Attainment, Wellbeing and Recruitment

Miriam Hussain portrait

Written by Miriam Hussain

Miriam Hussain is a Director and Teacher of English within a Trust in the West Midlands. She has held a range of roles within education such as: Assistant Headteacher and Chair of Governors. She is also a Curriculum Associate and Ambassador for Teach First. Miriam is a Regional Lead for Litdrive, a charity and Subject Association for English teachers. She is also studying a Masters at the University of Oxford. Her twitter is @MiriamHussain_

The recent report from Sutton Trust (linked below) on the 19th of October 2023 stated that the attainment gap between disadvantage pupils and their peers had widened. This was massively concerning not only to me but a number of other school leaders across the country. The gap is now at its highest level since 2011, removing any progress made in the last decade. A gut-wrenching statistic. There are a lot of reasons for this, you only need to log on to Twitter (X) and see the quote tweets and replies to see people responding and citing the following: the government, economic and political inequality, social care and poverty.  When I read the report however the first thing that cropped up into mind was recruitment. Having spent my career in working in schools in severe low socioeconomic deprivation but also disadvantage it made me think about the immense challenges for our young people today. The long list of barriers to social mobility for thousands of students alongside how would the best teachers be attracted to schools in these pressure cooker environments.

The Guardian in 2023 stated that almost a third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have since left the profession. This coupled with the growing attainment gap is a disaster. The article (linked below) went on to state that 13% of teachers in England that qualified in 2019 then resigned within two years resulting in 3000 teachers leaving the profession. They cited being overworked, stressed and not feeling value as the reasons. Ultimately, why work in education if you can get the same amount of money elsewhere or more, for less stress and work. How can we make teaching more attractive so that future talent doesn’t leave or quit. Ultimately, it will be these teachers who close the attainment gap so what do leaders within schools need to do to provide the conditions for teachers to stay;

  1. A wellbeing policy. Kat Howard in her blog (linked below) on Workload Perception states that wellbeing policies should be an explicit obligation to recognise the importance of taking care of staff. It is not a pizza party or copious amounts of high sugar foods on an evening where staff are expected to work late but instead a series of initiatives which support staff and elevate pressures throughout the year such as; giving time back to staff in the form of PPA at home, Golden tickets for staff where they can have a day for themselves via a raffle or specific initiatives through the year eg parents evenings, inviting people into meetings that only need to be there rather than everyone, having an email embargo of when emails can and can’t be sent. These are all important and need to be considered. Alongside, this its also having transparent conversations to support members of staff with flexible working with an ever-changing work force in addition to growing childcare commitments. These different viewpoints of work are critical. What I really enjoyed about Kat’s blog is that first and foremost having a wellbeing policy is ensuring that wellbeing is a reoccurring agenda item rather than a tick box activity. It forces the dialogue and critical conversations to change the face of education. It is providing policy led support for all stakeholders in education. 
  2. Improve retention of staff via CPD. Leaders of schools need to be intentional with the CPD offer within their school or trust. How is the Professional Development meeting staff needs but more importantly developing them? What NPQs are staff being offered alongside leadership pathways within the trust or school? What does the next set of Middle or Senior Leadership look and feel like? Ultimately what is the offer you are giving to have the very best teachers working with your schools and trust to address the attainment gap?
  3. Schools have to offer a safe environment with a clear behaviour policy. If we want high calibre staff to teach in deprived areas leaders need to ensure that their staff are safe, SLT are visible and clear routines are being implemented. It is critical to ensure no learning time is lost as well as providing the right conditions within classrooms to address educational disadvantage. From my own experience an effective behaviour policy is the bedrock of any school. Students within these communities need consistent practices more than anything else. Clear procedures, habits and processes supports staff moral massively. The behaviour policy needs to be established and revisited daily.
  4. A good example of getting it right with a plethora of examples and research is of course Joe Kirby’s blog (linked below); Hornets, Slugs, Bees and Butterflies: not to do lists and the workload relief revolution. Critically it asks and answers how school leaders can support teachers and staff within education. There are many layers within the blog that I could delve into but what stood out to me was the Hornet section – High Effort, Low – impact initiatives within schools. Several Trusts implement these strategies on a daily basis, Pupil Progress meetings, Pointless Paperwork, Seating plans with data. They take a lot of time and within those high-pressure environments very little is done with that information afterwards it’s merely meeting a deadline. In the reality of school life, they are ineffective and unproductive. We then have slugs, copying out learning objectives, flight paths and big ideas with no detail. Instead, school cultures should be focused on the high impact strategies some of them described in the Kirby’s blog as; quizzes, booklets and sharing resources. Just because something has always been done does not mean that is how it always needs to me. With the recruitment crisis we are in we need to be thinking how we make schools flourishing institutions with systems that allow staff to do so. 

I do believe these are within our control as leaders we need to be able to provide the right conditions and systems for our teachers, staff and individuals. Kat ends her blog with stating that in order to ‘improve conditions for all staff if time is taken’. Time being used to listen to what each stakeholder has to say and then making the necessary changes to have a positive and purposeful impact. Conversations should be seen as the framework that drives not only attainment, wellbeing and recruitment forward but all facets of school procedures. As Joe Kirby put it, less time on the Slugs and Hornets and more time on the Butterflies. Let’s stop wasting time in education.


Hornets, Slugs, Bees and Butterflies: not-to-do lists and the workload relief revolution | Joe Kirby ( 

Sutton Trust comment on Key Stage 4 performance data – Sutton Trust 

Workload | Perception – Kat Howard ( 

Environment and Identity: A Fragile Balance

Rachida Dahman portrait

Written by Rachida Dahman

Rachida Dahman is an international educator, a language and literature teacher, and an educational innovator. She started her career in Germany as a teacher trainer advocating the importance of relationships above academics. She then moved to Luxembourg where she teaches German language and literature classes to middle and high school students. She is an award-winning poet, co-author of the best-selling book, ATLAS DER ENTSCHEIDER Entscheiden wie die Profis- Dynamik, Komplexität und Stress meistern.

In a complex world with complex problems, young people are struggling to uncover their identities. Social media and social constructs simplify thinking into binary perspectives that are limiting their capacities to grow and develop an understanding of themselves and the world. Unfortunately, some school curricula and environments may be contributing to this growing problem that directly impacts student wellbeing.

So much of students’ worlds seem to fall into a good/bad, right/wrong, preconstructed view of what they should think, believe, feel, and who they should or should not be. In this binary construct, students are not able to explore their own perceptions, opinions, or understandings because they have not had the freedom to develop the ability to observe, ask questions, discuss, and learn about differing perspectives in a constructive way. Schools should strive to create an environment that welcomes and encourages students to share, explore, and grow. In order for them to feel safe to do so, the atmosphere must not be argumentative. Rather, it must be one that approaches differences from a lens of love and learning.

It may seem easier to avoid discussing controversial topics in order to steer away from conflict and difficulty that stir emotions. However, when we participate in this avoidance, we miss out on an opportunity to teach students how to explore their feelings, have rigorous, meaningful conversations, and learn from those with differing viewpoints in a positive way. By modeling an avoidance behavior, we are inadvertently supporting this binary way of thinking that leads to a hindrance in student growth. In order to assist in students’ development, schools can create an environment where people are able to discuss controversial subjects in a respectful way that comes from a place of learning, understanding, and growing rather than judgment.

Schools should be a safe place for contemplation, evaluation, and learning and not one that prescribes what students should think and how they fit into a pre-described way of being. This freedom, or lack thereof, has a direct impact on student wellbeing. Educators should be inviting students each morning to feel strong and capable, supporting them in framing their own personalities and identities. In order to do that, they must feel safe sharing who they are in an environment designed to listen and learn without fear of others jumping into a defensive or attack mode. A safe space environment is cyclical in nature. In order for students to feel heard without judgment they must also learn to listen without judgment. One cannot occur without the other.

Students must learn to find value in the opinions, thoughts, and beliefs of others. Educators can assist in this learning by teaching students that there are 101 perspectives on the same problem. Rather than always presenting a definitive answer, issues can be explored from various angles. In addition, we must teach and model the use of kind words that are full of love rather than aggression, and that strive to unite rather than divide. As you enter your schools every day, ask yourselves these questions:

  1. Am I encouraging differing viewpoints and creating a safe space for them to be shared?
  2. Am I modeling a behavior of openness for judgment-free conversations?
  3. Am I demonstrating kind, accepting language?
  4. How can I help students to avoid defensive or aggressive language and responses?

The formation of identity and wellbeing is fragile. Schools have a responsibility to create environments that are conducive to open discussions, free from aggression, and safe for honest and authentic conversations geared toward learning, understanding, and growth. It is through this climate of successful cooperation and mutual support that we can counteract the negative impacts of binary thinking and help students create healthy identities.


A-Z Mental Health in Education

Nicola Harvey portrait

Written by Nicola Harvey

Nicola Harvey is the founder of Harvey Heals Wellbeing Consultancy. She is a trauma-informed Senior Education & Wellbeing Consultant, Clinical Reflective Practice Supervisor, Trainer & Facilitator, and Published Author. Nicola has worked in a range of settings, supporting educators, young people, parents and professionals, and is passionate about diversity and inclusive practice. To find out more about Nicola and her organisation, go to:

After a well-deserved summer break, students and educators have returned to the classroom. And as we settle back into school routines, there continues to be a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis, social disparities, lockdowns, academic performance, and many other factors, continue to take a strain on the wellbeing of students and staff.

According to the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Report, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50%, and happiness continues to decline. Now, five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem. However, despite the statistics, it is becoming harder to access support for children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

In addition, Education Support’s 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index, states 78% of all staff surveyed experienced mental health symptoms due to their work in education. Often related to stress, depression and anxiety, this contributes to the decline in school staff wellbeing.

However, when mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of a whole school ethos, it can help members of the school community feel valued, psychologically safe, and supported in their surroundings. This is why easily accessible tools and resources promoting positive mental health and wellbeing, need to be available.

To help improve mental health and wellbeing in education, I was invited to produce the content for the A-Z of Mental Health poster on behalf of Optimus Education.

With an inclusive approach, the A to Z of activities outline practical and supportive self-regulation tools for children, young people and adults. I have broken each activity down into small, manageable chunks, tips and advice, to help students and educators feel less overwhelmed, and more equipped to cope with the ups and downs school life. With a mindfulness-based focus, the activities on the poster include:

  • asking for help
  • developing healthy habits
  • improving mood
  • increasing self-esteem.

I am delighted with the response, which has been well received by schools, parents, therapists, and a range of professionals across the UK and abroad. 

The A-Z of Mental Health poster can be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • A calming visual for an anxious student. Ask the student to choose an activity on the poster to help them self-regulate and gradually feel calm.
  • During PSHE, as a whole class starter activity. Each week, progress through one or two activities (letters of the alphabet) for the lesson.
  • In staff meetings or INSETs – choosing an activity from the poster for educators to do as an icebreaker at the beginning of the meeting or to close the session.
  • As a visual guide, prompting students to create their own personalised A-Z posters with helpful activities to support their wellbeing.

Most importantly, as we settle back into school routines after the summer break, the A-Z of Mental Health poster encourages anyone experiencing a range of emotions, to take a break and use the practical mindfulness-based tools to support their wellbeing. 

To download your free copy of the poster, click here.

The impact of COVID pandemic on the mental health of school staff

Amy Sayer portrait

Written by Amy Sayer

Amy Sayer is an associate, consultant, mental health trainer and content writer. She is a Leading Diversity advisor for the Chartered College of Teaching. She is the author of the book ‘Supporting staff mental health in your school’.

I work with many teachers and school leaders today from a range of settings across the country, and I am often reminded of the fact that they have had such little time to talk about and process any tricky feelings they experienced during the pandemic. It’s almost the elephant in the room. 

The emotional impact of the pandemic for teachers was huge. They were having to quickly navigate  setting up online classrooms, complete risk assessments to enter the building if they were classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’, support key-worker children, alongside trying to manage the general fear and uncertainty around a fatal airborne virus. Many were juggling caring for loved ones and making sure they could provide them with enough practical resources and emotional support whilst also carrying the emotional load of reassuring the children they were working with. Not having access to the usual self-care routines and social support due to the lockdown restrictions meant that there was no respite and recovery time in the way that staff would have needed to support their mental health.

Adapting to teaching ‘live’ lessons from their homes, reassuring worried exam classes about their grades, navigating moving between ‘bubbles’ to teach in a number of different classrooms across huge school sites etc. It all cumulatively increased the emotional load that teachers were expected to carry. 

The feelings of powerlessness and fear caused by the pandemic may have ‘triggered’ really painful and tricky feelings linked to previous traumas in teacher’s lives which may not have been processed at the time. Many school staff found themselves feeling scared, unmanageably anxious, and unable to cope with the demands of school life in the way they had been able to prior to the pandemic. They may have felt ashamed of their feelings and alone because things were going back to ‘normal’ and outwardly they had to spend their emotional capacity reassuring all their anxious and worries students and their families. 

Schools were one of the biggest institutions in society to be the victims of the ‘return-to-normal’ narrative, but the day-to-day reality was far removed from this. Protective masks were removed, the existence of the ongoing threat of COVID was normalised, and protective ‘bubbles’ were removed in an attempt to carry on ‘business as usual’. However, for many school staff, feelings were suppressed in order to function and get back to the jobs they loved. That may have been necessary at the time, but it does not work in the long-term. Many school staff today are finding themselves struggling with anxiety and need support.

Schools need to invest time and money into providing training for schools to ensure that all leaders are aware of how they need to talk to staff who are struggling with their mental health. They need to create a culture where asking for support is not a source of shame or embarrassment, but a strength. They need to look after their staff and give them the same time and support they will have given to others. Staff mental health support systems and services must be put in place to help staff who may be struggling to process the events of the pandemic. Those feelings are completely valid, and they may not be quick or easy to process. 

Staff may have different types of support in their lives, but it is important not to assume or take for granted the support they may or may not have. People may feel too ashamed or vulnerable to talk to their partners or family about how they are feeling, and an appropriate and well-considered conversation from a caring colleague may be the first time they have felt able to talk about how things really are for them. A range of both in-school and external support options needs to be part of a staff mental health policy which is discussed openly so it can be accessed when required. Schools and MATs need to carefully consider how they can invest in telephone or in-person counselling services for staff so they will not have to wait for a number of months accessing NHS services. They need to understand the signs and behaviours of staff who may be struggling with their mental health so that they can pro-actively have supportive and caring conversations. The power of a safe space to be heard and validated cannot be underestimated and it is the least school staff deserve considering how much of an emotional load they have had to carry throughout the pandemic. 

Getting to the Heart of Inclusion and Belonging

Jennifer Johnson portrait

Written by Jennifer Johnson

As a parent, a former educator, an entrepreneur and a passionate change-maker, Jennifer is on a mission to empower young people to be their best selves to create a better world. She has an M.A. in Education in Curriculum, Teaching and Organisational Learning.

Common sense tells us that inclusion initiatives cannot thrive in environments where people are disconnected, have little sense of belonging and are struggling with their well-being. Today, principals are tasked with creating healthy and supportive environments where all stakeholders including teachers, students, staff, families can thrive – all at a time when we are still recovering from the erosion of the social fabric in our schools and communities. 

The reality we are all accepting is we are not going back to “normal” anytime soon. Further, the complex issues in our systems cannot be remedied with quick fixes; and, on a school level, principals are not able to tackle such formidable issues using traditional approaches alone. The struggles of the past two years have led to notable increases in everything from mental health issues to bullying and hate crimes – a spectrum of symptoms with seemingly related root causes. These indications are no doubt a result of the unprecedented levels of uncertainty, prolonged interruptions to interpersonal interaction, diminished opportunities for extra-curricular activities, an absence of routine and ritual, and the subsequent loss of a sense of purpose, meaningful connection, and engagement for young people.

However, one of the gifts of the past two years has been the collective interest in taking a closer look at what is at the heart of inclusion and belonging. In order to provide schools with foundational support for critical conversations around inclusion, we need to examine the subtle interplay between well-being and identity, and how they contribute to feeling a sense of inclusion and belonging.  Since launching Captains & Poets  in schools in 2019 we have seen time and again that they are inextricably intertwined. 

Dr. Helen Street, honorary associate professor in the graduate school of education at The University of Western Australia and chair of Positive Schools has introduced the concept of Contextual Wellbeing: “a state of health, a happiness and positive engagement in learning that arises from membership of an equitable, inclusive and cohesive school environment. (2016) In her book Contextual Wellbeing – Creating Positive Schools from the Inside Out, she highlights the relationship between the individual and the environment. “Rather than, ‘How can we improve the wellbeing of young people in our schools?’ perhaps we should be asking, ‘How can we improve equity, creativity and cohesion?’” (2018)

The challenge of creating more inclusive schools is we cannot promote inclusion without first addressing the fundamental human need of connection. This includes connection to self, connection to others, and connection to the world around us. We need to acknowledge that everyone has universal needs of physical, mental, and emotional safety that need to be met before we can connect. We also need to recognize where our systems and behaviours are in direct opposition to the very norms we are trying to reinforce. 

Well-being does not happen in a vacuum. It is largely a social experience as well-being and connection have a reciprocal relationship. When we are positively engaged in an environment, we are more likely to have a healthy sense of well-being. Likewise, when we are feeling supported around our well-being, we are more likely to engage in the world and explore who we are in positive ways. One supports and reinforces the other. 

When we put a well-being lens on current school priorities around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), we can begin to understand the challenges we face in making progress on our objectives. The changes we are trying to make in schools to support a more inclusive environment are directly impacted by the collective state of well-being and vice versa. Both students and educators are struggling with mental health issues in unprecedented ways and most principals will tell you that resilience and well-being are at an all-time low.  We need to provide a safe space to explore these needs first. Our individual needs being met are then, in turn, closely mirrored in our collective sense of well-being. Street goes further to stress the importance of context when looking at well-being. Sometimes well-being is about expressing negative emotions and identifying what is not working for us. More than ever, we need to create conditions for this to happen in schools. 

A similar interplay is seen in the development of a healthy sense of identity. Identity is a result of the complex and ongoing dynamic between what is inside of us yearning to be expressed, what opportunities and/or barriers are present in our environment, how we present ourselves in the world, and how the world responds to us. At any given point in our lives, we are both solo agents and co-creators in every social interaction. We can see this demonstrated in how we each express who we are in different contexts (work, home, the community, etc.) based on the roles we play, our own needs, motivations and aspirations, the expectations of us, the environment and the underlying needs and dynamics of the group. 

It becomes increasingly clear that the development of identity and well-being are not entirely separate constructs.  Case in point, the rise of trauma-informed approaches illuminates the interplay between lived experience, our sense of identity in the world, our general well-being, and our ability to express ourselves fully and healthily in different social contexts. It follows that inclusion initiatives should not be mutually exclusive from those of well-being. Otherwise, we are presenting schools with the insurmountable challenge of tackling complex issues through a compartmentalized lens. What is needed more than ever is an integrated approach; and the fact is we are all wired for it.

According to Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, the mind is both embodied and relational. It includes what happens in the whole-body experience as well as how we interact with people and more broadly our world. Siegel’s research in interpersonal biology demonstrates that well-being comes from a state of ‘integration’ whereby we create harmony of our parts within us and extend this relationally by respecting this process in others. With this mindful lens, we can inquire into and honour what is going on inside of us while extending the same to others. By achieving harmony within first we are better able to have empathy for others. We can be attuned to differences in perspective and experience and at the same time ‘link’ to them with compassion.  The mind enables us, at once, to hold space for ourselves and others. Well-being can then be described as an integrated self or way of being in the world. This integration of embodied and relational aspects of our experiences then leads to the ability to form deeper relationships that create space for vulnerability, and inspire connection, caring and the desire to help others. Is this not the formula for inclusion?

Looking through this integrated lens, we can begin to understand why taking a purely educational approach to critical DEI conversations is limited. We engage advocacy groups to deliver workshops and keynotes to illuminate the lived experiences of others and inspire us to open our minds to create greater understanding. We resonate with their stories, and we leave inspired only for our institutions to go back to business as usual on Monday. What we aren’t tapping into is the sense of connection that is surfaced in those moments. Without the ability to sustain this connection, our efforts wane and our impact erodes. Until the next year when the cycle repeats.

DEI initiatives aren’t just a top-down initiative and certainly should not be a box-ticking exercise, especially with the limited resources and energy on hand right now. Perhaps what we have been missing all along is that the desire for connection is a free and abundant resource at our disposal. We need to make a shift from informational approaches to inclusion to transformational ones that anchor in our hearts and weave into how we engage each day. Building and then sustaining this bridge between self and others is where we fail. The reality is inclusiveness begins on an individual level. As a result, it is essential we find ways to address and engage those in the room, their own perceived sense of identity and their readiness to connect.  

True connection begins from a place of moment-to-moment awareness where we hone and develop who we are in the world, while simultaneously transforming the relationships around us. We can all reap the benefits of living more authentically and cultivating greater connection by leveraging a deeper, broader sense of self in everything we do. At the heart of inclusion initiatives is fostering connection to self while honouring a sense of connection across our differences. The first step we need to take is toward ourselves. 

The emergence of self-awareness in human development is both a curse and a gift. It yields the curse of self-consciousness, which inhibits us from being who we are in the moment. But it also gives the gift of self-leadership, which empowers us to make choices about who we want to be in the moment and how we want to show up in the world. Self-awareness enables us to live more fully into our potential – and to support others in doing the same. We all remember those first moments in our young life when we suddenly became self-conscious. We received a subtle or not so subtle cue from our environment that there were aspects of ourselves that weren’t valued or didn’t belong. In that moment, we became fragmented. Our well-being AND our identity were directly impacted. Take a minute to reflect on those defining moments for yourself and who you would be if you had instead received the message that all parts of you matter and are worthy of being seen. How did those defining moments impact who you became in that situation and your happiness over the long-term?

We spend our lives on a journey back to wholeness to reclaim ourselves. We yearn for environments that allow us to find comfort in our own skin and encourage us to be our best, fullest selves. In education, we talk about this in terms of enabling students to reach their full potential, but this is often diminished to academic and strengths-based approaches. What gets missed is the whole child – who we are in all our complexity – as well as how our surrounding social contexts impact us on an individual level. Street reminds us in her book that: 

’Flourishing’ is an interplay between our best individual selves and our best environment. This means happiness and success are far more than individual pursuits, or even individual responsibilities. Rather, lasting happiness develops when we form healthy connections in a social context that supports and nurtures us to become the best we can be.

When young people are given opportunities to explore and express who they are and to pursue what is important to them in a safe environment, it results in a healthy sense of identity AND well-being. As educators, we need to be mindful of our responses to students and what messages we are sending about who they are, how much they matter, and what is valued or not valued in them. There are many ways in which we tell students not to bring their full selves. We ask them to get along and when they don’t fit in or retreat from the group we move on with the business of the day. We ask them to conform to rules that have been established presumably to bring cohesion and harmony and when they step outside these lines, we exclude them. Our systems and behaviours are often contradictory to the very inclusive norms we are trying to reinforce. Being in an environment we perceive as safe and supportive of our basic human needs gives us permission to develop an authentic sense of identity. This is key to feeling a sense of connection and belonging.

Inclusion is not an end game and, as a result, the risk of fatigue from existing approaches is high. Instead, it is an ongoing process of intra and inter-personal discovery and dialogue that continues to take us deeper into ourselves, supporting and enabling social change through connection and seeing the we alongside the me. If the human experience is fundamentally about coming back to self again and again, then the journey to self is lifelong. At the core of this journey is self-awareness and the ability to ongoingly connect with the world in new and meaningful ways that have a positive impact on everyone. 

So how do we make an integrated approach more accessible in the day-to-day interactions of schools? Educators need foundational strategies to support their own self-awareness in order to support young people in connecting with their own inner experience of identity and well-being. If self-awareness is the path to inclusion, we need to be more present to our role in critical conversations at hand, how the curriculum is delivered, the way we address incidents in the schoolyard, and how we engage with all school stakeholders. And we need to empower the same embodied and relational process with students. Perhaps the greatest opportunity at hand is to find ways to create transformation in our schools starting with kids themselves.

Captains & Poets was created to give students a sense of agency in this process of positively contributing to the social context around them. The premise of the program is that there is a unique Captain and Poet in each of us who, in partnership, enable us to be our best, most authentic selves – and to embrace others in the same spirit. While a simple concept, these archetypes give us deep and ready access to key aspects of who we are and the state we are in. Introducing the Captain and the Poet also provides a neutral language that moves beyond gender and race to the human experience of struggling and striving, creating and thriving to be who we are meant to be. 

When we expand our ability to view ourselves, we are better able to see the full human expression in others. This gets us closer to an ‘integrated way of being’ in the world. The message we need to send to educators and students alike is they are whole, resourceful beings who have everything they need inside of them to thrive and that they help create inclusive environments by tuning into their own responses and needs with compassion and curiosity. When we are better able to understand ourselves, we are better able to relate deeply with others. 

The phrase we use to help young people embrace and celebrate their uniqueness is, “We are all the same because we are all different.” We all have needs. We all want to be seen, to connect, and to matter. We all have a Captain and Poet inside of us ready to help us be fully expressed in the world. Today, we need Captains and Poets everywhere. Perhaps now is a critical time in education to call upon our collective Poets to hold space for ourselves and others on this journey, and to inspire our collective Captains to create safe spaces that empower us all.

The Time is Now

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The time is now.

Darkness, Light and Legacy

Serdar Ferit portrait

Written by Serdar Ferit

Filmmaker, digital experience designer, and teacher who has won numerous awards and worked in over 20 countries on film, new media and education projects. Co-CEO of Lyfta.


I founded Lyfta with my amazing wife, Paulina, 7 years ago, and since then we have built the most phenomenal team. Our journey started in 2004, with a story that inspired us, and over the years it has developed into our life’s work. Like many of the people we work with in education, we want our legacy to be one of big, positive and lasting change.

For those who don’t know, Lyfta is a learning space for children where they can access powerful, real-life stories through short documentary films and explorable immersive environments. We learn through stories and Lyfta is designed to teach children about the incredible and varied web of people and communities across the globe.

Legacy is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. Just as I thought Lyfta was finally finding its feet, with a complete team and a sense of a gear change on the horizon – a less intense one for me, I hoped! – I found out that I have colorectal cancer. This was in early October. The doctors initially said it was at an early stage and a slow grower, but after a couple of biopsies and numerous scans, in mid November, I found out that it has spread to my liver; stage 4. A bit of a curveball at 42.

The most difficult thing I have done in my life is telling our 8 year old son that I have cancer. Not being able to reassure him, with authenticity, that everything will be OK, triggered a cocktail of emotions I’ve not experienced before, and wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I’m not telling you this so you can feel sorry for me. I’m determined to beat this thing. I know that the key to this will be my frame of mind. I am a relentlessly positive person, but the last few months have been challenging in that regard. 

Darkness and Light

I know I’m not the only one who has had a difficult period. Most of us have had a very challenging last few years. As a leader, part of my duty is to see the light, and to guide my team towards it. Over the last couple of years, light has not always been in abundance. At times, for many of us, things have been rather gloomy. But I think we all know that there is always light, no matter how dark it seems. This is something I’ve had to remind myself recently. And look for.

I am constantly nourished through the meetings I have with other people and the authentic human stories that we have curated and collected on Lyfta over the years. Stories move me. They have been invaluable in giving me different perspectives, in helping me see outside of my own world. Hearing about other people – what they achieve, who they love, the hardships they face and overcome – these stories sustain and change us. 

Grown ups need stories too: a series of events to spread hope and inspiration. The amazing poet and storyteller Ben Okri said, ‘Stories can conquer fear and make the heart bigger.’ I think we need this at the moment – I certainly do. In an effort to inject some light and positivity into my life, and the lives of others, over the next year, I will be hosting a series of short online events where I will share short and powerful documentary stories that personify hope and resilience. 

These online sessions will be for anyone who needs a lift or a bit of inspiration. A space where you will be able to put your worries to one side and be taken on a short journey. We will immerse ourselves into real human stories of resilience and hope, followed by a reflection exercise which will give you a space to express your thoughts if you wish to.

The Format

The sessions will be an hour long and there will be six over the coming year. We will explore two very different stories in each session, followed by a short reflection exercise, and, over the series, we will travel to at least 10 different countries. The stories are incredible and I am honoured and excited to share them with a wider audience.

There will be an opportunity to donate too, which will go towards subsidising Lyfta for all schools and provide a bursary fund for schools in financial difficulty, or with pupils in need or crisis.

Lighting the Way: Please Join Me

If you are interested in joining me for this journey, for one, some or all of the sessions, please register on the Eventbrite link. You could also get tickets for loved ones, colleagues, or even a whole team! The strength of the sessions will be the stories that we see and hear on screen, but it will be your stories too, and how we find and weave meaning in our lives – it will be that which will make these gatherings so powerful. 

I look forward to meeting you around the virtual fireside, and finding the light to inspire us through 2023. I hope you can join me. 

Being the teacher that I never had...

Craig Weir portrait

Written by Craig Weir

LGBTQ+ Educator, Consultant and Safeguarding Lead

People often ask why I became a teacher. The answer – to be the teacher that I never had. 

My own secondary school experience was tough. I lived in a small town off the west coast of Scotland where social status was defined mostly by what football team you supported: Rangers or Celtic. My lack of interest in either team made me an outcast to the boys in P.E, leading to me being picked last for all sports and seen as less alpha. It was obvious that the boys quickly assumed that I was strange because I didn’t see football as the most important thing at that point. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested or good at sports; the assumption was that I was different because I couldn’t participate in the locker room “banter”. 

This was the start of the multiple years of being bullied for being a “fag”, “gay boy”, “poof” or “bender”. These words were hammered into me daily from what felt like many and most of the boys. Instead of reporting this, I decided to hide my upset for the fear of looking weak and upsetting my family. It was, in fact, my cousin who spoke up when they witnessed the unkindness of their own friends towards me. When my mother finally asked the school to step in and help, they really could not and did not do much. The school were confined by the section 28 legislation that banned the promotion of homosexuality; I still struggle with this now. Unfortunately, the school did not act with speed or strength, which led me to absorb similar abuse throughout most of my school years. In all honesty, I think I’d struggle to write how I really felt at this time. In fact, this is a time that I have lost as it feels better to have “forgotten” what really happened. What I do know is it does – and did – get better. 

On leaving school, I trained in musical theatre at a very famous drama school in central London. The fact that I was moving hundreds of miles away from the pain was comforting. I was a real-life Billy Elliot and finally recognised myself and sexuality in others around me. This eventually led to me working in theatre, television and film with some of the biggest names in the industry. I never thought I was going back to secondary school… ever.

Like others, I found the pressures of work got to me and my love for an industry was being destroyed by the conditions I worked under. I was constantly showing poor health and was “blue lit” to hospital after a suspected brain aneurysm which was in fact stress. I hated my job, the hours, and the fact it was destroying one of my biggest loves – the theatre. I also felt too proud to admit that this wasn’t for me. I was worried that I had failed. Again, I was worried that I would upset others and seem weak.

With the support from my partner and my family. I quit my toxic career and retrained as an English teacher. Why? This went back to the hope that I could support someone in a way that was never available to me.

I now work at a comprehensive school in South London. The school has a large focus on sports and it could be said it’s pretty alpha in many ways: competition is very important.

As an English teacher, I went back into the closet and kept my private life private. Some of my colleagues were aware and encouraged me to be open publicly within the school. For some reason, I just could not do it and I didn’t know why.

I now want you to imagine a Wednesday afternoon. I was teaching Romeo and Juliet and Mercutio has just started the “Young Hearts Run Free” scene in Baz Luhrmann’s movie version. My class was overrunning; another class were waiting at the door ready to come in. It was a busy corridor. As I released my class, the popular girl in year 8 was at the door – strange because I did not teach her. This is the girl that can command the attention of her peers in a breath. I’m sure you know the type. Anyway, she knocks on the door asked loudly: 

“Sir, are you gay?” 

In all honesty, I was shocked by my reaction and shocked by her direct question. She repeated:

“I said sir, are you gay…?

My reply… “no”. 

Why did I reply with this?

I then had to teach my next class with a racing heart, struggling to catch my breath, sweat pouring down my face and barely able to think clearly. I was not prepared for the question about my sexuality. I was not prepared to be transported back into the boy who stood in school feeling terrified of the question that I didn’t know the answer to. 

After this experience, I thought for a long time about why I had replied “no”. I was mortified and hurt at my response. Why did I go back “into the closet” after 15 happy years out of it?

My colleagues have been brilliant; my leadership have been even better. They understood the pain and allowed me to speak. They allowed me a safe space to decide what I wanted to do.

This year, I decided to tackle this trauma myself. I was going to try to be more forthright. This started with a quick chat about equality with my year 8 class. When they asked me about my wife, I quickly corrected them and said I had a male partner. None of the students had much of a reaction but, for me, the feelings of worry and trauma came flooding back. However, I knew that this time it was on my terms.

I had started to feel empowered and more authentic. I knew that by being in control, my history and identity could be used as a positive rather than negative. So, I and another colleague decided to run the LGBTQ+ club in school. Doing this with another member of staff made me feel safe and supported. The school honoured the decision to have two members of staff on this club as they knew the support we gave one another was important. I could not have done this without her. 

LGBT+ History month came round and, as Heads of Year, we both knew that we’d like to deliver an assembly to our year groups on allyship and the history that came before us. Eventually, this turned into a whole school assembly that was delivered to every year group across the week. Honestly, I was terrified. I was ‘outing’ myself to every student and staff member in the school. Starting with the Equality Act, I informed the students that I was delivering this assembly as a gay man. I could feel myself becoming emotional and I’m sure this was obvious to the students too. I was numb and couldn’t speak anymore but the band-aid was ripped off. My colleague was my hero in this moment: in all 5 assemblies she stepped in and swiftly carried on until I could compose myself to continue. 

Every assembly got tougher, despite me thinking they’d get easier. I started to see myself as vulnerable again. As the year groups got older, their reactions became louder – particularly the boys, who presented with a mixture of shock, laughter and smiles. This made me feel exposed but my hope was that my pain would be far less than the gain for the students who needed to hear this. 

The assembly was received well. Children I’d never met before were saying hello to me. It was positive. 

Was there a negative? Yes. I remember a teenage boy stirred up a small anti-ally party in one of his lessons immediately after the assembly. The teacher, of course, had my back and had him removed immediately. Nevertheless, I remember this more than I remember the positives.  Recently, I’ve had an experience of another boy miming certain physical acts that he thinks are related to me. Sadly, both obvious negatives here came from boys, boys that are respected and known by their peers. Whilst this could be another trauma trigger… by releasing my pain and worry, I have realised, I’ve gained strength.

Honestly, I have no idea if my experience or honesty has helped anyone at school. What I do know is that I have helped me. Would I have done things differently? Absolutely. However, when we struggle with pain or trauma, I truly believe we can only do our best in that moment. I have amazing friends and colleagues who have supported me in being honest, transparent, and visible. Hopefully, this visibility will help someone else one day.

On Disability #IDPwD2022

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.

“My own heart let me more have pity on; let

Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,


(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

In many ways, I have enjoyed my return to face-to-face consultancy, and to the buzz, warmth and joy of human interaction. However, I have also realised something else: on Zoom, I was not disabled. On Zoom, I could still walk and run, swim and cycle. On Zoom, I did not need my wheelchair, crutches or mobility scooter to move around. On Zoom, nobody would have known I was any different.

In recent months, I have been to restaurants with friends and colleagues, and I have developed an interesting habit. As soon as I am seated, I ask that my scooter and crutches are taken away out of my view and the view of others. I do the same when I am speaking to an audience too. Somehow, I seem to think that, if my disability is hidden from view, it will no longer exist.

When I first became ill, the talk was all of diagnosis and recovery. Medics were optimistic, and friends and family still asked that I “stay positive”. However, with time, the medics started to lose hope, and friends and family, not knowing what to say, chose, instead, to say nothing. It feels increasingly like my present has become my future, the two intertwined.

Although often relentless and ablaze, my pain is silent: mixing medication and mind muscle, I try to ensure that nobody knows. Similarly, I have managed to mask my encroaching stammer so far, although I know I will start to lose that battle soon. But people see my inability to walk before they see me; and, therefore, try as I might, it cannot be hidden.

This has presented me with a problem. As my disability becomes my body, I cannot be ashamed of one without being ashamed of the other too. Like many who have survived childhood trauma, I have a lot of shame, but I have realised that I cannot be ashamed of my disability. And that, as long as it is a guest in my house, I must welcome and embrace it as myself and, in so doing, love it too.

#DisabilityAwareness #DisabilityPride

‘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: And listen to my podcast, “Jack and Me”, on Apple (, Spotify ( 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. 🏳️‍⚧️