Kate Wakeling interviews Chris Sims - Head of Education at Stonewall UK.
The make-up of the modern family is increasingly diverse, with many children being brought up by same-sex parents. We’ve teamed up with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans equality charity Stonewall to provide some useful guidance on how teachers can best approach issues surrounding children with same-sex parents and tackle homo/bi/transphobia in the school environment. Here, Head of Education Chris Sims shares his advice.
Q: What tips do you have for addressing the topic of same-sex parents in the classroom?
A: Firstly, don’t be afraid to do it: we find that when teachers do address the issue of different families, they almost always say they would do so again and rarely receive complaints from parents for doing so. The topic can be explored in the context of how all families are different – so you could explore single-parent families and non-parental caregivers at the same time. Putting the emphasis on acceptance of difference rather than on same-sex relationships avoids making specific children feel singled out, and provides a good framework for addressing the question in an age-appropriate way. Making sure all staff are trained on how to address these questions and understand the importance of doing so is important to ensure a whole-school approach. This needs strong leadership from senior management and governors.
Q: Do you have any suggestions as to how teachers might shape the curriculum to celebrate difference and diversity in pupils’ family backgrounds?
A: It’s important to check what you’re already doing, and the messages the school curriculum currently gives out. What kinds of families are reflected in storybooks in the library? Do displays around school reflect different types of families and beliefs? For Mothers’ Day, are pupils without mothers made to feel included? We’d encourage schools to ensure that diversity is embedded across the curriculum, using age-appropriate storybooks like And Tango makes three (by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson). There are a great range of educational resources available from the Stonewall website, here.
Q: How would you suggest teachers specifically address the use of homo/bi/transphobic language by pupils?
A: We encourage schools to set clear boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable. Discuss why homo/bi/transphobic language is wrong and hurtful, and explain what words mean in an age-appropriate way. The aim should be to do this as part of building a curriculum that includes gay people and different families, removing the taboo from words like ‘gay’ and helping young people understand how their use of language affects others.
Q: How can teachers support children to get on board in terms of tackling homophobia in schools?
A: Our experience shows that schools that involve pupils in their work to tackle homophobia are among the most successful. Some use school councils or peer mentors to do this. Lots of schools in our Primary School Champions programme get pupils creating displays about different types of families, and how it’s important to celebrate diversity in all its forms rather than picking on people for being different.
Q: Can you suggest any practical activities that teachers might use in the classroom to approach the topic of same-sex parents?
A: Same-sex parents can be included in lots of ways, from storybooks to discussions in circle-time about different types of family. The key is to ensure that staff have the knowledge and confidence to do this, which is something Stonewall can help schools with. We run ‘Train the Trainer’ courses for primary school staff so they can feel confident training their colleagues on tackling homo/bi/transphobic language and celebrating difference in the curriculum, such as via same-sex parents.
Q: Are there any resources you can recommend that teachers might find helpful?
A: Yes! Stonewall has a huge array of resources for teachers.
As Chris describes, there are a host of ways to nurture a school environment that welcomes all families. Teachers can play a key role in supporting children to embrace differences and to get on board in combatting homo/bi/transphobia. We hope the above helps you feel empowered to address the issue and together celebrate diverse families of every kind.
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Why not encourage your pupils to embrace their different family setups with our great song What makes a family? They can then say ‘thank you’ to the people who look after them with our thoughtful assembly plan Thank you for looking after me.
Kate Wakeling has led music and dance education projects for LSO Discovery, the Shoreditch Trust and Hackney Music Development Trust, and is currently Research Fellow in Learning and Participation at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.