Marie Ruddy, team leader for citizenship, shows how Parliament Hill School, London, has created an inclusive school environment for students with every gender identity
The journey Parliament Hill School (Parli) has taken to create an inclusive environment for all, including LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) students, has meant addressing a challenge faced by many schools: how do you unite a community that is diverse in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic background and faith?
Stonewall’s 2017 report stated: “Nearly half of LGBTQIA young people are still bullied for being LGBTQIA at school, and only one in five have learnt about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships. LGBTQIA young people continue to experience unacceptably high levels of poor mental health.” Our students were keen to raise awareness about homophobia as well as having a forum for support, recognising the impact that isolation could have on our LGBTQIA students’ mental health. The citizenship curriculum was full, leaving little time to explore LGBTQIA diversity and discrimination in depth.
We continue to refine our strategies as new challenges arise, eg new government RSE guidelines. We started by creating a safe space for LGBTQIA students, tied into the school ethos of listening to students and valuing their opinions, letting them lead and embracing student voice. We then collaborated with Stonewall to create a Champions group who used questionnaires about attitudes towards the LGBT community, followed by student-led assemblies and talks. The group put together a collection of LGBTQIA literature in the library and promoted this throughout the school, with display boards reviewing the literature and photos of the assemblies. Meetings with governors and senior leaders helped students share their vision for an inclusive school in the wider context of us being a United Nations Rights Respecting School.
The first year ended with a visit from LGBT contestants who had taken part in the ‘The Apprentice’. The hall was packed as guest speakers discussed their identities and some of the barriers they had overcome. We created a space for students to explore these issues – and they seized it.
As well as raising awareness, the group became a place for those who may have been isolated to reach out to allies of all identities. The Champions included students who identified in many different ways including straight; you could bring your friends along for support and everyone could come together as a community. Encouraging an ethos of looking out for each other has meant that students know where to seek help and support.
As students have come and gone, the nature of the group has changed. At times, it has worked as a support system. At other points, it has been a driver for fundraising in order to get charities or speakers into the school. And it has raised awareness of the LGBTQIA community. One year, the Champions made hundreds of rainbow-coloured ribbons to fundraise for a local LGBT charity that some students attended outside of school. The first year raised hundreds of pounds; however, since then, ribbon selling has been adopted during LGBTQIA awareness months, so they are now made and sold at reception so every visitor can show their support for our community.
The whole school approach helped embed the work of the Stonewall Champions. For example, our outside caterers and reception display the LGBTQIA flag proudly, teachers were sent lesson ideas to celebrate the contributions of LGBTQIA people in society, and regular LGBTQIA focused assemblies gave each year group an opportunity to consider the language they used and reflect on the impact on our community.
Citizenship teachers were key to building an inclusive community. From year 7, students learn about embracing all identities to prevent segregation and marginalisation. They are also introduced to homophobia and why it is important to challenge this in the context of building a successful society. However, one of the most difficult aspects was to communicate to students how British values link to LGBTQIA rights, bridging the gap between our different cultural and socio-economic groups.
In year 9, ‘When human rights conflict’, a scheme of learning, investigated how rights are protected in a modern, multicultural society, considering the rights of different religious communities, using ‘Lee vs Ashers Baking Company’ as a case study. We reflected on the phrase, “that’s so gay”, replacing the word “gay” with other words like “female” and breaking down stereotypes, looking at the power of majorities over minorities.
The impact has been impressive:
- LGBTQIA students at Parli are meeting or exceeding predictions.
- Safeguarding leads report that homophobic bullying does not make it onto their radar.
- Ofsted commented that they strongly felt the school had addressed the needs of LGBTQIA students as well as the whole school community.
- The charity Challenge Partners recognised wellbeing and mental health as excellent.
- We have great relationships with Stonewall and a local charity, Just like Us, some of whose members talked to year 7 students about their experiences of coming out.
However, the impact for our LGBTQIA students has been the most rewarding. When asked about their experience at school, one student, who identifies as non-binary and romantically attracted to females, commented that “it is insanely open”. They are in slight shock that the experience they have had so clearly contrasts with that of their friends outside Parli! They have never felt they were the ‘other’. Another student commented, “In year 7, I remember being scared to come out, but then I did, and I felt nothing but love and acceptance.”