Coming out of the closet – Diversity and inclusion in the primary classroom
Diversity and inclusion in the primary classroom
Words: Sarah Wordlaw @smwordlaw
Over the past few months I, along with many in the teaching community, have been saddened by the campaigns against the teaching of diversity in primary schools, specifically LGBT relationships, in places like Parkfield Primary School in Birmingham, and have discussed it at great length with friends and colleagues.
It’s our responsibility to make the next generation more enlightened than we are, and to teach children that there are no outsiders in our society irrespective of race, religion, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. As a society we are on a journey to institutional change where recognition and eradication of discriminatory beliefs is encouraged.
No child is born sexist, racist or homophobic, this is a fact. Children learn negative behaviours early on from outside influences, which is why it is our responsibility as educators to make sure any discriminatory views are challenged.
Why it even warrants debate teaching about a diversity of families in an age-appropriate way is beyond me. Currently, The Education and Inspections Acts 2006 states, “every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils”. In the Ofsted Section 5 Inspection Handbook under SMSC the guidance is that children should demonstrate acceptance and engagement with the fundamental British values of mutual respect and tolerance of others.
In February, statutory guidance from DfE stated the new primary relationship teaching should include “different family relationships” and “the right to equality under the law for people who are LGBT”. Furthermore, a spokesperson from the DfE recently said: “We want children to know that there are many types of relationships – that’s why we are making relationships education compulsory in all primary schools from 2020.
“This will ensure pupils are taught the building blocks needed for positive and safe relationships of all kinds – starting with family and friends – and how to treat each other with kindness, consideration and respect.” This is a fantastic move forward in the direction of inclusivity and equality.
LGBT History Month
As a senior leader, I have introduced the celebration of LGBT History Month across the primary schools I have worked in, and the response from the children has been really heartening. Children at their core are open and understanding of different people and families, their prejudice is passed down from the world they live in.
The celebration of LGBT history month has been an opportunity to introduce diverse literature into our class and school libraries and start discussions about different families, same love. In the same vein as Black History Month, LGBT+ role models and history should be threaded throughout the curriculum, not just looked at for one month and forgotten.
However, it is a good place to start if these conversations about families have not already been happening. Equality and mutual respect should be taught through assemblies and interwoven throughout lessons and literature.
Personally, I’ve experienced some negativity from a small number of parents. When they have complained, it has generally been due to a misunderstanding of what is being taught. I’ve had concerns the school are teaching “how gay people have sex”, which of course is not at all the case!
I’ve found that two-way discussions with concerned parents about what is being taught, that it is learning that families are made of lots of different types of make-ups, all of which are equal and all of which are celebrated, tends to allay fears.
However, I’ve also had to challenge comments such as, “I’m not homophobic, but…” highlighting that if that comment ends in something derogatory, that view is in fact homophobic. I’ve often had to liken it to racism and asked the parent back, “What if I said to you, I’m not racist but…”
Whilst a difficult conversation, this tends to sway the parent on side. If not, it has simply been a case of informing them that it’s our statutory duty to prevent all forms of bullying, that it’s not an option to opt out and that if a child is off school because of that, the absence will be unauthorised.
School Library Essentials
We must make sure our schools are safe and inclusive places for all, and make sure the literature, assemblies and learning represent all walks of life. Here are some fabulous books to prompt lessons and discussions or to put into your class/school libraries:
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno
This beautiful picture book captures the remarkable and inspiring story of the rainbow pride flag; the work of social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker, and how the flag went worldwide. A story of love, hope, equality, and pride. Suitable for ages 4–8.
And Tango Makes Three
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
This is a heart-warming true story of two gay penguins who create a non-traditional family at the Central Park Zoo. Suitable for ages 2–5.
Julian is a Mermaid
by Jessica Love
While riding the subway home from the pool with his grandma, Julian notices three women spectacularly dressed up. He is inspired to dress up as his own fabulous mermaid. A dazzling story and a wonderful celebration of individuality. Suitable ages 4–8.
by Myles E. Johnson
Jeremiah Nebula is a black boy who loves everything pink. The story follows him as he travels through the different fears he faces on his travels. Suitable for ages 4–8.
The Boy & The Bindi
by Vivek Shraya
A South Asian boy becomes fascinated with his mother’s bindi and wants one of his own. Beautifully illustrated by Rajni Perera, it’s a jubilant celebration of gender and culture. Suitable for ages 4–8.