There are times, these days, when it can feel as though some of the hard-won progress on inclusion from previous decades is being challenged through various circumstances. Maybe that’s a pessimistic take on things, but it is never going to hurt to ask ourselves the potentially developmental question, are we genuinely as inclusive as we think we are?
Some lecturers have expressed concern that we are seeing plenty of talking the talk but not enough walking the walk in some colleges across the country. If there is any truth in this at all, there is all the more reason for college leaders to refocus the lens on inclusion until a fierce commitment to it for all in our communities is obvious to see.
Take support for LGBTQ students as an example. This is unlikely to happen consistently in colleges and the wider community without a clear course of action mapped out based on communication and knowledge of what works best.
David Weston, CEO of Teacher Development Trust, is clear that there needs to be adequate training on LGBTQ inclusion. “Most staff members will naturally be more inclusive when they learn how. It’s really important to put on training and offer support about the best language and approaches to use with children and adults – many grown ups may have never considered how important it can be to tweak their language, for example,” he said.
Without great quality training, staff may feel ill-equipped to deal with the issues they may face in college. Through training we can learn more about the perspectives of others and what support may work most effectively. This kind of education engenders empathy, compassion and understanding and ultimately may help young people to feel secure in the support around them.
“It can also be helpful to run through potential situations that staff could face that they might be worried about,” Weston explains. “For example, what would they do if a child came to them worried about their sexuality or gender identity? It’s also important to teach staff how to be proactively inclusive, not just reacting to issues but creating an inclusive, welcoming and safe environment at all times.”
Writer and speaker Dr Sophie Cook feels that the consequences of not refocusing on the support we offer to the LGBTQ community in our schools and colleges could be devastating. She explains, “Those of us that grew up before and during the days of Section 28, when knowledge of LGBTQ identities was either lacking or expressly forbidden, carry the scars of having our identities invalidated. We were demonised, dehumanised and othered. Our mental health suffered due to the isolation and absence of support. Many of us struggled with depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts, and sometimes actions. We will carry that pain and those scars with us to the grave.”
The dark days of Section 28 – enacted in 1988 and stopped in 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK – are not forgotten by those who were badly affected by its stipulations. Young people were left without the support and information they needed at a time when access to peer support and help groups was more limited than it is now with the internet. “We must take the opportunity to ensure that future generations do not face this prejudice,” Dr Cook said. “Young people must be educated about LGBTQ identities and they must feel that they have the freedom and support to explore what that means to them. Some may say that we are putting ideas into young people’s heads, that we are confusing them and converting them to an LGBTQ lifestyle. To those people I ask how many children have ever become regular churchgoers through Religious Education and mandatory prayers and hymns at school? Those of us that are parents know how difficult it is to persuade a teenager to tidy their bedroom, let alone change their gender identity or sexuality.”
Fortunately, there is considerable support and information for schools and colleges now from organisations such as No Outsiders, which has a vision of inclusive education and promoting community cohesion to prepare young people and adults for life as global citizens, and Stonewall, which works with individuals and institutions to create inclusive communities in which individuals can flourish as their authentic selves. And we must ensure that we seek help where needed, given that government funding for LGBT anti-bullying initiatives has ended and that LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by poor mental health, negative stereotypes and feelings of marginalisation. Unless we can truly say there are no blocks to children thriving in our schools and colleges, there is still work to be done, even if policy is slow to catch up.
LGBTQ inclusion – refocusing steps
How supportive is your college towards its LGBTQ community? What evidence do you have of the effectiveness of LGBTQ inclusion? What more can be done?
Offer appropriate training for staff so that inclusion is more than name only. Equip staff for specific scenarios that will help them to offer reliable support and advice when needed.
Do an audit of the resources you routinely use in your teaching/college. How inclusive of LGBTQ communities are they?
Make sure that it is quick and easy for pupils to get the support they need when they need it.
Seek help where needed from trusted organisations offering high quality training and/or support.
Find out more…
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.