Senior Deputy Head - Plymouth College
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“Sir, so who proposed?”
…. is a moment I’ll never forget. I was in the middle of a Year 11 lesson on the finer points of the dative case in German. The question had come due to me tapping my hand against the board and the noise of an engagement ring making an audible sound against the board. I was facing a group I’d taught since Year 7, faced with the question of explaining how my fiancé had proposed. For a split second, I did think it was a very personal thing to ask, for a split second, I hesitated about being honest, for a millisecond it crossed my mind that it was obvious from the question that they had (being the perceptive and clever group they were) worked out I was gay. It then dawned on me. They were interested. They genuinely wanted to hear my news. So, I told them. I kept it brief and then they congratulated me, then asked about which prepositions caused issues with the dative. It had registered on their radar that I had experienced a life event. They wanted to share this with me, but then as soon as they had the level of detail they wanted, they moved back into the purpose of being in my classroom and the fact that I was marrying a man was totally irrelevant. I had been at the school for a number of years by that point and it was at that moment that the strength of the community and the support I felt had been evident from pupils. At the end of the day, it came down to the relationship I had built with the pupils and that the relationship was testament to a supportive and inclusive environment. This memory is perhaps at the forefront of my thoughts as we mark a decade since same sex marriages were legalised in England.
Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself delivering an INSET session to the whole staff body on gender identity, the terminology, what was acceptable or not to say and ask. No one looked to me (or any of the other openly gay members of staff) as being an expert in the field, but colleagues wanted to know more, they opened up and were honest about their concerns in using the terminology with pupils, parents and staff, but made their commitment to making the working environment in school reflective of an inclusive society crystal clear for all to see. This is, indeed, something which we as a school pride ourselves on being. A place where anyone in our community, be it pupils or staff can be their authentic selves and the community will embrace, support and protect that. The passion with which pupils in my school dedicate their time for the sake of others or needs beyond their own is testament to this spirit and it is this spirit which makes the school an incredibly special place. To mark Holocaust Memorial Day this year, a small group of Lower Sixth pupils led the assemblies and I proudly wrapped things up at the end by reciting Pastor Niemöller’s ‘First They Came’, subtly amended to represent the diverse communities within our wider school community.
As a school, we are currently working our way through accreditation of the Rainbow Flag Award with the Intercom Trust and have found this especially useful to work through the different sections of this to ensure that we are inclusive of LGBT+ members of our community. It’s been a useful exercise for us to go through and the support from pupils, colleagues and parents with discussions being started, questions asked and dialogues formed in a spirit of openness, trust and genuine engagement with issues we all face and most definitely the pupils will face as they enter the world outside our school gates. I have been humbled by the support we have received from parents and how we have managed to engage our entire pupil body from ‘rising three’ up to the Sixth Form in LGBT+ matters. I have to thank my colleagues for all their support and for wholeheartedly embracing diversity in its broadest sense. My thanks also must go to parents who have volunteered their time and expertise and have voiced their words of support and encouragement.
As Pride Month is now upon us, I hope we all use this month to be visible. To show we support everyone in our communities to be their authentic selves and to demonstrate this is a value we cherish and we will protect. For me though, this is only possible if we as educators trust ourselves to be our authentic selves. This role modelling is crucially important and whilst it can feel scary, I promise you, being in a place where you can live your life authentically and show the next generation it is possible, is incredibly rewarding. Be yourself, be an ally, be the advocate for those who struggle to find a voice.
We are on a journey with our Rainbow Award and diversity in the broadest sense of the word and would be keen to share ideas and experiences with other schools. Please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected].