Why taking part in School Diversity Week can help LGBT+ young people struggling with mental health

Dominic Arnall portrait

Written by Dominic Arnall

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

The pandemic has hit us all hard – whether it’s through job losses, being furloughed, losing loved ones, loneliness or our lives simply turning upside down. However, new independent research by Just Like Us has found that young people who are LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans) are struggling significantly more.

 

LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to feel lonely and more than twice as likely to be worrying daily about the state of their mental health.

 

On top of this, one in four (25%) are facing daily tensions in the place they’re living and seven in 10 (68%) said their mental health has worsened during the pandemic, compared to just half (49%) of young people who aren’t LGBT+. 

 

Sadly, Just Like Us’ independent research found what we suspected to be true when the pandemic began – LGBT+ young people are facing far more challenges than their peers and this is having a devastating impact on their mental health. And we found that LGBT+ young people who are also Black, disabled and/or eligible for free school meals face even worse mental health.

 

While we’ve all had a tough time not being able to see our loved ones and socialise like we used to, many LGBT+ young people are having to cope with living with families who may not accept or understand them, while also being cut off from their usual support networks or safe spaces where they won’t be judged for who they are.

 

School, while it may have been virtual for much of the pandemic, can be a fantastic source of support for young people. Sadly, for pupils who are LGBT+, school still often isn’t a place they are able to feel safe, welcome or happy being themselves. 

 

Our research shows that half (48%) of 11 to 18 year olds say they have received little to zero positive messaging at school about being LGBT+ in the last 12 months. One in five (18%) young people say they have received no positive messaging from their school about being LGBT+, which suggests that a significant number of schools are not taking action to meet Ofsted requirements of preventing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

 

It’s a real shame to see that Section 28 is still having such an impact on LGBT+ young people’s experiences of school. As adults, we could be forgiven for thinking that things have moved on – after all, we have far more legislation to protect us these days – but education still has a long way to go in being LGBT+ inclusive. 

 

No child should feel scared to be themselves at school. And pupils in primary schools should know that there’s no shame in having LGBT+ parents or families either. Growing up bisexual, if I’d known and could’ve seen that my school accepted me, my journey would’ve looked very different.

 

We know that teachers and school staff are doing an incredible job in an overwhelmingly challenging environment. That’s why we are doing everything we can at Just Like Us to make taking the first step to LGBT+ inclusion in education as easy and accessible as possible. 

 

This summer is School Diversity Week. We’re asking all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges to please sign up to take part. It’s free, you’ll get a toolkit of teaching resources for all key stages, across the curriculum, and celebrating means your pupils will know they can be safe, happy and accepted at your school. 

 

We’ll be running free online masterclasses that you can stream, there’ll be Rainbow Friday where pupils can dress up as a colour from the Pride Progress flag, and we have many new resources for staff to inspire your celebrations. LGBT+ young people are facing disproportionate mental health challenges and need to know who they are is not something to be ashamed of – please sign up for School Diversity Week and celebrate with us and thousands of schools and colleges taking part 21-25 June. 

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Enough is Enough: Tackling Sexism and Sexual Harassment in Schools

Kate Hollinshead portrait

Written by Kate Hollinshead

Head of Operations, EqualiTeach

The last few weeks have seen an outpouring of grief, fear, concern and anger after the details of the murder of Sarah Everard have emerged. Feelings have run high in the political sphere, on social media and in schools, with more and more women contributing their experiences of sexism, sexual harassment and violence to the wider call for action against these pernicious and pervasive acts. 

In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, the National Education Union have once again called on the government to implement a strategy to tackle sexism in schools, expressing their disappointment at the Department for Education’s action when the NEU’s report into these behaviours was first published in 2017. The report, written in collaboration with UK Feminista, found that almost a quarter of female students at mixed-sex schools had been subjected to unwanted physical touching at school and almost a third of teachers witness sexual harassment in school on at least a weekly basis. The website, Everyone’s Invited, was set up by Soma Sara after her post sharing her experiences of sexual abuse on Instagram caused a huge number of responses from others highlighting similar experiences. In the past few weeks, this website has been inundated with thousands of allegations about sexual harassment at British schools and universities. 

At EqualiTeach, we have seen an increase in calls from teachers who are dealing with these conversations in schools, wondering what to say in response and what resources exist to combat sexism and sexual harassment in their classroom. There have been incidents where girls have been upset and angry and boys have been dismissive of the severity of the situation, suggesting that girls are ‘over-reacting’ or that it’s ‘not all men.’ One school has approached us to share that girls have been expressing their upset at the historic behaviour of some of the boys in their class. In another, a year 6 boy has been internally excluded for making comments about rape. Many of the conversations and incidents here are an extension of those happening on social media or in the press, highlighting that young people are consuming news and need help in dissecting the discussions effectively in a safe and open environment. 

The suggestion that the incidents women are sharing online are overreactions or the dismissal that sexism and sexual harassment isn’t as big an issue as women think comes from a place of privilege; of a life lead without constant fear of abuse in public spaces or of a lack of understanding that incidents that appear ‘small’ or ‘low level’ are often so regular that they build up into a picture of continual harassment for a woman from a very young age. Someone might only witness sexism or sexual harassment of a woman a couple of times in their life, but the same woman may have many experiences of such behaviour, just not within the same line of sight. What is often missing in the response about women ‘overreacting’ is an understanding of how seemingly low-level incidents feed into a societal acceptance of sexist behaviours and sexual harassment, which, left unchecked, can escalate into the levels of violence against women and girls we experience in the UK. According to a 2021 survey from UN Women UK, 97% of women aged between 18 and 24 said that they had been sexually harassed and 80% of all women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.

Such a normalisation of sexism and sexual harassment can disguise the true prevalence of behaviours. Sometimes, experiences may simply go unnoticed by targets as behaviours can be so normalised or the expectation that someone will take a complaint seriously is so low. A colleague of mine has spoken about being inappropriately touched throughout her school life, but only realised that this wasn’t acceptable when she was in her mid-twenties. Speaking about these issues can often educate those experiencing the behaviour that the behaviour isn’t something they should have to tolerate. Those young people in schools who are now speaking up about historic incidents of sexism or sexual harassment perhaps didn’t realise that this was unacceptable behaviour at the time or didn’t see the point in speaking up about it. Either way, these incidents should be dealt with seriously and robustly now. They should be investigated, and education and punitive measures should be administered accordingly. It is important for the school to adopt a robust and consistent approach to challenging sexism and sexual harassment in the same way it would approach challenging any other prejudice or misbehaviour.

Whole school education on sexism and sexual harassment is vital to prevent incidents occurring again. This should be comprehensive and woven not just into the PSHE and citizenship curriculum for each year group, but opportunities should be taken throughout the curriculum; in English, RE, History and beyond to highlight and interrogate stereotypes, sexism and sexual harassment within the taught content. Stand-alone assemblies will not do. Education should focus on what sexism is, how it manifests and what reporting procedures are in place at the school for pupils. It should focus on understanding boundaries between people, consent and how to hold others’ behaviour to account if someone witnesses something unacceptable. It should focus on stamping out sexist jokes or ‘banter’, abolishing name calling and the different expectations between girls and boys with regards to sexual behaviour, and showcasing how to be an ally to women in the fight against these behaviours. 

Being an ally is about listening to women’s experiences. All too often the response to women speaking up about such behaviours is that ‘not all men are like that.’ I understand that many men will want to distance themselves from sexist behaviours and sexual harassment, that in itself is a good thing to want to do. However, this is a defensive response which can prevent people from listening. It dismisses women’s reality. Women are aware that not all men are like that but articulating that does nothing to help address the men that are like that.  It allows the conversation to be focused only on the ‘few monsters’ out there, those who have committed terrible crimes, without highlighting how smaller acts by lots of men can contribute to women’s unsafety. As Jameela Jamil put it in a recent Twitter thread:

“Do all men work to make sure their fellow men do not harm women? Do they interrupt troubling language and behaviour in others? Do they have conversations about women’s safety/consent with their sons? Are all men interested in our safety? You don’t get to exclude yourself from the wrong side unless you’re actively fighting on the right side.”

But this shouldn’t be a blame game. Men are a product of societal norms and values, just as women are. The focus needs to be on re-educating people away from sexism and sexual harassment and reforming schemes of work in schools to begin discussions from an early age. Not doing so does a disservice to men, women, everyone. Instead, we want to create a society where everyone feels safe, valued and able to succeed. 

The following resources may be useful to beginning these conversations with young people:

EqualiTeach Outside the Box Guide for Educators: Promoting Gender Equality and Tackling Sexism and Sexual Harassment in Schools: https://equaliteach.co.uk/for-schools/classroom-resources/outside-the-box/

EqualiTeach Outside the Box Workshops for KS2-5: https://equaliteach.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Outside-the-Box.pdf

UK Feminista How to Take a Whole School Approach to Tackling Sexism in Schools https://ukfeminista.org.uk/resources/wsa/

Further Reading

Department for Education (DfE) (2018) Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges: advice for governing bodies, proprietors, headteachers, principals, senior leadership teams and designated safeguarding leads https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719902/Sexual_violence_and_sexual_harassment_between_children_in_schools_and_colleges.pdf

End Violence Against Women https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/about/data-on-violence-against-women-and-girls/#:~:text=%20Data%20on%20violence%20against%20women%20and%20girls,and%20internal%20child%20trafficking.%20The%20vast…%20More%20

Gender Matters. Toward’s Women’s Equality in Scotland https://gendermatters.engender.org.uk/content/education-training/

Girl Guiding (2013) Girls’ Attitudes Survey https://www.girlguiding.org.uk/globalassets/docs-and-resources/research-and-campaigns/girls-attitudes-survey-2013.pdf

Murray, J (2021) The Guardian. Government still has no strategy for tackling sexism in schools, say teachers. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/mar/20/government-still-has-no-strategy-for-tackling-sexism-in-schools-say-teachers

NEU and UK Feminista (2017) ‘It’s Just Everywhere! Sexism in Schools’ https://neu.org.uk/advice/its-just-everywhere-sexism-schools

UN Women UK and YouGov (2021) Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf

Women and Equalities Committee Report (2016) Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/91.pdf

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It is about time Initial Teacher Training and Education embraced diversity and inclusion

Davinder Dosanjh portrait

Written by Davinder Dosanjh

Executive Director Leicestershire Secondary SCITT

Thirty-five years in education as a teacher, senior leader, Her Majesty’s Inspector, senior lecturer, teacher educator, I had hoped we would have moved much further forward when we talk about Diversity, Equity and inclusion. I am still not seeing Initial Teacher Training and Education embracing the diverse voices and representing BAME. The decision makers and those on the working groups advising the Department for Education, are the same white faces, from the same organisations.

Policies and initiatives such as the Core Content Framework, Early Careers Framework, have missed opportunities to embed diversity. We are still wedded to the Teachers’ Standards. Teacher Standard 3 and Part 2 of the Teachers’ Standards make no strong statements about embedding diversity, equity and inclusion. The Core Content Framework and Early Career Framework opportunities have merely amplified the Teachers’ Standards into ‘Learn that..’ and ‘Learn how to..’ statements. Examples of systemic racism. These frameworks are a minimum entitlement, so they imply diversity is not part of that prerogative.

Those that train teachers are predominantly, white and middle class. I have been involved with teacher training at a university and a SCITT. Whilst working with both organisations I have asked and sought to be on national bodies which represent these sectors. Never managed to get through the red tape and procedures which maintain the institutional racism. I am just as qualified, have the experience and the track record. Still working out what I am doing wrong or to flip it the other way, what are these national organisations doing which perpetuate these barriers? You have got to be voted on, seconded and then your mates vote you in because you have had the time to network with them. Time to re-examine the criteria for national bodies, working parties, time to have a transformation, give others a voice.

If you have been on a national working group, advisory once, you are to be commended, then pass the baton onto someone else. Insist these groups are diverse and heard at a strategic level. 

We need to undertake a more wide-ranging review at the trainee’s journey from pre-application, application, interview, the programme and actual training experience. We need to ask ourselves some critical questions. Then follow the sequence of auditing, action planning, accountability and assessing impact. A starting point are some self-assessment questions below:

Pre-application

Is the marketing diverse and showing a range of positive diverse role-models?

Are we appealing to a diverse range of communities, using a range of networks (Asian radio) not just the traditional career fairs, university, school events?

Application

Who interviews?

Are all interviewers trained beyond safer recruitment, such as Diversity training?

Do we interrogate the data? (those made an offer, rejected, reasons why)

Teacher Educator and Placements

Who are the teacher educators?

Are they diverse?

Can we talent spot and seek out diverse teacher educators?

Are we carefully matching the right teacher educator to the trainee?

How do we deal with any issues of discrimination?

Curriculum

What is the golden thread of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

Where is it? What is it?

Who is delivering/facilitating?

Are the role models diverse?

Do we share the mic and encourage allyship?

Evaluation and Quality Assurance

Are the trainee’s voices being heard?

What questions are we asking about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

Governance

Is the Steering/Partnership Group diverse?

How can we seek out colleagues from our partner schools to be part of the group?

Is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a regular agenda item?

I would hope we have moved forward and that any teaching training provider, whether school or university could not ignore a trainee being called a ‘paki’ by pupils like I was. Despite me raising objections, I was told to get on with it, despite this being a regular occurrence. We have policies and procedures to formally report such incidents which were not in place when I undertook my training. More importantly, great communities such as Diverse Educators and BAMEed Network.

I am proud to say the Leicestershire Secondary SCITT has increased the diversity of its cohort from 29% in 2015 to 49% in 2020.

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Education to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Natasha Eeles portrait

Written by Natasha Eeles

Natasha is the Founder of Bold Voices. She is a passionate advocate for the rights of women and marginalised genders.

The world young people are growing up in today is changing rapidly, bringing with it a need to think more broadly about the education young people require. In the past week the UK has had its eyes opened to the urgent need to challenge the seemingly harmless attitudes towards women and girls that contribute to a culture within which gender based violence is normalised and even accepted, a culture that unfortunately schools are not exempt from.

On Wednesday 3rd March Sarah Everad went missing while walking home in Clapham, south London. She had taken a well-lit, public route, she had called her boyfriend to let him know when she’d be home, she was wearing bright clothes and trainers. She followed all the unspoken ‘rules’ that women and girls follow to keep themselves safe, but it wasn’t enough. Since that day, Sarah’s kidnap and murder has sparked an outpouring of grief and exhaustion from women and marginalised genders across the country who are tired of being harassed, objectified and assaulted with little to no accountability for the perpetrators. The media coverage of Sarah Everad’s case coincided with the release of a UN Women UK report finding that 97% of young women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment. 

 

Unlike the #MeToo movement of 2017, the moment of the past week has not left young people behind. The Instagram account Everyone’s Invited has gained unprecedented traction, with thousands of school pupils and university students submitting their testimonies of harassment, abuse, assault and speaking to the rape culture that pervades within our educational institutions. As teachers and parents it can be difficult to know what to do in the wake of such a horrific outpouring from young people, how to keep them safe. But if this last week has taught us anything, it’s that to bring up a new generation who do not continue to perpetuate a culture of violence against women and girls is a number one priority. 

HOW DO WE DO THIS?
THE ANSWER: EDUCATION. 

Keeping our young people safe and healthy means ensuring they have the right spaces for learning about and discussing these issues. We appreciate that terms such as ‘gender based’ or ‘sexual’ violence can be challenging and daunting, or even extreme, particularly when it comes to discussions about pupils. But, as this past week has shown, young people are not protected from this violence and so we must ensure we move towards a preventative as opposed to reactionary approach. 

At Bold Voices we’ve been delivering education on gender inequality and gender based violence to young people in schools and universities for three years. We’ve worked with over 2000 people through talks and workshops. We are a youth-led team who identify closely with the experiences young people face and understand the many influences that shape their beliefs and outlook on the world. Our education is designed to empower young people, both boys and girls, to see themselves as agents of change. We do this by approaching topics that are often uncomfortable and emotive with an objective, critical lens. In particular, our education focuses on challenging key attitudes and beliefs such as the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, dismissal of casual sexism as harmless and use of language that degrades and objectifies women.

This education is not a ‘nice-to-have’ addition to the curriculum. It is urgent, critical education required to keep young people safe and to disrupt the patterns of harassment, abuse and violence that have pervaded the lives of women and girls for centuries. Bold Voices are here to support you in becoming better equipped to have these conversations with your pupils, your children, and other educators and parents. As experts in delivering this critical education we have all the knowledge and expertise you need – resources, talks, workshops and a community where young people themselves can learn from each other and find support from others on this journey. 

HOW CAN WE HELP? 

Resources: Activities for the classroom, toolkits, blog posts and lesson plans for discussing gender inequality and gender based violence. Sign up to be the first to hear about new resources we create through our newsletter.

Talks and Workshops: Discover our talks and workshops, led by experienced facilitators and delivering on key topics relating to gender inequality and gender based violence including:

  • Thinking Big About Gender Inequality: From Misogyny to Gendered Violence
  • Preparing Our Teens for the Unspoken at University: Cultures of Gendered Violence within UK Universities
  • Online Sexual Harassment: How Gendered Violence Adapts to New Environments

Delivering Gendered Violence Education: Sign up for early access to our self-paced online course for teachers supporting you to deliver this critical education. 

www.boldvoices.co.uk
natasha@boldvoices.co.uk
@bold_voices

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Doing the Inner Work, to do the Outer Work

Ellie Lister portrait

Written by Ellie Lister

Ellie leads the Big Leadership Adventure programme at Big Education. A multi-academy trust and social enterprise whose mission is to rethink and reshape education.

We have spent the weekend working with our 2020 Big Leadership Adventure group. It is always an energising and uplifting experience – as we learn together as part of their journey as leaders who believe in a ‘big’ education that can change the system. The commitment, passion and dedication of this group of 30 leaders can not be overstated. We salute you all!

 

The overall theme of the two days was Design Thinking – how can we re-imagine practices by using a range of tools which get us to understand problems differently and then go about solving them in new ways? Inspired by the work of Ideo, this powerful methodology has much to offer us in the sector. 

 

As pupils return from lockdown, many more schools are looking to do things differently. Our leaders are all working on Innovation Projects that harness the learnings from lockdown, to help us to rethink and reshape education. 

 

We know that we cannot achieve ‘a big education’ unless our system values and embodies diversity, equity and inclusion. Having some of the sector-leading experts and trainers as part of the cohort gave an incredible opportunity to draw on their expertise and really explore how this is explicitly linked to our work on the programme. We explored the themes of user-centred design, really actually listening to what those with protected characteristics are saying, and creating the spaces where those conversations can happen. 

 

Adrian McLean and Hannah Wilson skillfully created a safe space for participants to learn, challenge and understand. It was so powerful to start with checking our knowledge of the equalities act – what are the 9 protected characteristics and how many can you name? Between the group we got there – but I for one would not have managed to get all 9 on my own. 

 

We were challenged to think about which of these are visible in our organisations. Where are there explicit practices in our organisation in supporting or addressing these protected characteristics? It was clear that for so many of us, there is not an equal balance of focus on each of those within our organisations. There were some fascinating reflections on the ‘emotional tax’ associated with some of the invisible characteristics, for example disabilities that are non visible.  Some areas of practice are much stronger than others, and it was powerful and, at times, very uncomfortable to delve into why this is the case. It was also fascinating to reflect on the difference between what is written in policies and what is actually happening which again can expose some uncomfortable truths. Adrian and Hanah recognised this and urged us to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” These reflections and conversations need to happen. 

 

A large focus was on encouraging us to look inwards first. “Doing the inner work, to do the outer work.” This means we need to look personally inwards and consider our own perspectives, privilege and biases before we can meaningfully bring that conversation into our wider organisations. We used the Wheel of Power and Privilege as a tool to consider our own identity and experience and as a way to consider what might be going on for others.

 

We made an interesting link with our concept of ‘making entry’ – the idea that an essential prerequisite of meaningful work together in a trusting relationship, and that this is achieved only through self disclosure and sharing information about ourselves. It raises many questions about what we choose to disclose – how much, about what and to whom. What is clear is that if we do not tell our own story, others will make one up for us.  Some of that story is based on what they can see – the visible characteristics – and some about assumptions they make. Whether we choose to inform them further is our choice.

 

What is also clear, however, is how powerful it is when people are open about aspects of themselves. We heard stories of the impact of staff sharing their sexual orientation with students and the transformation in attitudes this can enable, as well as safe spaces where students were empowered to be openly vulnerable and really challenge a culture of toxic masculinity.  

 

The group all made pledges for actions to undertake and we will hold ourselves accountable for these commitments.

 

Day 2 shifted us into some practical action in developing our leadership skills – what we call developing ourselves as a ‘leadership artefact’. We passionately believe that being able to clearly and effectively deliver a ‘stump’ speech is a tool in the changemaker’s tool kit. The ability to convince others, create a compelling narrative and inspire action is essential. Our leaders revisited their stump speech they had delivered as part of the application process, redrafted it in light of the philosophy of education module they have completed, and delivered it to colleagues in small groups. 

 

It was an incredible experience, for both those speaking and those listening and feeding back. Drawing on the 4 oracy strands as a framework for listening and observing, each leader then received detailed feedback about the impact their speech had had on others in the group. We were all reminded again of the power of feedback – such an important part of developing our self awareness and understanding the effect our behaviour has on others. We referenced the ever useful Johari’s window model as a framework where we consider what is known and unknown to self and others.

 

The energy, commitment and positivity from this group of school leaders, after the first week back at school, was quite a joy to experience. The power of the cohort and drawing on expertise and support from the group could not have been stronger. It is a pleasure to work with this group of leaders and the future feels a little brighter in their presence.

Are you passionate about the need for a holistic education for young people? Applications are open for the Big Leadership Adventure – closing at midnight on the 3rd of May: https://bigeducation.org/bla/

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Voice Led Early Intervention for Student Wellbeing and Belonging

Liz Robson-Kelly portrait

Written by Liz Robson-Kelly

Educator, Positive and Organisational Psychologist, leading expert on Positive Education in the UK.

My research and extensive work for the last 10 years has focused on increasing capacity to prevent young people develop long lasting mental health problems. Listening to and understanding young people themselves, what they want, and need is the key to providing effective early intervention and mental health problem prevention. 

The whole ethos of Worth-it Positive Education CIC as an organisation has been founded on co-produced insights and ideas from the young people we work with and support. This passion for empowering young people to have a voice has led me to publish grounded theory research on how coaching and positive psychology approaches can help young people prevent the onset of common mental health problems. Through this research and our work with young people, time and time again they have said that being sharing their stresses and concerns with another young person ‘like them’ and who understands them, and their situation is essential to the way they want to access support.  That knowing that there is another young person who can share their ‘experience’ and ‘helpful information’, supports them to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Looking beyond the experiences of individual young people and focusing on the wider school environment, school connectedness, belonging and positive peer relationships have also been demonstrated to be essential for the prevention of mental health problems in young people. Students are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours and succeed academically when they feel connected to a school and have positive peer relationships.  Experiencing positive peer relationships and a sense of belonging at school makes a major contribution to young people’s ability to increase their own wellbeing resources. This then enables them to deal with challenging situations, stress, or pressure and reduce the onset of mental health problems. Empowering students to lead projects and interventions that support the development of belonging and positive relationships fosters wellbeing and is integral to supporting a whole school approach to mental health.

To prevent mental health problems, it is essential we support young people to develop and use their own personal resources for wellbeing. This includes enabling them to identify and access support networks provided by peers or the school environment. This ability to nurture wellbeing resources and increase access support networks is something that can be shared peer to peer.  Young people are often more likely to listen to a peer about what helps them increase their own wellbeing than any well-meaning adult.

Combining the importance of offering early prevention and supporting young people develop and share resources for wellbeing, led us to develop our Wellbeing Ambassadors programme. This programme is based on peer-to-peer coaching and positive psychology research. Through testing our approach, gaining feedback from young people, schools and organisations including, CAMHS and local authorities. We designed and shaped an intervention that empowers young people develop their own internal resources for wellbeing and then share them with peers and lead initiatives that support wellbeing to be developed across the school environment. The Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme builds and nurture on positive peer relationships that support the development of belonging and connection at school. 

The Wellbeing Ambassadors programme trains young people coaching skills and supports them to become an empowered team of peer wellbeing leaders. They then decide and implement their own wellbeing initiatives that will support their peers to feel included, develop positive relationships and strategies for wellbeing in their own schools. Nurturing peer to peer relationships builds trust and can increase feelings of belonging and connection. This can have a significant impact on supporting the school to become inclusive and built on a foundation of belonging and positive relationships that promote and protect wellbeing. 

Young people more than anything need to belong and need strategies to learn how to develop positive relationships, and into positive support networks is more important now than ever. Not only to reduce the negative impact to mental health caused by the lockdowns but to support all young people enjoy and flourish at school.

Find out more

We are pleased to be working collaboratively with Hannah Wilson and Diverse Educators who is championing and sharing her passion for supporting pupil belonging, inclusion and wellbeing.  We have come together to share our insights into our Why Have Student Wellbeing Ambassadors? – Webinar. 

To find out more about how a Wellbeing Ambassador Programme, can help you support student mental health and wellbeing join our Live 1 hour Webinar on the 27th April 2021 at 11am or 4pm.

Next Steps 

To find out more and book your place on the ‘Why Have Student Wellbeing Ambassadors’- Webinar follow this link

https://worthit.org.uk/why-student-wellbeing-ambassadors-webinar/

For more about my work at Worth-it click here.

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You’re Not Just Marrying the Person…

Jackie Hill portrait

Written by Jackie Hill

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

“You’re not just marrying the person, you’re marrying the family and, in this case, an institution”   – striking words spoken by Oprah Winfrey to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex in her recent interview. For many couples listening they may well have resonated with them too, in relation to their own particular context and relationship.  

As the editor of the chapter on Marriage and Civil Partnerships in the forthcoming book “Diverse Educators: The Manifesto”, I was particularly struck by those words as they appear, in a deceptively neat and brief sentence, to sum up so many of the issues and influences that impact not just on Harry and Meghan, but indeed on many couples when they decide to formalise their relationship.  Not many will marry into an “institution” but change that to family business or different culture and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, for anyone it’s rarely a case of “just marrying the person” and the underlying story is almost always much more complex than what can appear on the surface so, for this chapter, we’re gathering a really broad range of experiences, stories, insights and views about marriage, civil partnerships and, by extension, families – which, of course, come in a wonderful variety of shapes and sizes.

We’ve already got a team of fantastic writers on the case, each working on their contributions and, between them, covering a wide range of issues.

However, in order to fully capture the collective voice of our community, I would still like to get some additional perspectives, particularly (though not exclusively) views from more men across a range of contexts.   I’m looking for just a sentence or two expressing a view, or giving an insight from experience.

I’d also be interested to gather perspectives from anyone on divorce, re-marriage and blended families.  

So many factors can impact on whether and how a couple may decide to formalise their relationship and for many, their religious beliefs play a large part in this, but can also complicate things when not shared.  I’d also be keen to hear from anyone who would like to share any insights and/or experiences relating to this.  

The diverse lived experiences of educators are essential elements for The Manifesto in order to produce a solutions focused resource in relation to all the Protected Characteristics – one which will impact on practice, pedagogy, people management and policy in schools and education settings.  

It’s understandable that some people may not be comfortable to talk about their experiences in relation to Marriage and/or Civil Partnerships but any insights that are shared will be valued and will help to ensure the collective voice of the community in this chapter is as representative, diverse and relevant as possible (and comments can be anonymised).

If you do have something you’d like to say in relation to Marriage and/or Civil Partnerships, I’d love to hear from you so please DM me (@hill1_jac) or email your comments to hilljac@yahoo.co.uk

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The Fallout of ‘That’ Interview

Rachel Clarke portrait

Written by Rachel Clarke

Working with many leaders to improve schools, Rachel is a "passionate, dedicated and inspirational educator, who strives for success with students and educators".

Meghan and Harry’s ‘bombshell’ interview was one that has re-ignited the conversation about racism in Britain; our thoughts about it, our experiences of it and more revealingly, the opinions of those who we call friends as well as those who are in the public sphere.

For me, there were no surprises aired. 

That there could be racism in close proximity, or within the institution of the Royal Family, was not a shock. The institution is one that has been predicated upon ideals of ‘god-given’ superiority and has carried out atrocities in the name of Empire and Imperialism.  A family member being ‘concerned’ about the skin tone of Meghan and Harry’s baby, again isn’t surprising. 

I think the real surprise and revealing element is in the conversation that appears to be widespread on television programmes and social media. The seemingly comfortable way in which people speak to justify, make excuses for and explain away the ‘casual racism’ espoused, through “well doesn’t it depend on how it was said?”, or “we all have people from an older generation who say the wrong thing”, is evidence enough that we as Britons in Britain haven’t spoken about race, or racism enough. 

As a Black female, I find the conversations exhausting. Feeling as if I have to justify and prove my experiences doesn’t support me to feel a sense of belonging. Seeing and hearing other Black and Minority Brits do the same thing, further cements the lack of trust I feel and the feeling of ‘otherness’ that is becoming more not less familiar.

Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion. Yes progress in terms of race relations has been made. Yes I often have pride in the country I have been born in and have generational links with that spans hundreds of years. But enough is enough. I am tired. We are tired. Conversation needs to take place where voices of Black and minorities are listened to, not just tolerated. Real commitment to achieving racial justice has to be made if we are to truly live harmoniously. This doesn’t mean challenging conversations can’t and shouldn’t be had but rather, progress has to be made as a result.

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Meghan and Harry show young people how to speak their truth and the rest of us that we need to listen with compassion

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

Wellbeing and education coach. She is founder of a new digital platform for students, www.schoolshouldbe.com and www.zenworkhub.com supporting professionals with their wellbeing.

In years to come, I’m pretty sure Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry will feature on the curriculum in some way: history lessons on the monarchy; English lessons on the impact of digital media; Psychology lessons on trauma; PSHE lessons on familial relationships. At the moment, especially in light of Piers Morgan’s resignation from Good Morning Britain, ‘freedom of speech’ is again up for debate, probably the biggest debate on the matter since Trump was removed from Facebook and Twitter. It’s uncomfortable, yes. But, I see it as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to positively engage with the Teacher’s Professional Standard regarding the expression of personal beliefs. By speaking their truth, their lived experience, Meghan and Harry have shown young people that we can have personal, uncomfortable conversations around race, equity and the status quo with grace and integrity. And, if I was still in the classroom, I would see it as the best environment to teach young people how to have these personal discussions with dignity, compassion and empathy. 

 

After watching the interview a few Mondays ago, I went to bed thinking, how brave and how graceful. I had listened with compassion, empathy and welcomed what seems to be a turning point in the expression of lived experiences and truth. Tuesday morning, I turned on the news, and it felt like I’d watched a completely different version to the journalists before me. In many ways that’s a good thing, opinions differ and that’s how we learn.  However, a rising and ongoing problem with social and digital media is a lack of knowledge around how to manage a discussion. I’d like to think the majority of people know how to frame an ethical, written response whether that be in the form of a tweet, comment or direct message. But the overwhelming rise of keyboard warriors, online bullying and trolling is doing more to polarise our society than unite. What’s worse is that students are surrounded by it 24/7 on their phones, iPads and on the TV – more often than not without context or an understanding of how to think about it. Unfortunately, Facebook and Twitter have yet to introduce some form of workable regulation to prevent the rise of anxiety, fear and mental health (we all know they can do more and should do more). Until they do, I think school and the classroom are the best place to nurture an environment where students can have these open, uncomfortable conversations in a safe and equitable environment. 

 

How do we do this? How can teachers have uncomfortable conversations around race, equity and truth in the classroom? 

 

Looking back on my time as a South Asian, Muslim, female head of department, leader, teacher, manager, mother, daughter, sister, I always shared my identity in an honest way, to give my students perspective and context. I shared stories and my viewpoints framed by who I am and my lived experience. This then gave my students the confidence, the model to share their own truth. Modelling is key here, and dissecting Meghan’s approach (ever an English teacher!) to sharing her truth is a lesson in how to share your truth with context, integrity and reason. 

 

Managing those stories and lived experiences is a challenging and scary responsibility for a teacher. The amount of times I ended a lesson, heart racing, from the classroom worried about a parent calling, a colleague challenging my approach on discussion is insurmountable! Equally, I walked away fulfilled. I’d created a safe space that gave students the confidence to share, challenge, agree and disagree with one another. Did it always end well? No, of course not! But it always, eventually ended with respect. That doesn’t happen on Facebook, and I’m not sure it can. If we integrate compassion, listening and equity into our school ethos and classroom culture – just like Oprah! – we can absolutely have moral, ethical and difficult conversations around race, status and the world to make learning that little bit more purposeful. 

 

What is there to discuss? 

 

Meghan and Harry made it abundantly clear on the differences between the institution and the family, and I came away from the interview thinking how multifaceted the dynamics of the Royal Family are – as a job and as a family member. This is a discussion I would love to have in the classroom. 

 

The differences in British and American culture shined through Meghan and Harry. Meghan quite rightly spoke about the change in environment, politics, her identity as a career woman almost changed over time. Harry said meeting Meghan helped him realise he was trapped in a system. Discussing these issues with compassion and empathy can teach young people so much more about ‘real life’ than any careers lesson. 

 

Is it ok for a white man to so out rightly defame a woman of colour? Or maybe people in class don’t think he was defaming at all? What is there to learn and unlearn here? Use the works of Rachel Cargle, Dr Shona and even Edward Said to start a conversation. 

 

With all of these topics, it’s important to teach students that we are all entitled to an opinion, but not one of hate and plain nastiness. The presence of compassion in discussion is quite possibly what marks a successful and valuable conversation. 

 

Will we, as professionals, make mistakes? Of course! Will we come across barriers at school? Absolutely. Should that silence or limit the space for these conversations? No. If the dynamics between digital media, TV, the Royal family and Meghan and Harry’s transparent honesty have taught us anything, it’s that we need to share our lived experiences. More importantly, we need to work together to create a global community that enables them. And, I think the classroom is the best place to start. 

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Gender is “wibbly-wobbly” and “timey-wimey”, and gloriously so

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.

David Tennant’s regeneration of the Doctor, in exploring the conceptual complexity of time, explained to Sally Sparrow in 2007’s ‘Blink’, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.”

 

As the father of two transgender young adults, and a school leader of two decades who has worked with and supported hundreds of children and young people questioning, openly or indirectly, their gender or sexuality, I have increasingly learned that gender identity and expression, sex and sexuality, are no less “wibbly-wobbly” or “timey-wimey”. Indeed, the more we back them into a binary backwater, the less we will understand, respect and celebrate the rich diversity of the Genderbread Person who makes us who we were, who we are and who we will be.

 

My youngest child, Jack – born AFAB in 2001, identifying as queer when adolescence first hit, as dysphoric shortly afterwards, and as transgender when the adolescent rollercoaster was well underway – at 19, now counts his trans identity as but a tiny fraction of who he is. To him, he is an artist first and foremost; a gay man; a recipe non-conforming chef; and many other identities besides, like all of us. But just as he happens to be a trans male, he obstinately and understandably ticked “Male” as his sex on the recent UK census, even though his first gender reassignment surgery is still a couple of months away.

 

My eldest child, however, born AMAB in 2000, has recently come out publicly as trans-feminine non-binary, and, about a year previously, as “obnoxiously bisexual”. In doing so, she has embarked on a journey both of discovery and also of worn, lived and breathed gender identity and expression. She is as uncertain about her precise route and destination as she is certain both of her pronouns (she/her, or, at a push, they/them) and also of her name, Phoebe. With her bravery has grown yet further my awe and humility, and, with her wisdom, so also my desire to learn, and to continue learning.

 

Just as Jack has now acquired the toxicity of male privilege and the pungency of male bathrooms, so has Phoebe gained (bizarrely conditional) access to misogyny, gender inequality and an increasingly unsafe society. Both are emerging into an adult world whose hostile environment permits so many of those who know nothing and represent no one to speak loudest and most hatefully. Much as I love both my children unconditionally (what is conditional love, after all, but something hateful dressed in love’s robes?) and beyond words (even though, as an English graduate and teacher, and wannabe writer, words are my thing!), I fear for their futures.

 

As a result, I want to do everything in my power, heaping every ‘Teaspoon of Change’ and feverishly flying Maathai’s ‘hummingbird’, to help reshape our world, one which they have the bravery and beauty, but not the obligation, to transform, into a nurturing and safe space: for Jack, for Phoebe, and for every transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming child, young person and adult in this rainbow realm.

 

In a few days, I will be delivering a presentation at ECIS’ “Diversity and Belonging” Leadership Conference 2021, entitled, “A Principal’s Journey: what I learned about inclusive school leadership from my transgender son”. The abstract argues that, “to identify as LGBTQ+ whilst studying at an international school can present a unique set of challenges, rendering the student especially vulnerable to mental ill health, poor wellbeing and disrupted learning”.

 

And I will aim candidly to share my experience as the proud father of a gay, transgender child, and how it has taught me to be a truly inclusive leader. But, in reality, this is Jack’s story, and it needs to be told. I am not a religious person (Jack and I both entered “Dudeism” on that very same census!), but Phoebe and Jack are miracles; and miracles deserve to be shared, as far and wide as possible. If I could reach the Doctor’s next regeneration, I feel confident they would share it wherever the Tardis can travel.

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