How we can bring LGBT+ families into primary school storytime with Grandad’s Camper

Dominic Arnall portrait

Written by Dominic Arnall

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

Diverse families, kindness and respecting difference are all key elements of the primary curriculum that we’re probably all familiar with, but the reality of making these conversations LGBT+ inclusive may not always be so obvious or seem immediately possible.

At Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, we know that growing up LGBT+ is still unacceptably tough. LGBT+ school pupils are twice as likely to be bullied and the same anti-LGBT+ language and bullying also impacts pupils who aren’t LGBT+ but have LGBT+ families or are perceived to against the ‘norms’.

We often hear from primary school staff keen to make changes in their school so that pupils can better learn about the diversity of the world around them – including that some families have two mums or two dads.

So, we want to help all school staff on this journey. We know your time is limited and you may be nervous or unsure where to start with LGBT+ inclusion, so we produce ready-to-go, free resources for primary and secondary schools.

Ahead of School Diversity Week, Just Like Us is releasing a new series of primary storytime resources.

The first in our series is a video of award-winning author Harry Woodgate reading from their book Grandad’s Camper, that you can screen with your primary class. 

Grandad’s Camper won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Best Illustrated Book 2022 and is a wonderful book to start conversations with your pupils about families that aren’t heteronormative, or the ‘typical’ family set up.

The book follows the story of a girl and her grandad who takes them on a special campervan trip, sharing heartwarming stories of his adventures with the late Gramps, Grandad’s partner who passed away.

Alongside our storytime video resource, we have a reading guide with discussion prompts and ideas on how to use the book as a writing prompt – such as ‘How do you think Grandad and Gramps felt when they went on all their travels?’ and ‘How do you think Grandad feels now Gramps isn’t there any more?’

The resources are free to access for all UK primary school staff – simply sign up for School Diversity Week to download them.

We’re delighted to be working with Harry Woodgate and Andersen Press to open up much-needed conversations around diverse families in primary schools this School Diversity Week, and hope the resources are helpful to primary staff looking to celebrate diverse families.

We’ll also be giving away copies of Grandad’s Camper to UK primary school staff who sign up for School Diversity Week before the end of May 2022.

School Diversity Week is the UK-wide celebration of LGBT+ equality in primary and secondary schools run by charity Just Like Us and takes place 20-24 June this year.

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Review of Diverse Educators: A Manifesto, ed Hannah Wilson and Bennie Kara (University of Buckingham Press, 2022)

Jill Berry portrait

Written by Dr Jill Berry

Thirty years teaching across six different schools in the UK, state and independent, and was a head for the last ten. Has since completed a doctorate and written a book.

This book is a collaborative tour de force. Rarely have I read anything which has made me think as much as this book has.  Tapping into the experiences of a wide range of writers whose lives have been, in so many ways, quite different from my own, has been sobering, humbling but ultimately energising.  This book deserves to be widely read, robustly discussed and, crucially, its key messages need to be acted upon so that we work to change our world for the better – for everyone.

I appreciate that this is not necessarily a book most people would read from cover to cover.  It is a weighty tome!  It devotes one section to each of the nine protected characteristics, adds a chapter on intersectionality, a prologue and an epilogue.  It is an amazing accomplishment, bringing together the views of 125 contributors, including the ten chapter editors, and Hannah and Bennie, who all share their stories and their perspectives.  The book goes far beyond the exploration of personal stories, however.

I imagine that many people would identify a specific section, or several sections, about which they wished to develop their knowledge and understanding, and would focus on that part of the book.  But I want to advocate for reading it all.  Even if you feel that there are certain characteristics that you believe you fully understand and appreciate – perhaps you share them – I suggest that every section has something to teach us.  And as you make your way through each separate section, you appreciate the connections, the echoes and the common ground, reinforcing the essential humanity which underpins this story of ‘difference’.  As Bennie says in our Myatt & Co interview about the book: ‘No-one is just one thing.’

The range of contributors is one of the reasons this book resonates.  Different contributors ranging from teenagers to the considerably more mature contingent; UK and overseas perspectives; primary, secondary and FE educators; state and independent sector teachers and leaders; many who share a number of protected characteristics offer their experiences, views and their own learning with generosity, honesty and courage.

Many of the stories are strongly grounded in research, and the book contains a great number of references, on which the contributors draw and which they share for those who wish to explore further through additional reading.  It is also eminently practical, with key takeaways, key questions and specific commitments at the end of each chapter and a final section in which Bennie and Hannah make clear how readers can act on their reflections as they have worked through the different sections and what they have learnt as a result.  They exhort us to consider: what difference will this make?  It made me think of Zoe and Mark Enser’s words in ‘The CPD Curriculum’: “CPD does not happen through a particular input of information; CPD occurs through what happens next.”  When you get to the end of the book, you are strongly encouraged to think about what action you will take as a result of the experience.

I strongly recommend ‘Diverse Educators: A Manifesto’.  Bennie Kara’s words in the epilogue mirrored perfectly my own response to the book: “Throughout the book, I have been struck by the honesty of the contributing authors… I have seen in the writing parts of myself – feelings, thoughts and experiences that have served to demonstrate how we as education professionals have complex and interweaving experiences…In reading these chapters, even if I do not share a particular person’s protected characteristic, I have recognised the intensely human need to be heard.”

I would encourage you to make the time to read the whole book.  I am confident that you won’t regret it.

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We (Still) Need to Talk About Gender

Tracey Leese portrait

Written by Tracey Leese

Tracey Leese is an assistant headteacher, literacy specialist, parent governor and advocate for women in leadership. Tracey lives in Staffordshire with her two sons and fellow-teacher husband.

I am well aware that the land of gendered identities is an area in which attitudes and assumptions are rapidly changing… and that we are collectively beginning to see gender as more of a spectrum than a fixed binary position. But in our continued efforts to renegotiate our shared understanding of what constitutes gender or identity we can’t assume that female teachers are no longer subject to prejudice. 

Women are not underrepresented in teaching – in fact it’s a female-centric profession, but we are underrepresented at every single level of educational leadership – most prevalently at Secondary Headship level. In comparison to some other protected characteristics the issue of gender seems so straight forward. I can see why some people might feel that it’s time to put the issue of gender to the bottom of the priority list.

Similarly, it’s easy to underestimate the myriad reasons why women still earn and lead less in what is supposed to be a truly equal and ethical profession. The motherhood penalty, work/ life balance and women’s desire to work flexibly are all seemingly widely-held reasons for this. Together with my brother Christopher, I recently co-authored Teach Like a Queen: Lessons in Leadership from Great Contemporary Women as an attempt to contribute to the ongoing conversation around diversity within school leadership. Throughout our research for the book we interviewed countless power women and were surprised when recurring themes of self-doubt, imposter syndrome and fear of disapproval emerged. In some instances, these female leaders cited seemingly “small” issues such as wishing to attend their child’s school nativity as reasons why leadership seems unattractive to women. 

So, whilst we need to look at who is shaping policy and practice in education, we also need to be bold enough to imagine a future where more schools are ran by women and paid the same as their male counterparts. According to data from NAHT’s Closing the Gender Gap published December 2021, by the age of 60 male headteachers earn £17,334 more than female headteachers. 

Our book was inspired (and supported by) the work of #WomenEd who are relentless in their work towards inspiring, empowering and supporting more women into leadership posts, the data tells us that in spite of the brilliant work already underway, that there is still so much work to do. So we absolutely cannot assume that the issue of gender is anywhere near resolved nor that the profession is as equitable as we’d hope. 

We are all charged with addressing injustice in education – as leaders, as teachers and as stakeholders.  The disproportionate representation of women in leadership and the gender pay gap absolutely amounts to injustice. Our students deserve to attend schools which are led by visionary and diverse leaders. So if a world without gender inequality is an unrealistic destination, I am just happy to be part of the journey. 

Teach Like a Queen is out 30th May and published by Routledge:

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Weaving Diverse Narratives into the Curriculum with Human Stories

Anna Szpakowska portrait

Written by Anna Szpakowska

Professional Development Lead at Lyfta

The importance of using a wide range of diverse human stories in our classrooms cannot be underestimated. There is clearly a desire amongst staff and students to broaden the curriculum to include these stories. Beyond that desire, however, there are numerous benefits to using diverse narratives in the classroom that include improving student engagement, nurturing character development and supporting academic progress too. In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of using diverse human stories, how this can be done and the potential impact it can have for your students. 

Why diverse human stories? 

It’s clear that the past few years have seen a heightened awareness and desire amongst the teaching profession to make the curriculum a more diverse and inclusive one. All teachers are bound by an adherence to the Equality Act of 2010 as well as the Public Sector Equality Duty, but recent polls have shown that there is still a desire to do more. For example, one survey commissioned by Pearson and conducted by Teacher Tapp revealed that 89% of secondary teachers and 60% of primary teachers felt that there was more diversity required in the set texts that they teach. 

However, this clearly isn’t just an issue that concerns English teachers. Pearson’s own report, Diversity and inclusion in schools, reveals that teachers feel that their curricula are not fully representative of the communities in which they work. The results reveal that teachers feel most concerned by the under-representation of people of identify as non-binary and people identifying as LGBT+. The report goes on to list a variety of different reasons as to why this representation is important. These reasons include:

  • creating a sense of belonging for staff and students alike
  • reducing instances of bullying and mental health problems 
  • reducing barriers to achievement

So how do stories help us achieve this? Narratives have long been at the heart of teaching and learning and  real-life stories have the potential to inspire students. For example, research conducted by Immordino Yang shows that experiencing human stories can motivate students into action and that the best learning takes place when students care about what it is they’re learning. 

If stories have the potential to motivate students and to make them care, it’s clear that there’s a reason to embed them in our curricula. More than that, it’s clear by ensuring there are a wide range of diverse voices included, it has the potential to improve student wellbeing and progress too. 

How can this be achieved? 

Lyfta is an educational platform that allows students to travel the world without leaving the comfort of their classrooms. Teachers can teach lessons or set lessons for students to complete independently, that take them into Lyfta’s 360° storyworlds. Storyworlds are immersive environments that contain images, 360° videos, articles and short documentary films. These short documentary films connect students with individuals from the communities that they are visiting. All of Lyfta’s documentary films contain an inspiring central character who models resilience, problem solving and positive values, supporting students to think creatively and critically. 

Lyfta has a wide range of lesson plans for teachers to use, to support them to successfully embed diverse narratives into their curriculum. These lesson plans are mapped against 12 different subject areas, cover a range of protected characteristics and all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

We’ve seen great success of teachers using the platform with students from key stage one all the way up to key stage five. We know that students enjoy their lessons with Lyfta with 94% of Lyfta users indicating that their students are highly engaged or enjoy using Lyfta. 

What impact will it have? 

When assessing the impact of our work, we’ve seen that not only do students enjoy using the platform but that there are a number of other effects on their personal development and educational achievement too. Students at a sixth form college in Kent describe the experience of recognising the shared experience of humanity across the world, describing the moment they realised that the people in Lyfta’s documentary films were ‘thinking about the [same] things we do in our everyday lives’ and that preconceptions or ‘assumptions’ the students may have had beforehand ‘were undone’. 

In addition to this work done at a secondary school in Essex revealed that Lyfta’s wide range of documentary films and storyworlds helped teachers to embed school values, with the vast majority of students finding that their understanding of their school values increased after completing a unit of work, using Lyfta lessons. In exploring values across the world, students are able to see our shared human values, thus normalising diversity and helping students to understand that we have more in common than our perceived differences. 

These findings are also supported by independent research, conducted by the University of Tampere in Finland. This research revealed that ‘the multi-sensory and participatory nature of immersive 360° experiences led to a decrease in learners’ sense of social anxiety about meeting people from different cultural backgrounds. Engaging with new people in an immersive virtual setting gives students the opportunity to identify common interests and, as a result, develop more positive feelings towards them.’ Therefore, the way Lyfta helps to normalise diversity has two significant implications; first, it helps to reduce anxiety and prejudice amongst those students who feel worried about others who are different from themselves. Secondly, for those students who may have experienced discrimination or marginalisation, Lyfta’s storyworlds and documentary films also allow them an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the stories presented to them at school. 

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On Being ‘In’, ‘Out’ and ‘In-Between’

Glyn Hawke portrait

Written by Glyn Hawke

I am a deputy head in a primary school in South-East London. I completed a doctorate in education at King’s University and was awarded my doctorate in March 2020.

This was first posted on my blog during the first lockdown.  

It’s been a really eventful time for primary schools up and down the country. So much has been going on and school staff have had to bend, flex and adapt like never before. Funnily enough, we’re pretty good at it. But even primary school teachers have their limits. No-one is really talking about the well-being and mental health of the staff that have kept essential and key worker services going over the coronavirus pandemic (which isn’t over yet). I’m guessing that’s because people assume we are beyond human and have a never ending well of emotional and psychological resources to get through any life-threatening crisis. I mean, there’s nothing like watching friends being able to work from home and keep themselves safe when you have to continue to go to work everyday. Then again, it’s better to have been able to keep a job when so many people have lost theirs. I think I’ve done a pretty good job in not totally collapsing, but have noticed in the last couple of weeks that my ‘well’ is running dry. I’m tired. Not just a little bit tired. But tired to the very core of my bones. There’s nothing left – at the weekend, I try to read in the afternoon and find myself falling asleep. For a little nap. A four or five hour nap. On both days. During the week, coffee has become my best friend and my nemesis. My best friend in terms of jolting my body awake in the morning so that I can function – to a greater or lesser degree. And my nemesis because, if I have one too many, that perky morning pick-me-up quickly descends into a jittery state of anxiety, with my mind whirring at a hundred miles an hour with thoughts of falling sick, self-doubt and inadequacy. In other words, it’s all a bit doom and gloom. Usually I’ve got enough resources to keep those types of thoughts at bay. But lately, the defences are down and they just keep on coming. I’m not looking for sympathy. I know I’ll be okay in the long term. And it helps to talk (or write) about it. Shaking off the demons and all that. I have no problem admitting that I’m struggling. Even as a school leader. Some people might argue that in my position I shouldn’t show ‘weakness’ or vulnerability. I disagree on both counts at the best of times. So right now, talking about feeling fears and anxieties I think is completely acceptable. It’s also a good reminder that perhaps other staff are feeling the same way. We’re human after all, not machines. 

So, given my anxiety and vulnerability at the moment, I am very thankful to be in a school where the staff have embraced our work on equality and diversity. The pupils have amazed me with their reflections and responses to the death of George Floyd, and their passion for a fairer and more just society. The posters, banners, demonstrations, letters, artwork and poetry show a sophisticated response to Black Lives Matter, and to hear such young children clearly articulate how it makes them feel has been deeply moving and encouraging. And credit needs to be given to the teachers who followed the children’s lead, who didn’t try and dodge what is a very sensitive subject, but metaphorically sat with the children in states of questioning and exploring that was often challenging and uncomfortable. There can’t be true progress until we acknowledge and recognise the pain, suffering and violence caused by systemic racism and, if white, question our role in perpetuating this violence in inequality through our choices and actions. Tough pills and all that. 

As I explored in my previous posts ‘Hijacking or Highlighting’ and ‘Sharing the Rainbow’, there came a point over the past few weeks when LGBTQ+ equality came up in relation to Black Lives Matter. After some open discussions between staff on the meaning of the rainbow and who ‘owned’ it as a social signifier, we realised that it was LGBTQ+ Pride month. All over the globe there would be marches, protests and events (this year largely online) that would highlight the continuing inequalities affecting, as well as celebrate, LGBTQ+ lives. And as Black Lives Matter’s manifesto includes LGBTQ+ BAME people, then segueing into Pride seemed a natural progression. Exploring Pride had the potential to broaden the discussions around BLM (who is included and why) and also to critically examine the image of the rainbow (what it represents and to whom). We like to do a bit of critical thinking with our children. Education, education, education. 

So, on both a personal and professional level, I found it extremely liberating when our headteacher said that we ought to be doing something to acknowledge Pride. Let’s just put this into context. I’m 48 years old. I’ve worked in primary schools for over 15 years. I’ve studied resistance to LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum for a Masters degree and explored the experiences of LGBTQ+ teachers in primary schools in England for my doctoral thesis (did I mention that I’m a doctor?…). And I know that many, many schools still do not include LGBTQ+ people in their curriculums. I know because for the past 15 years I’ve had to tread lightly, make suggestions, keep bringing up the exclusion of LGBTQ+ lives in the curriculum and have had a variety of responses. Sometimes it has been a straight (excuse the pun) ‘no’. Sometimes it has been to make it personal – ‘Imagine if some of the parents knew you were gay!’ (I think that was supposed to be supportive, but it’s really not). Sometimes it was about it ‘not being the right time’. That the school in question had more important priorities. And sometimes there was a concern about the parents. Would they be offended? Would they object? What would their reactions be? (This is one of my particular favourites as it can often mean that school leaders’ latent homophobia can be hidden behind the parent community. Where to even begin unpicking the classism, racism and homophobia that unconsciously exists within such a response). So to have a headteacher who simply said ‘we ought to do something’ was huge. I jumped straight onto the computer, typed out some suggested books with ideas for different year groups, and circulated it to staff. All within an hour. Quite easy to do when the books and lesson plans are all sitting in the cupboard waiting for the ‘green light’. 

To say that the staff embraced the work is an understatement. They used age-appropriate texts and language (I hate the fact that I’ve used this phrase, but I’ve included it just in case there are any bigots reading this who honestly believe primary school teachers would do anything but….) and engaged the children in critical discussion and debates around LGBTQ+ lives. With younger children it was about discussing different types of families, what it means to be a boy or girl, and making rainbow flags. With the older children, there were discussions around the intersections of faith, race and sexuality. What does it mean to be BAME and LGBTQ+? Are all religious people homophobic? Are identities more complex and nuanced than overly simplistic assumptions and generalisations? What is LGBTQ+ equality? What were the Stonewall riots? Who was Bayard Ruskin? And why hadn’t children heard of him? So at his point in time, I find myself working in a primary school that mentions LGBTQ+ beyond the narrative of homophobic bullying. That understands the intersection of our lives across different identity labels. That asks questions to prompt critical thinking in children rather than giving simplistic answers. Identity, equality and diversity work is complex. And our children can handle it. So, I find myself working in a school where staff talk about LGBTQ+ lives in a positive and historical way. Liberation, liberation, liberation. 

And so came the inevitable. The issue of ‘coming out’. Should I? Should I not? What would be the purpose? What does it even mean to come out? And what am I coming out as? It might sound like the answers to these questions are quite simple, but it is far from that. Education has been described as being a particularly hostile profession towards LGBTQ+ people. Let’s not forget Section 28. And let’s not forget the lack of commitment to, or knowledge of, the Equality Act (2010). And finally, let’s not forget the ‘debates’ around the new RSE curriculum and the demonstrations that the new curriculum sparked. To argue that education has moved on and is less hostile would be to deny the violence in the recent debates, language and protests. It would also be to deny the ‘pick and mix’ approach to equality that the new RSE curriculum risks creating. It also denies the homophobia that exists in the lack of clarity from the DfE. 

Overly simplistic notions of coming out are based on the assumption that coming out is a universal and homogenous process. That all LGBTQ+ people experience coming out in the same way. That we all have the same internal and external resources to make coming out a possibility. Overly simplistic notions of coming out also conflate outness with ‘authenticity’. Ouch. I guess it depends on what is meant by an ‘authentic’ life. Is remaining in the closet because coming out might risk your life not an authentic response? Or, from a position of privilege (for those people who have successfully come out) is there a demand to come out regardless of the consequences, regardless of the risk to life, regardless of whether or not the individual has the internal and external assets to do so? You can probably tell that I have a few issues with the conflation and over-simplification of ‘outness’ = ‘authenticity’. Who decides when somebody is being authentic? Let me give you a little bit of background so that I can explain further. The following section comes from my thesis. 

The coming out imperative

‘Gay brothers and sisters, … you must come out… come out only to the people you know, and who know you… break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters…’ (Harvey Milk cited in Shilts, 1982: 368)

Gay rights activists in the early 1970s constructed the closet as oppressive and ‘coming out’ as playing an essential part in claiming a healthy and full sexual identity, moving from a place of secrecy to acknowledging one’s true, and therefore ‘fixed’, identity (Woods, 2016; Vaid, 1995). Coming out became a collective responsibility (Sedgwick, 1990; Woods, 2016; Vaid, 1995) and was constructed as a means of making things better for the next generation, challenging homophobic discourses and feeling better about oneself. The benefits were both collective and personal. Pro-LGBTQ organisations continue to call for ‘authentic role models’ and encourage individuals, particularly teachers, to come out (Brockenbrough, 2012). And the language used describes such ‘out’ teachers as ‘trailblazers’, ‘authentic’, ‘rising to the challenge’ and ‘courageous’ (deLeon, 2012). Teachers that don’t can often be labelled as lacking honesty, as not being prepared to face the risk (Formby, 2013), as being ‘part of the oppression (Patai, 1992) and as living a false life (deJean, 2008). Critics of coming out argue that, in order to be accepted as legitimate and non-threatening, some LGBTQ teachers arguably mirror acceptable heterosexual norms through a ‘politics of assimilation’ (Warner, 1999) that is couched in homonormative discourses of an ‘acceptable gay’ (Connell, 2015). Neary (2014) argues that LGBTQ teachers who are married, in relationships or in civil partnerships have access to normative traits that potentially make coming out easier. This new-found legitimacy risks excluding those ‘who do not fit neatly into the lesbian/gay binary’ (Neary, 2014: 58-59). The coming out imperative can therefore create further psychological pressures on LGBTQ+ teachers as emotive language obscures personal histories and leaves little room for individual agency over collective responsibility. As Connell (2015) writes: 

….anyone who does not comply with the imperative to come out risks being marked as a traitor to his or her sexual community. This directive – be out and proud or else – helps fuel the dilemma faced by gay and lesbian teachers (Connell, 2015: 25).

Resisting the coming out imperative

‘… for whom is outness a historically available and affordable option?…For whom does the term present an impossible conflict between racial, ethnic or religious affiliation and sexual politics?’ (Butler, 1993: 173). 

deJean argues that there is value in hearing stories of LGBTQ teachers having been successfully ‘out’ in school contexts (deJean, 2008; deJean et al, 2017). However, such stories are arguably problematic if they do not also include a critical analysis of the assets that make it possible and/or easier for some rather than others. As outlined above, the coming out imperative risks subjugating LGBTQ teachers for whom being out is not a preferred option (Rasmussen, 2004). Gray argues that gay rights discourses have conflated silence with shame and being out with pride. Given the emotive language used as outlined above, ‘shame’ can be generated, at least in part, by the discourse of the coming out imperative itself. Individual choice, agency and context are significant factors in making outness possible. As the language of LGBTQ authenticity demands an allegiance to a sexual identity as an individual’s primary identity marker, the coming out imperative risks marginalising or obscuring other identity markers that might motivate LGBTQ teachers in their work. For example, Brockenbrough’s (2012) study focuses on five US black male elementary school teachers who chose to maintain their sexuality invisibility within their settings. Coming out was not as important to them as addressing social justice issues surrounding black children’s education. Although aware that remaining closeted was in part due to the homophobia exhibited in the community, their ‘outness’ was not a significant feature of their teacher identity or seen as relevant to their professional motivations. For these teachers, the closet did not reduce their capacity to be impassioned teachers, but rather heightened it. In their context, coming out risked erasing their racial and social class identifications.

Critics of coming out further argue that resistance to the heterosexist ‘demand’ for LGBTQ people to come out equalises LGBTQ sexualities with heterosexuality (Youdell, 2006). Silence can be a form of ‘active resistance’ by challenging the ‘naturalness’ of heterosexuality and by demanding a ‘naturalness’ for LGBTQ sexualities through ‘undeclaring’ (Ferfolja, 2014). Ferfolja writes:

‘…one is not necessarily in or out of the closet, but may move between or even straddle these constructed spaces. Hence, depending on context, one may be in or out, or in and out; regardless, one is present’ (Ferfolja, 2014: 33). 

‘By presenting gay and lesbian educators as either in or out of the closet, some scholars wash over the complexities of negotiating the ‘closet door’… some scholars take a more realistic approach of portraying ‘out’ as a continuum or process with fits and starts’ (Jackson, 2007:9). Ferfolja (2014) further argues that LGBTQ teachers who do not come out are not necessarily ‘oppressed’ but are navigating their ‘outness’ in different ways.

Tensions posed by the silence as resistance discourse

Regardless of whether silence is enacted as a resistance strategy, the resultant LGBTQ+ teacher invisibility is the same as that which results from silence demanded through heterosexist and homophobic practices. Russell’s (2010) research with three Canadian teachers highlights the tensions generated between role model and LGBTQ-as-threat discourses. Whilst wanting to support pupils, her participants’ hyper-awareness of the LGBTQ as danger discourse contributed to fears of being labelled a pervert and impacted on their reluctance to engage with and support queer students. Rejecting the role model subject position can be emotionally and psychologically challenging and her participants had to negotiate their own sense of failure and guilt in doing so. For Russell, both pro-LGBTQ and homophobic discourses can subjugate and oppress. She writes that:

‘As long as queer-as-threat is entrenched within schools, queer teachers must continue to recognise ourselves as spoken into existence in order to envision a new way of speaking which is not based solely on the archetype of role model or predator. Both invariably harm us and our students’ (Russell, 2010: 153). 

Wowsers!! So not quite so simple after all. Clearly the closet is a contested concept. What exactly is it? When is it deployed? Is it the same for everybody? Are there times when it is used strategically by somebody who is LGBTQ+? Is the closet always oppressive? Is coming out always liberation? 

Where do these questions leave me and what did I do? If I answer the question, then am I succumbing to a heterosexist or a pro-gay rights demand to be out? If I answer that I am out in school would the readers of this text read it differently? Would readers give the text more ‘authority’ and listen in a different way? Do I become a ‘legitimate’ and ‘authentic’ LGBTQ+ teacher full of courage, willing to take ‘risks’ and be a ‘trailblazer’? And if I said ‘no’ would readers dismiss my arguments, claiming that they are invalid as they are written by somebody who is, by default ‘inauthentic’, a ‘coward’, and somebody who is complicit in their own oppression? If I don’t come out, am I really exerting my ‘queer resistance’ to the coming out imperative or am I simply afraid of the heterosexist violence I might experience if I do? Is my silence actually a succumbing to the homophobic demand to stay silent and invisible? How do I navigate these complexities and tensions that, I would argue, are unique to LGBTQ+ primary school teachers given the nature of the profession? 

I am going to try and resist answering such questions in an overly simplistic way. I may have some normative traits that make it easier for me to come out in school. I may use those traits in conversations both with pupils and parents to ‘out’ myself in different contexts. I may respond when children ask if I’m married or have children, with the language of civil partnerships, mentioning my ‘husband’ and stating his name. When a child exclaims that ‘You can’t marry a man!’ I might simply respond with, ‘Yes, it is possible. Men can marry men and women can marry women’. I may also wear endless ‘rainbow themed’ t-shirts (the children’s favourite being the rainbow dabbing unicorn) and have a rainbow lanyard as a subtle, yet visual, resistance to silencing. No, I don’t work for the NHS. It’s a gay thing. I may do all of these things. But, I may not. Some days, I may be exhausted and simply not have the energy or psychological resources to engage. I may be feeling vulnerable and decide that the situation is too hostile and that ‘coming out’ in that moment is not conducive to my own well-being. I may simply decide that I do not want anybody in the school knowing about my personal life (some heterosexual teachers do this too). All of these are possibilities. And possibilities aren’t fixed. They aren’t final. Possibilities are fluid and contextual. Possibilities might overlap, collide and intersect. Possibilities might mean that I am standing in the foyer of the school and be ‘out’, ‘in’ and ‘in-between’ the closet at the same time. Out to those people who know me. In the closet to those people who don’t. And in-between to those who ‘suspect’ or who have read the signs. I don’t greet everybody who enters the school building with ‘Hello, welcome to our school. My name is Glyn and I’m gay’. (Some colleagues might argue that the t-shirts are a bit of a give-away, but I could just be an ‘ally’. Depends on who is ‘reading’ the t-shirt I guess). Then again, maybe I do by dropping in a one liner about my husband (see how that asset makes coming out so much easier. So much harder if you’re single). Maybe being a deputy head gives me a sense of security that I can come out whenever I feel like it that I didn’t have when I was an NQT 17 years ago. Maybe the asset of being on the SLT and not feeling so vulnerable just ‘being’ a new teacher helps. 

What is clear, is that being ‘out’ is relational. It demands an ‘other’. We can’t be out sitting in a room by ourselves. Or can we? Am I ‘out’ if I go to a shop, meet a cashier and don’t tell them that I am gay? At that precise moment, am I whoever the cashier assumes me to be? Am I back in the closet or not? If I go to the supermarket with my partner, do I ‘cash in’ on my normative traits and assume that I’m out to everyone we encounter? What would happen if I were single? Do I have to try and make it more obvious so that I’m out all of the time? I don’t think I’ve got enough rainbow t-shirts in my collection. 

My point is that ‘outness’ is fluid and contextual. Yes, there is a collective history and one to which I am truly grateful. But to assume that all LGBTQ+ people have the resources and traits to make being out a possibility is misleading and oppressive. To also demand that LGBTQ+ teachers ‘should’ come out risks becoming oppressive, regardless of the demand coming from pro-gay rights organisations. Using language such as inauthenticity, lacking honesty or living a false life is abusive. (Butler also questions what it means to have an ‘essentialised’ sense of self, but not enough time to go into this here. I’ll come back to it – promise). Placing LGBTQ+ equality in primary schools on LGBTQ+ teacher ‘outness’ also takes responsibility away from school leaders, including LAs and the DfE, from ensuring that all primary school curriculums are LGBTQ+ inclusive. By making LGBTQ+ teachers ‘responsible’, schools that do not have any LGBTQ+ teachers can continue to be make LGBTQ+ lives invisible within their curriculums. And, as the DfE guidance suggests, they can introduce LGBTQ+ ‘issues’ when the school leaders feel that it is ‘age-appropriate’ to do so. Suggesting that something is ‘age appropriate’ also suggests that it might be ‘age inappropriate’. There’s that old virtual equality again. I think the tensions here are clear. School leaders are given control of LGBTQ+ ‘outness’. If they feel that being LGBTQ+ is not ‘age appropriate’ are they then implying, not so subtly, that LGBTQ+ teachers should stay in the closet. Has the patrolling of LGBTQ+ teacher lives simply passed from clearly homophobic policy such as Section 28, to a more subtle form of homophobia where school leaders and parents, through the language of the new RSE curriculum, create and patrol the closet? What would it be like to be an LGBTQ+ NQT in such a school? Hardly the safe, nurturing environment all teachers deserve and should experience. 

Until all primary schools embrace a fully inclusive curriculum, primary education will continue to reinforce violently homophobic and heterosexist attitudes and behaviours. Focussing on teacher ‘outness’ will mask the heterosexist violence still taking place in primary schools in England. Demanding ‘outness’ risks becoming a part of the violence. Replacing the demand for teacher outness with the demand for an inclusive curriculum is the only way to stop primary schools being potential sites of violence towards LGBTQ+ teachers. 

And so yes. My defences might be down. I might be exhausted by the events of the last term and demands placed on us by the responses to the coronavirus. I might be experiencing negative thoughts and self-doubt. But at the same time, there is such hope. I’m surrounded by teachers who embrace equality and diversity and who are doing great things with the children. So I’ll celebrate that I work in a school where the staff continue to reflect on and develop an inclusive curriculum. I’ll adjust to what it feels like to be in a setting where children learn about Pride and the history and injustices faced by LGBTQ+ people. I’ll enjoy watching children learn about Bayard Ruskin and how he was part of both the black and gay civil rights movements. I’ll adjust to what it feels like to be acknowledged and to not be seen as a ‘threat’, sometimes by well-meaning colleagues. And I’ll take a moment to acknowledge how far we’ve come as a school. 

I’m going to resist telling the reader how ‘out’ I am and leave my ‘outness’ in the realm of possibilities. I need to adjust to this new feeling of liberation where my outness isn’t a ‘thing’. It’s strange and might take a little time. But just in case anybody demands that I ‘should’ be in or out of the closet let me be clear. I’ll be out, I’ll be in and I’ll be everything in-between. I will choose to speak or not speak depending on my own history, the assets that I have that might make it easier, the context, and my own state of well-being. I will ignore demands to be ‘out’ as the curriculum is the focus for LGBTQ+ visibility, regardless of my presence. After all, a truly inclusive curriculum shouldn’t be about me. If it is, where does that leave primary schools where ‘I’ am not present?

References and further reading: 

Brockenbrough, E (2012) Agency and Abjection in the Closet: The Voices (and Silences) of Black Queer Male Teachers (International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 25:6, 741-765)

Butler, J (1993) Bodies that matter (Routledge, Oxon)

Connell, C (2015) Sch

Connell, C (2012) Dangerous Disclosures (Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 9, 168-177)

Connell, C (2015) School’s Out – Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom (University of California Press, California)

deJean, W (2008) Out gay and lesbian K-12 educators: a study in radical honesty (Journal of Lesbian and Gay Issues in Education, 4:4, 59-72)

deJean W et al (2017) Dear gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teacher: letters of advice to help you find your way (Information Age Publishing, North Carolina)

deLeon, M et al, (2012) Cycles of fear: a model of lesbian and gay educational leaders’ lived experiences (Educational Administration Quarterly, 49:1, 161-203)

Ferfolja, T (2014) Reframing queer teacher subjects: neither in nor out be present (in Queer teachers, identity and performativity, Gray, E et al, Pallgrave Macmillan, Hampshire)

Formby, E (2013) Understanding and responding to homophobia and bullying: contrasting staff and young people’s views within community settings in England (Sexual Research and Social Policy, 10:4, 302-316)

Neary, A (2014) Teachers and civil partnerships: (re) producing legitimate subjectivities in the straight spaces of schools in Queer teachers, identity and performativity ed. by Harris and Gray (Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire)

Olson, M (1987) A Study of Gay and Lesbian Teachers (Journal of Homosexuality, 13:4, 73-81)

Patai, D (1992) Minority status and the stigma of ‘surplus visibility’ (Education Digest, 57:5, p35-37)

Rasmussen et al (2004) Youth and sexualities: pleasure, subervsion and insubordination in and out of schools (Palgrave MacMillan, Hampshire)

Russell, V (2010) Queer teachers’ ethical dilemmas regarding queer youth (Teaching Education, 21:2, 143-156)

Sedgwick, E (1990) Epistemology of the Closet (University of California Press, California)

Shilts, R (1982) The Mayor of Castro Street, the life and times of Harvey Milk (St Martins Griffin, New York)

Vaid, U (1995) Virtual Equality: the mainstreaming of gay and lesbian liberation (Anchor Books, New York)

Woods, G (2016) Homintern: how gay culture liberated the modern world (Yale publishing, USA)

Youdell, D (2006) Impossible bodies, impossible selves: exclusions and student subjectivities (Springer, The Netherlands)

Supported by

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Our Journey So Far

Ruth Argyle portrait

Written by Ruth Argyle

Ruth has been a teacher for 16 years and in her most recent role in ITT at KNSTE she is responsible for leading their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion focus.

Keele and North Staffordshire Education (KNSTE) began a journey of reflection, education and improvement in relation to DEI around 12 months ago. Back in the day we were all a little unsure of  online working and when cameras were glitchy, backgrounds were chaotic and we all left ourselves on mute regularly.  I then had the absolute pleasure of seeing Hannah Wilson of Diverse Educators speak at a NASBTT online conference. I was immediately and irreversibly inspired by her words. As an organisation we had taken our eye off the important issues that Hannah spoke about and it was time to refocus. 

The timing couldn’t have been better.  We rewrite our KPIs around March and this gave our work the impetus it needed to have real impact. We thought long and hard, consulting with many of our stakeholders about how best to concentrate our efforts in this area and we decided on three drivers for change:

  1. Marketing and Recruitment
  2. Our Curriculum
  3. Associate Teacher (AT) Experience.

We have been ambitious with our plan and have decided on working towards sustainable, internal change that will have impact for years to come whilst being mindful of resisting quick fixes that may ‘plug a gap’ but do not have long term impact. We didn’t want to buy in someone to deliver a one-off session for us, we invested in our staff and this involved a lot of CPD and big learning moments together. It may seem simple but even just deciding together on what order the letters in the acronym would go was significant. In the early days of this project we would use all manner of combinations of the letters: EDI, DEI, IDE… and would hear it said differently at different events and training we went to. Also, sometimes the E stood for Equity and sometimes it stood for Equality, sometimes people meant the D to mean Diversity, other times people were actually talking about Disability. We needed a shared language to ensure we had a shared understanding on what we were trying to achieve. 

We worked as a team to collectively improve our understanding of the terms and what we could be doing as an initial teacher training and education (ITTE) provider. We have many responsibilities; responsibility to the trainees we train each year, a responsibility to the partnership schools and the employing leaders in those schools, a responsibility to the children in those classrooms and indeed a responsibility to the profession as a whole. It was and continues to be scary at times but to quote Hannah “we needed to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable” and work through it as a team. As public professionals we feel the weighty responsibility of creating a culture of belonging in our profession. We are mindful of the Equalities Act 2010 and the 9 Protected Characteristics and will work tirelessly to ensure that there is a place for everyone in our profession. 

In the last 12 months we have made many positive changes. We have set up affinity groups for our alumni, training our Teacher Educators about DEI and our expectations of them when hosting a trainee, being more aware of our marketing and recruitment processes to consider elements such as neurodiversity and inclusivity and these are all having an impact within our organisation. Despite this good work we are advocates of the notion that we are lifelong learners. We know without doubt that there is more learning to be achieved, more work to be done and more improvements to make so that everyone who comes into contact with our organisation feels that sense of belonging which we are striving for. As we enter Year 2 of our 3-year action plan we are hopeful for continued impact and improvements and will continually self-reflect and be outward looking to achieve this. 

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Myth Busting Our Curriculum

Meena Wood portrait

Written by Meena Wood

Meena Kumari Wood is a former HMI (Ofsted), LA Adviser, FE College Principal and Principal of a Secondary Academy, is now a consultant, trainer and leadership coach across the British and International Education sectors.

The island of Zanzibar where I was born was famous – or infamous – on two accounts: clove  plantations and slavery. From the 17th century until 1909, spice plantations were worked by  Black Africans sold into slavery by Black African tribes to Arab Traders. Zanzibar, East Africa’s  slave hub held slaves on Prison Island before transportation to other destinations (Frölich,  2019). The history of Black slavery is far more nuanced than one simply perpetuated by just  Whites on Black Africans. Seventeen million East Africans were sold into slavery by Arab  traders – a far higher number than those sold into transatlantic slavery. Yet it is usually  more common within the History curriculum for students to become familiar with Britain’s  involvement in the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, than with the financial benefit Britain gained from the slave trade in the two centuries beforehand. 

The alienation of some Black Caribbean and Black African students may in part be attributed  to a curriculum, where the contributions and histories of Black people in Britain are not  incorporated or openly acknowledged in schools. A Values-Led History curriculum must  present a balanced view of colonisation, the British empire and its impact on peoples from  Africa, Asia and, nearer home, Ireland. The Windrush scandal report concluded that, in part,  it happened precisely because of society’s poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history  (Williams, 2018). 

The challenge we face as educators is to have a radical rethink of our curriculum. Teaching  history through source evidence is not a binary choice of good versus evil. Who chooses the  ‘source evidence’ will decide the values and the narrative we want all our students to learn.  Winston Churchill, while applauded for his second world war victory, also contributed to  atrocities in the empire. During the great Bengal famine (1943), millions died as rice was  exported to elsewhere in the empire (Tharoor, 2018). Churchill, however, blamed the  famine on Indians ‘breeding like rabbits’ (Safi, 2019). 

Generations of young people have been taught that Britain was an intrinsic force for ‘good’  against Nazi tyranny and, therefore, ‘saved the world’ from the forces of evil in the first and second world wars. They may now believe that the British empire was a force for only good.  Many children still believe that WW2 was ‘won’ by the British’, and not through a massive  world-wide coalition.  

Following the Brexit vote in 2016, I met with a class of predominantly White British  students; 13-year-olds jubilant about ‘leaving Europe’ and goading another student to ‘go  back home to Poland’-reducing him to tears. Their reasoning was that their grandparents  had died freeing Britain from the Europeans and now they wanted their freedom from  Europe! A mishmash of ignorance and distorted history viewed through their families’ lens  influenced these young students and, sadly, resulted in the racist taunts they meted out on  fellow East European students. 

How do these same children now view the Russia Ukraine war as this may not even be  discussed in schools? Don’t our children have the right to be taught that the multifaceted prism of history is a prime influencer on our present lives? 

Our students must learn in history and geography of the importance of the unity of the  European nations in fighting tyranny and fascism, alongside the role of the ANZAC, African  and Asian troops, and what finally led to establishing the European Union. Its continuing  relevance to Britain today, now outside of Europe, is key as we face yet another war in  Europe. 

In our schools we cannot simply continue ‘celebrating diversity’ through famous iconic  figures such as Mandela and Gandhi, or scheduling well-intentioned activities during Black  History month. Respecting ‘Heritage Matters’ through the curriculum means  opening all students’ horizons. Global cultural influences are best threaded through a school  curriculum that showcases prominent achievements of a diverse range of individuals  in every subject. There is no shortage of inspirational, credible role models. 

In science, we can refer to the first Black American African female astronaut Jemison in  space (1992). In mathematics, Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi (773 AD) demonstrated  the zero in algebraic equations, and by the ninth century, the zero had entered the Arabic  numeral system, as we know it today. This example can sit alongside the German  mathematician Gottfried Leibniz’s invention of the Step Reckoner ( 1671); a calculus based  on the binary system, the genesis of the computer. What about Katherine Johnson, a Black American mathematician, referred to as a ‘computer’? Her calculations of orbital mechanics  ( armed with pencil, paper and slide rule), as a NASA employee was critical to the success of  the first U.S crewed space flight.

We must empower a nation of young people to be truly proud of their individual and  collective heritages. All German schoolchildren learn in history about the holocaust . If  knowledge is power then we must enable all our White, Black and Asian children to become  more knowledgeable and to learn of the myriad facets of their history.  In our classrooms, White British students need to know the contributions made by other  nations to the UK economy and society. For instance, if they learn of the British Empire, are  students aware of the lasting legacy of the East India Company’s employees in ‘acquiring’  riches, and investing these in Britain’s finest 18 century buildings, even ‘buying’ a seat in  Parliament? Thomas Pitt, famously founded the dynasty of two Prime ministers (William Pitt  and his son) through the purchase of a diamond, whilst he was Governor in India.  

Perpetuating a polarised view of Britain’s role in global history risks creating schisms in our  society and risks prejudice, racist attitudes and actions. These are counter to young people  developing global citizenship in 2022 and beyond; especially important at a time when the  world is shrinking its geo-political boundaries.  

To gain deeper understanding and apply the knowledge they learn, young people must  acquire critical literacy skills. Only through becoming critical thinkers and readers can they  interpret the nuances of history for themselves and come to realise that we are all united  more by our similarities than our differences. Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a  Mockingbird, sets this as a key life lesson when he tells his daughter, 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . .  until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” 

This is how we can hope to create future generations who aspire to change society for the  better. 


Tharoor, S. (2017) Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, 1st edn., London: C. Hurst & Co  Publishers.

Frölich, S. (2019, August 22). East Africa’s forgotten slave trade. Deutsche Welle [online].  Retrieved from Safi, M. (2019, March 29). Churchill’s policies contributed to 1943 Bengal famine – study. Guardian. Retrieved  from contributed-to-1943-bengal-famine-study 

Tharoor, S. (2017). Inglorious empire: What the British did to India. London: C. Hurst & Co  Publishers. 

Williams, W. (2018). Windrush lessons learned, Independent review [HC 93 2020-21].  London: House of Comm 

Wood, M. and Haddon, N. ( 2021) Secondary Curriculum Transformed; Enabling All to  Achieve; ( Routledge)

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On single-sex schools

Hollie Panther portrait

Written by Hollie Panther

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

Should they still exist in this day and age?

Currently in the UK around 10% of state secondary schools are single-sex (most secondary schools in England were single-sex until the 1970s in England, though in Scotland and Wales there has always been more of a co-ed approach). Broadly, I feel that segregating learners based on any characteristic that doesn’t directly affect their learning should stop (i.e. I’m still for schools that specialise in SEND and disability, and those that specialise in educating learners with behavioural issues — though I wonder if such learners would in fact benefit from incorporation into mainstream schools if done well, as opposed to lumping them in there due to budget restrictions?). Interestingly, nowadays it seems single-sex schools don’t technically prevent other-sexed learners from joining, just as religious schools don’t technically prevent learners joining who follow religions other than that the school centers on, and indeed, learners who come out as trans aren’t made to change schools, due to protection under the 2010 Equality Act.

When engaging with some of the research literature on this topic, it was difficult to find a clear answer as to whether single-sex schooling improves academic outcomes. With a critical hat on, it seemed much of the evidence may have been subject to confirmation bias — that is, that researchers set out to find support for their preferred method of education. There is some evidence for the idea that gender stereotypical subject uptake (i.e. English for girls and STEM for boys) occurs less in single-sex schools, but after I stumbled across a study published in possibly the most highly regarded journal within science, ‘Science’, I decided I’d look no further:

The authors argued that the movement towards single-sex education “is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence”. The study goes on to conclude that “there is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.” (Halpern et al., 2011)

One more, slightly perpendicular, point on research in this area: I’d bet most of the research cited in arguments for single-sex schooling doesn’t consider trans and non-binary pupils. Interestingly, there is evidence suggesting that girls’ schools tend to be better set up to support gender-diverse pupils than boys’ or co-ed schools, due to their more critical and less binary approach to gender (Renz, 2020). It will be interesting to see what effects research finds on trans and non-binary pupils in different types of schools going forward, now that such learners are being considered more in this research area. Even though such pupils are a minority, their experiences are valid and deserve to be described when taking into account whether to legislate on single-sex schooling.

Having taught science in a ‘boys’’ school, I can’t say I noticed any advantages to it being single-sex. Female sixth formers talked of a culture of sexual harassment from younger male pupils which they believed came from girls not being usualised in the school. After trans and non-binary pupils started coming out in the school community, questions were raised as to whether to drop the ‘Boys’ from the school’s name altogether — I would be in favour of this, and more.

Ultimately, I’m against single-sex schooling as I can’t see any real benefits and don’t really see that it has a place within modern society. Single-sex education came about because society believed that men and women should learn different things, due to their differing abilities and also roles within society. Racial segregation in education came about for similar reasons, and no-one would suggest that was a sensible thing to continue, even if one race would do better out of single-race schools.

Let’s move forwards and scrap single-sex schools.

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The link between Kintsugi and being a neurodiverse teacher

Kelly Richens portrait

Written by Kelly Richens

Programme Director, BASCITT. BASCITT is proud to celebrate diversity and promote equality and inclusivity (see here)

Foreword by Programme Director, Dr Kelly Richens

Inspired by Hannah Wilson of Diverse Educators, we at the Basingstoke Alliance SCITT are on a real journey to have authenticity around the diversity of our trainees. Are we making progress? For sure, having open discussions, celebrating our differences, making sure all our trainees feel valued for who they are and not being defined by their protected characteristics. Are we there yet? Absolutely not. Whilst in our safe bubble the trainees are openly talking and writing about their lived experiences, yet there still remains a lot of fear. Our openly gay and bisexual trainees do not feel enabled to discuss this within their school communities. And another one of my trainees, recently diagnosed with autism on top of her ADHD, has written a heartfelt article about her struggle of living and fitting into our neurotypical world. She feels unable to add her name for fear of prospective employers discriminating against her, and this saddens me hugely. Please read her article below, maybe share it with your neurodiverse trainees, or maybe all your trainees, so they can maybe have an insight into the mind of someone who sees the world through a ‘rainbow of vibrant tones and hues’.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” seems to be the phrase most used by myself since starting teacher training. If it isn’t a meeting I’ve missed, a document I have forgotten to photocopy or a person I’ve accidentally offended, you could say training to be a teacher would be a lot easier. That’s the thing with neurodiversity, as it is now called (for years I think I was simply referred to as odd); you have to take the bad with the good really. You will inevitably, and unfortunately forget, offend and not quite understand elements of everyday life that other people find easier to navigate. Some say it’s a “superpower”. Agreeing outright with this is difficult for me. My opinion is slightly more nuanced; do I think I’m different? Amazing? Eccentric? Fun? Exciting? Yes. Do I view the world through, not rose-tinted glasses, but through a rainbow of vibrant tones and hues? Yes, most definitely. I see through a filter that is completely unique to me, and so does everyone else, but the neurodiverse in me, adds that little sprinkle of “je ne sais quoi” that makes me stand out that little bit more than I sometimes would like. 

That said, for all the little particles that make me “me”, there are a plethora of heartbreakingly awful things that accompany that diagnosis. As a child, I was so incredibly that “ADHD kid” in the class, that I didn’t learn to read or write for years. Everything was a struggle. I don’t envy my parents, who were incredibly patient. Those extra-curricular English classes for special needs? I went to those. Did I go to the Art club? Who has time for that when you can barely sit still in any seat for that matter.  Can you imagine that I didn’t sleep through the night until I was five!? I didn’t get an official diagnosis until I was twenty-one, and when I started my training, I decided that I needed that extra bit of help (for my needs), as the struggles I had kept as hidden as I could for years, started to crack. At the end of the consultation with the psychiatrist, I felt as though I had been dealt a sentence; “Yes, your ADHD is quite clear… I would also recommend you look into a diagnosis for ASD too…” I know I shouldn’t have cried after I ended that call, but I did. I liked being the girl with the letters after her name; BA, BA hons, PGdip, PGCE, MA… but now I felt I could add another reel of letters right after them. I could feel the hot tears roll down my cheeks, and I felt so alone in that moment. Why was I crying? I had known about the ADHD; I had even made my peace with that bubbly and quirky kid, but now I felt that this new possibility was another part of me, I hadn’t met. A part of me I hadn’t quite reconciled with. What would be these new hardships? Would people treat me differently? What would the future hold?

That fear of the unknown plagued me for weeks, until I realised that it didn’t change anything. If I was Autistic as well, I had always been so. To look to the past isn’t useful if one cannot learn from it. As a trainee teacher, I walk into that Art classroom, and I try to perfect the burgeoning skills that I have been taught every day. That doesn’t make each day a new and surprising one. You wouldn’t know until you have experienced it, that every lesson is in fact, the unknown. You are constantly treading water; but you are living. Sure, you can “know” your students. You could probably pick out the slightly “spicier” ones (as I like to call them), but you will never know what will happen during that one hour. Plan away. Do what I do. Create a scripted and timed lesson. Imagine the questions you will ask and the students you will direct them to… you would be surprised what can make a classroom become a war zone. It could rain? They could have accidentally eaten a chocolate raisin (and who likes chocolate raisins, am I right?) and that could set them off and create the carnage we all fear. Anything can tip a lesson over the edge, but maybe it’s the uncertainty that we all like? Maybe it’s making a difference, or maybe it’s doing something different every day. Whatever it is, we have each taken that leap.  

As someone who is neuro-divergent, and I come back to my initial point (see how we get distracted?); those difficulties and anxieties that others have, we feel them that much worse. I am not trying to negate that neurotypical people don’t feel the same as we do, but the intensity and the frequency of those fears are on a whole other level. Being different isn’t always a superpower when you are upset or are struggling, but when you finally get through the strife and hardships, and you have finally made it through that learning curve (and you will. I assure you. It will take longer than other people, and you may offend, be late and all the other stuff you will inevitably do, but you will make it), and it will be worth it. That part of you that doesn’t quite match up with everyone else’s idea of normality, is in fact what makes you the role model to that child who, without knowing it, was looking for someone like you to show them the way. You will be that person that they will look to when they need advice. You be that bright rainbow guiding light in their lives. You will add that extra fizzy colour to an otherwise, maybe drab day or week. You will be, trust me, far more patient with that SEND student when other teachers may not quite understand or care. You will have that insider knowledge that leads to making breakthroughs that others, may not make. You see them, because you have been there. 

It takes a long time to perfect your superpower. You must go through an obstacle course of pain, tears and misunderstandings before you feel as though being different is a superpower, but it is worth it. A lot of people say hers don’t always wear capes. They don’t. Some wear glasses, or have a pocket full of post-it notes with lists of things to do (I do!) My phone is constantly ringing because I have reminders to do absolutely everything; from doing the washing, to creating a PowerPoint. I’ve slowly learnt to adapt, like Darwin’s theory of evolution (and the finches on the Galapagos islands… but that’s probably a story for another time!) and navigating my world. You will to. It just takes time. 

It is capital to address these struggles; ours are sometimes far worse and more unbearable, and people who don’t suffer from them can’t always understand it. But being uniquely different makes us part of this wonderfully weird and diverse army. I like being part of this club now. I appreciate what I have gone through, and I try to not make as many excuses for myself anymore. I’ve learnt to apologise, but I have also learnt from those hurdles as well. I’m now, in fact, unapologetically me. 

As an art teacher, I always think of myself like the Japanese art form of Kintsugi; the term means “golden joinery”, and is the art of repairing broken pottery by mending it with lacquer mixed with gold or silver powder. You can see the cracks, but once they are repaired, they are celebrated. Each chip is a lesson learnt. There is a beauty in imperfection… and who is perfect anyway? 

I want to be a reflective teacher, as well as a reflective, diverse and eccentric individual. I’ve made my peace with being different, and so should you. I haven’t quite mastered the perpetual anxiety yet, but it’s a journey. We always ask our pupils to try their best and I am doing the same.  Being neurodivergent is a journey, just like life. Be kind to yourself. Breathe, and don’t forget to communicate your needs. You never know who might be listening. 

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Don’t Look Back in ELT or LGBTQ* Lament

Peter Fullagar portrait

Written by Peter Fullagar

Self-employed ELT & DEI editor, writer and consultant. Creating Principled, Just & Fresh content.

I imagine for some of you reading this, you may have no idea what ELT is. Or EFL, ESP, EAL, EAP, ESL, ESOL … the acronyms are endless. I prefer to use ELT (English Language Teaching) to describe what I’ve been teaching and creating materials for over the last twenty years. For the other acronyms, I’ll put a small glossary at the end. 

Yes, ELT has enabled many of us in the profession to travel the world and see different countries and cultures – usually on a minuscule pay packet, too. However, I’d like to see ELT on a par with ‘regular’ teaching and materials so that we can benefit from all our experiences and expertise together. 

Like mainstream education, the ELT industry is working hard to become more inclusive and representative in its materials, not to mention its teams within publishing and teaching. Although I’m mainly focusing on materials here, I feel it’s worth mentioning that native speakerism is, unfortunately, still prevalent in the industry. Advertisements which specify for native English speakers are discriminating against the teachers who have gone through the process of learning and mastering another language. Invaluable experience, if you ask me. For an interesting (and successful) story, see Rachel Tsateri’s blog post on native speakerism and her personal experience.

Take an ELT coursebook published in the last twenty years and look through it, if you can. See how we represented people to learners of English. White, heteronormative, ‘Western’ (UK & US), non-disabled, middle class, neurotypical, stereotypically gendered and aged, slim … I could go on. One particular activities book, published in 2001, looks at ‘controversial’ issues, with ‘Gays and jobs’ being one unit. I discuss this in a blog post – Queerience: I am neither a taboo nor an issue. OK, so it’s twenty years old, but did we really think that was acceptable even then? 

As a gay (queer) cis man, I’m determined to make a difference to help represent the LGBTQ* community in ELT materials. Out of the protected characteristics, it will probably be the last one to be addressed in ELT. Some of the biggest ELT markets are also those that criminalise LGBTQ*. According to the Human Dignity Trust, 71 jurisdictions criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity. Almost half of these are in the Commonwealth. Therefore, one of the biggest issues for me is how can we represent marginalised communities in countries where the very essence of the identity is forbidden? How do we reach those people in those countries who identify as part of the forbidden community? If people don’t see themselves represented, then they may believe that their very being is wrong. That’s what growing up in Section 28 did for me.

Things are changing for the LGBTQ* community in ELT. The commitment by publishers to incorporate DEI initiatives in their daily working life is encouraging. I worked on in-house guidelines for a major ELT publisher. Freelancers like me are producing their own inclusive materials. But there is still a long way to go. Do publishers go fully inclusive with an LGBTQ* family and risk losing a large portion of their income? Or does a publisher go fully inclusive with an LGBTQ* family and lead the way in representing the reality of the world? I know which one I’d prefer. 

I said I’d help with a little glossary:

EFL – English as a foreign language (TEFL = teaching …)

ESP – English for specific purposes

EAL – English as an additional language

EAP – English for academic purposes

ESL – English as a second language 

ESOL – English for speakers of other languages 

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