The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, released plans last week to provide relationships education in primary schools, alongside relationships and sex education in secondary schools.
The new guidance is intended to help schools prepare young people ‘for life in the modern world’ and will include discussions of LGBT issues, mental health and staying safe online for the first time.
As a mum of two primary school children, I warmly welcome the planned focus on the virtues of kindness, generosity, honesty, and the importance of respecting others, including those who are different.
Awareness and understanding of diversity is a critical life-skill in 2018. Schools can and do play an important role in helping children understand that different doesn’t equal wrong. Children benefit from learning that every person is unique, every individual has worth, everyone has a right to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect.
That families are diverse, and that difference makes the world a beautiful and vibrant place. It’s also important because representation matters – children need to see that their identity, their family, their way of life, is visible at school – to help them feel that they belong.
Research has shown that ‘belonging’ is a key factor in children’s wellbeing and ability to thrive. This representation is especially important for LGBT pupils, who may otherwise be given explicit or subtle messages that they do not belong.
A lack of belonging is known to contribute to low self-worth, depression, and self-harm. My daughter, who is transgender, has been met with love, kindness and respect throughout her school and surrounding community. Her friends and classmates stand up for each other, regardless of difference.
Her teachers welcome and celebrate diversity. But not all transgender children are so fortunate and the statistics from a 2017 survey of 3,713 secondary school age LGBT pupils are shocking. Stonewall found that 9% of trans youth have received death threats at school, 84% of trans youth have self-harmed and 45% have tried to take their own lives.
Too often the UK is not a safe and welcoming place for trans children. Schools must be safe places for every child, where children learn to respect and love their friends regardless of difference. Where every child feels valued. Where every child feels that they belong.
What’s more, LGBT people are an integral part of our society, they are our sisters, brothers, mums, dads, grandparents. They are our neighbours, our colleagues, our teachers. They are our children, our children’s classmates, our children’s friends.
Creating a sense of belonging through representation is not hard or complex. It can be achieved through simple steps: ensuring school books represent the diversity in our children’s lives and in our communities; displaying posters that send a clear message that everyone is welcome; providing opportunities for children to talk about and celebrate difference.
Research has shown that efforts to support and celebrate diversity in schools doesn’t just help children from minority groups – it benefits all children. Kindness, tolerance and respect builds resilience and improves mental health.
The new guidance was shaped by a consultation earlier in the year, which found extensive public support for a focus on celebrating diversity and tackling discrimination. Young people who responded to the government consultation highlighted their expectation that education about gender identity and sexual orientation in Sex and Relationships Education ‘would contribute to raising awareness and acceptance of LGBT young people’.
This inclusion can only be a good thing. We need to let pupils know that the world is diverse, with space for everyone, regardless of who they are, or who they love. Children and young people today already accept and embrace diversity.
Society has moved so far since the dark days of Section 28, when children were given a clear message that difference was wrong. That being LGBT was taboo and shameful.
But we could do more, and embracing difference enriches our lives, and builds a better world for all of our children.
Source: Metro Newspaper