I was much more at ease in the company of girls and often wondered why it was I felt less comfortable around ‘the boys’. When I was seven, I enjoyed rugby, but winced at the banter-fuelled songs in the minibus on the way back from an away game.
I didn’t understand why – and it was some years before I did. I always enjoyed the theatrical productions and I found myself attracted to some of the more ‘out there’ roles. And it was at a school fancy dress competition, dressed as Adam Ant, that a teacher said to me “Where’s the other earring? It would’ve suited you”.
I stayed within my shell well into my teenage years and his loaded words never quite left me.
I wonder how different my experience at school might have been if I had grown up surrounded by peers and teachers who recognised and celebrated difference, rather than a school community who – by not knowing – somehow helped to suppress it? Who knows.
But, what I do know, is that now, in 2021, things can be different.
There is now the guidance, support and willpower in schools to help build a more open and tolerant society – something we should all want to see.
At learning company, Pearson, we believe in equal opportunities for all learners, whatever their background, ability, sexuality or identity – and we are committed to working together with schools to create learning environments that reflect the diversity of the modern world and its people.
As part of this, we joined forces with Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality, to support free guidance for primary and secondary schools on how to deliver an LGBT-inclusive curriculum.
But, what does this mean in practice? In short, it’s about teaching that some children have two mums or two dads. It’s about pupils learning about historical figures such as the amazing Alan Turing – the codebreaker who helped deliver peace – or studying the works of LGBT artist and icon Frida Kahlo – an artist my lesbian niece loves! It’s familiarising yourself as a teacher with the helpful glossary of words and their meaning. It’s having books like And Tango Makes Three next to Matilda on your classroom book shelf.
Ultimately, it’s about creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels like they belong.
I wish I had grown up in an education system that embraced this approach.
However, decades have passed since my time at school and I’m proud of Pearson’s partnership with Stonewall on this guidance - so much so that I invited some of my friends who are primary school headteachers along to the launch event. It was inspiring to see in attendance such a diverse group of teachers, leaders, friends and colleagues from across the country, sharing their passion for inclusion; and to receive in the weeks and months that followed, such positive feedback on the guidance.
But, what do I personally hope to see now? Discussion in the staff room, discussion in the classroom, discussion at parents’ evening, in the hallways and corridors – all leading to a more accepting world where every child can be more confident and at ease in their own skin – and where children just accept one another – as children.
To find out more about Pearson’s Diversity and Inclusion campaign and to view the free Creating an LGBT-Inclusive Curricula Guides, please visit: go.pearson.com/inclusiveeducation
About the author:
Rich Shackleton is Chair of Spectrum UK, Pearson's LGBT network that champions diversity and inclusion across the business and education. He is also Director of Customer Experience.