadn’t!  

This also got me thinking about “grandmotherly duties” – what are they? What could or should they involve…?  

Of course, each grandparent’s circumstances are different, so there can be do fixed set of “duties”, job description or person specification for this role that would work for all. However, I’d like to share just a few grandparently duties that are important for me: 

  1. Try to be a visible role model – for other grandparents, parents, carers and, of course, my family (especially the wee ones).  Remain professionally active and involved, and, where possible, demonstrate that abilities, understanding, desire to keep learning and sharing do not have to cease to exist or be important, just because a person has this additional role.
  2. Continue to develop my “voice” to support schools and other education settings to become diverse, inclusive and equitable communities – where different families, like my grandchildren’s, and indeed all others, know and feel they belong.
  3. Look for ways to help my grandchildren discover the wider world outside their own little corner, so that they realise they are global citizens, and understand how that opens the world to them (as well as their responsibilities to look after it and one another).
  4. Help them to develop the joy of learning and also of reading all sorts of books (was it wrong of me to feel a little bit pleased when my grandson became upset recently because the library was closed!?!?)
  5. Spend time together and have fun.

What other “duties” have I missed?  What would you add?

“DiverseEd; A Manifesto” feature in my day of grandmother duties because I took it with me to read at Soft Play! (Yes, I was the only Grandma doing that…)  The wonderful Chapter on Age includes insightful stories and reflections of others, highlighting the underused and undervalued potential contributions that many older colleagues still have to offer.  This also cuts across some of the other Protected Characteristics and, as the Editor for Chapter 4 “Marriage and Civil Partnership”, I’ve read, researched and reflected a lot about families and relationships, and firmly believe that ALL families should “experience the same positive environment, level of support, opportunities and VISIBILITY across the curriculum”.  The fact that this includes families with, or even headed by, grandparents is sometimes missed.

So, in practice, how should that visibility work?  In what ways could it break away from stereotypical images (rather than reinforcing them)? How should it be demonstrated through the staff in our schools and other educational settings too?

In reflecting on all of this, I’ve been reminded of the important role that my own amazing Gran played in my upbringing and her enduring influence on me.  She lived with us and she was a wise, constant and loving presence, a cornerstone for our immediate, and indeed wider, family – while at the same time being an independent, working woman who read widely, and managed her own finances plus other responsibilities, whilst also supporting others. In her sixties, she travelled abroad for the first time, on her own, to Australia.  She spent several months there, and wrote to us regularly to share her experiences – my brother still has the didgeridoo she carried back for him!

Similarly there are people like her today – who are ready to take on new challenges, to develop their professional and/or personal roles, and who are fit, willing and able to continue doing so.  What a waste when we write them off, or high-handedly decide for them that it’s time to “focus on being a mother” or their “grandmotherly duties”.  The choice should be theirs and roles need not be mutually exclusive. 

Moreover, there is a clear case for employing older workers (Makoff A, 2021) – increased knowledge-sharing through a multi-generational workforce has been identified as a particular benefit.  Makoff cites Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less (a digital community for the over-50s) who asserts that “demographic and societal changes including an aging population, delayed retirement and multi-generational workplaces will continue to be the direction of travel for a long time to come… the employers and HR teams that recognise this early, get ahead of the trend and embrace it early are going to be the workforces and businesses that thrive over the next decade.”

So I’ll leave you with some questions to consider:

  • How do you view colleagues and others in your school community and/or education setting and/or networks who are grandparents (or are of an age that they could be grandparents)?   
  • Have you relegated them to the “former players” stand or are you making the most of their experience, expertise and possibly even renewed outlook and perspectives on education, learners and schools?  
  • How could you ensure that diverse families, relationships and roles are visible and valued in your classroom, staffroom / workplace and communications?

References

Pellereau J, (2020) Concentrate on Being a Mum.  Available at: https://physicsjo.science.blog/2020/10/06/concentrate-on-being-a-mum/  

Kara B and Wilson H (2021) DiverseEd: A Manifesto University of Buckingham Press

Makoff A (2021) How can employers embrace an age-friendly workplace Available at: https://dileaders.com/blog/how-can-employers-embrace-an-age-friendly-workplace-culture/


Special Interests

Nadia Hewstone portrait

Written by Nadia Hewstone

Nadia is a certified executive school leadership coach. She left headship to start Destino Coaching and now supports school leaders with their own development as well as development of their teams.

Hunter is not Hunter’s real name – he chose it for this blog. It is taken from the Japanese anime series, Hunter X Hunter. The show features the protagonist Gon, on a mission to train himself as a hunter. He reunites with his father, who is alive and an accomplished hunter too. This is one of Hunter’s special interests. He doesn’t just like it, he lives it.

Hunter has been hooked on the Rubik’s cube for years. He spends hours working on improving his solves. His favourite events at cubing competitions are 3×3 blind and 4×4 blind. He talks about algorithms and memorization all the time. It makes no difference to him if you take part in the conversation (which I can’t because I don’t understand it). When he meets someone new he judges their usefulness to him based on how well they can solve a cube. I’m not that useful to him.

He has had many interests over the years. He wore a spiderman costume for over a year once. He taught himself how to play a Japanese flute, learnt how to graffiti and covered our garage. A particular favourite of mine was his interest in detectives. We sourced him a set of detective items from obscure dealers online and he made traps and spied on us for months. He studied Sherlock Holmes and took on many of his traits for a while. When we booked a villa in Mallorca one summer, he spent 10 days inside watching the series starring Benedict Cumberbatch over and over. By the time we flew home he had decided to take up the violin.

These interests envelop him and drive him – they have a mad urgency that is quite exciting but also tiring at times.

He understands now that being in a community of enthusiasts helps him. So we travel all around the country attending Rubik’s cube competitions. These events consist of 2 days of sitting in a hall of 200 hundred (mostly) boys clicking their cubes and discussing the merits of different brands of lubrication. It’s given him so much more joy than we could ever simulate at home. It’s also enabled him to talk about being autistic. In the evenings, in the bar of the hotel, he socialises and it brings me great joy.

Penny is my daughter – the name is taken from Big Bang Theory, her favourite TV show. She watches it on a loop. It’s a comedy but she never laughs at it. She has glasses the same as Penny’s and uses phrases from the series all the time. She wants to be a brain surgeon and study sciences like many of the characters in the series.

Penny’s interests aren’t as clear as Hunter’s. Apparently this is common in girls with autism. She does have things she likes, really likes but doesn’t have hobbies in the same way Hunter does. She worries  about her friendships (which are hard work for her). She does like series / TV shows so we have moved through lots of them and on days when she is very low she watches all 8 Harry Potter movies without sleeping. She is very capable and could achieve almost anything. When she takes up a hobby she excels very quickly (football. piano, singing, drama, swimming) but loses interest just a fast. This means her interests don’t show in the same way as Hunter’s do. She does like to talk and talk and talk about the social politics of school, the family, my work etc.

Penny sometimes talks at me all evening and doesn’t let me move. Her favourite criticism of me is ‘I don’t feel like you’re completely present Mum’. What is impressive about her is that when she sets her mind to something she achieves excellent results. If she ever does a manicure for me, for example, it far exceeds the quality of a salon experience. She’s meticulous, a perfectionist, in fact. This is probably why she gives up on things – she sets such high standards for herself that it tires her out.


Maximising Connection During Maternity Leave

Liz Cartledge portrait

Written by Liz Cartledge

Senior Vice Principal at a large Secondary School in Sheffield. Leader of Inclusion, Behaviour and Designated Safeguarding Lead. Liz is the mother to twin girls and returned from maternity leave in September 2020.

As a leader, the constant care of students and staff is arguably the most important and biggest responsibility in the long list of daily tasks. Getting the balance right and knowing what to do in each unique case can be hard. 

It is true that we learn through our mistakes, however, sometimes it is helpful to be able to reach for some real-life guidance. Sometimes the hardest of experiences can make us the strongest. I personally experienced a lonely and isolating maternity leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in 2020 and thus feel I can offer some useful insights and support to schools who want to ensure their staff on maternity leave are cared for. 

Since returning to work, I have often been asked to support other newly pregnant staff and on occasion those off with long-term absence. I feel empowered to help staff and one key reason I cite for this is because I feel confident sharing my own personal struggles and vulnerabilities, which I encountered on the journey to motherhood. Through Nourished Collective who featured a series called Mother, Sister, Daughter, Woman  (Copy of This is How We Look (mcusercontent.com)), I shared my story which has helped me to break the silence that can exist around this issue. This has helped me personally and professionally to become a stronger leader.

The key is to build a school where staff feel valued, heard, and listened to.  Sharing my story has given me the drive to know I can provide others with the space and empathy they need. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, if we, as leaders, are open about our emotions it can mean we are relatable to others; so I urge you to be vulnerable and see the benefits from it.  

Recently, I have been considering the support we provide our staff with whilst on maternity leave. During my maternity leave I experienced reduced support, no baby groups and limited access to a GP. Maternity leave can be incredibly lonely and isolating. Connection is therefore key, and schools can provide this. 

Within any school there is an abundance of knowledge and talent. Schools can offer emotional sanctuary and security.  New parents/carers should be encouraged to share photos and updates regularly with a key member of staff. Furthermore, if you have a few members of the team off at once, could a group (perhaps via WhatsApp or equivalent) be set-up pulling all together? 

I am often asked to be the key person identified to talk to new or soon to be new parents/carers. Currently, I am in regular contact with new Mums on maternity leave to provide them with a close connection with school. This helps us keep in touch and is a lifeline on some days for those Mums. I know this having cared for twin babies during a pandemic!

Do you offer this 1:1 support for those on maternity leave? Do staff have the chance to have 1:1 chats with a named ‘go to’ person on SLT?  Could this help morale and well-being at your school if you make these subtle changes? 

What kind and frequency of contact do you have with those on maternity leave? They are, after all, still employed by the school doing what is arguably the most important job of their lives. We owe it to them. 

Remember, as leaders we can make a huge difference. Simple acts of kindness go a long way, sending cards or flowers can help bridge the gap that can grow when on leave. Creating a sense of family first is vital for staff retention. 

Occasionally, without bridging this gap, we can risk staff being anxious to return or not returning at all.  

Another key step to helping staff on maternity leave is to give them knowledge. By making them aware of the policy, for example what KIT (Keeping in Touch) days is a great start. It should not just exist in a policy given to staff to read. This could become part of pre-recorded videos shared with staff or information passed on in a 1:1 meeting before they leave. The impact of doing this is that it helps staff to be empowered and feel supported at this important time. 

When staff do return, make sure they have the chance to meet a key person they feel comfortable with and that well-being chats are regularly put in. A review meeting 6 months or sooner after returning is a must to help the member of staff feel supported and to be able to reflect on how they are coping with work alongside parenthood. 

Remember, it takes time for the member of staff to adjust to work. Schools move at a fast pace, and we must be patient. Small steps are acceptable. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are returning and don’t expect too much if you have someone returning, at first- be flexible! Personally, it took me 12+ months to be myself again at work. Letting staff know this is great for their self-confidence and self-esteem which can be very low with sleep deprivation!

Celebrating the return of staff from maternity leave is important to share with all staff in briefings, in newsletters with parents/carers and with governors. It helps everyone see the member of staff returning as a new person which I feel is supportive and celebratory of their achievement/s! 

The more we share, the greater the understanding will be for all and the greater the potential for empathy can begin. 


The Need for Equity in Education for Those Trying to Conceive

Caroline Biddle portrait

Written by Caroline Biddle

Consultant, fertility coach and fertility advocate. Founder of Fertility Issues in Teaching.

The journey to parenthood isn’t always straightforward, with assisted conception being a route for many couples and individuals. 

1 in 6 people in the UK are infertile, and in the last 10 years there has been an increase in women in same sex relationships looking to assisted conception for support to grow their families, as well a significant rise in those deciding to head down the route of fertility treatment to become a solo parent.

Female employees need time out of work to access fertility treatment

Male infertility accounts for 50% of infertility, nevertheless it’s women who require the time out of work to attend clinic appointments for scans and surgery.

The Teachers’ Fertility Treatment Survey is the first ever survey of its kind, gathering data from female teachers (including those who have left education) that have accessed assisted conception in the past 10 years. Data collected from the survey will provide an accurate insight of what is happening in schools in England and Wales as we unearth:

  • How career progression of these women has been affected
  • The percentage of schools that have fertility policies in place 
  • The impact of the support and the lack of support on female staff accessing assisted conception
  • The wellbeing of staff members receiving fertility treatment 

Employees can be surprised to learn that assisted conception in most school HR policies is referred to as ‘elective treatment’, meaning they find themselves compared with someone who wishes to have a breast enhancement during term time. 

Categorising fertility treatment as elective is outdated. 

The word ‘elective’ implies that fertility treatment is a lifestyle choice. This is discriminative terminology towards those with the disease of infertility and also to those in same sex relationships and who need assisted conception to have a biological child, or women who require treatment to become a solo parent for reasons such as having no partner, or having recently come out of a long term relationship.

Why we need assisted conception policies in the workplace

We need assisted conception policies in every workplace. In schools this policy will ensure that all teachers who are trying to conceive, no matter what their circumstance, are included, protected and supported. 

Thousands of teachers are leaving the teaching profession every year, due to burn out or a change in personal circumstance. Some of these teachers leave education due to a dip in ambition following a lack of support following fertility treatment.

How to make policy inclusive and equitable for all employees

When writing your fertility workplace policy consider the following to avoid discrimination:

  • Use non-gender specific language
  • Allow partners (or those supporting someone who has no partner) to attend all fertility appointments. 
  • Be cautious not to discriminate against relationship status
  • Be mindful of the sexual orientation of colleagues when writing a workplace fertility policy
  • Be inclusive of the ages of those opting into assisted conception
  • Avoid putting a limit on time off per cycle, everyone will need a different amount of time dependent on their personal circumstances—no two fertility journeys are the same

Life beyond the policy

A workplace fertility policy is a great starting point for schools wishing to be supportive of their staff who’re trying to conceive. There is however still work to be done from here.

To find out about the work Fertility Issues in Teaching offer, you can get in touch through the website, where you’ll also find helpful blog posts and information around free upcoming webinars.


Supporting pupils with ADHD in schools

Nadia Hewstone portrait

Written by Nadia Hewstone

Nadia is a certified executive school leadership coach. She left headship to start Destino Coaching and now supports school leaders with their own development as well as development of their teams.

Even as a parent of a child with ADHD, as a teacher I struggled to find and implement strategies to support my students with the diagnosis. I found many things that ‘worked’, but many more that didn’t. The search continued when I became a Headteacher who was supporting colleagues who also struggled to find the answer. Where things changed was when I stopped looking for what worked and started understanding what I was happening for those students.

In his book Shattered Minds, Gabor Mate identifies a number of strategies, that spoke to me and that I wished I’d discovered sooner in my career. He makes a case for reducing ‘imposed structure and discipline’ and increasing ‘freedom for individuality and self-expression.’ 

I was relieved he didn’t go on to advocate unstructured classrooms, as I know that would be nearly impossible, in the current climate. Instead, he talks about recognising the ‘supressed energy’ of students with ADHD through our responses to them, which so often includes sarcasm, shaming and shouting.

This principle is the first to master in our endeavour to support these creative and courageous young people. The secret to success in this matter, for teachers, lies in not adding to the problem by alienating these student any further. 

I saw the impact of this in my own school when the teaching staff and I made a pact to refrain from any type of shaming response to a child’s behaviour. We did some work as a team to recognise our triggers and manage our reactions to be able to keep to the pact. Behaviour in this group of students improved dramatically. 

This came back to bite me again, when my own child’s behaviour invoked explosive responses in me. I was at my wits end. Then I realised I was angry with my child for having the struggles associated with having ADHD. With lots of support from family, I learnt to change the way I responded to her and I worked on accepting her exactly the way she was. Our lives and our relationship improved remarkably. 

Unconditional positive regard doesn’t have to come just from parents, we can adopt it as teachers too. It require honestly, courage and a safe environment, but it is possible. Gabor argues that ‘understanding the student is transformative’ and I have seen this first hand, as a teacher and as a parent. There are other considerations such as working with parents, tailored access arrangements in exams and planning for the need to move and play but the commitment to stop trying to fix children with ADHD is the power pill we all need to take.

So when I work with people who want to provide better support for young people with ADHD, I start with pressing the stop button on wishing they were different and start work on meeting them where they are. All the other work is easy after that.