Aude LaCroix is the Head of Languages at Highgate Wood School in Haringey, London. Haringey Wood School is a all-genders comprehensive school, with students from 11-18. It’s a large school with around 1500 students from a diverse range of backgrounds.
I started running our group in September 2016. I left it to the students to choose the name, and they went for The Skittle Club. I wanted students to have a space where they could enjoy being themselves, have a safe place and know I’m here to speak to them.
It came about from a conversation with a student who was struggling with their non-binary identity. They were facing prejudice and finding it hard to cope with, so wanted to talk to me, as they identified me as being part of the LGBT+ community. I got the group started very quickly afterwards: some of the initial suggestions were mine, but I wanted to encourage the students to organise as much as possible.
I felt confident to start the group as I knew it was the right thing to do. The member of SLT responsible for extracurricular activities was supportive when I let them know to add it to the list of extracurricular activities, and I described it as an ‘LGBT+ space’. I never questioned that it might not exist, or that we couldn’t do it. Since then, it’s worked really well and the Headteacher is very happy with it. He has been happy for me to offer suggested changes to school policies with relation to gender identity, sexualities and bullying. Generally I have the freedom to do whatever I want.
We meet once every fortnight at lunchtime. The number of students attending varies week to week, but we make it clear it’s open to allies to. We have a core group of 12 students who have been coming since the group started, but it’s a mix of KS3 and KS4.
Our group also represents a range of sexual orientations and gender identities, with young people from across the spectrum of both. Increasingly they are more confident to identify with identities such as non binary and pansexual, as well as LGBT.
Since the beginning of the group we’ve had three outings for pizza over lunchtime which the school paid for. This was our most popular week, with about forty students attending!
It’s always been an easy process, but it’s got easier the more visibility we’ve got. Recently we have brought in rainbow lanyards, which are a great way to show visible support for the LGBT+ community in everyday school life. This year I also created nine LGBT History Month form time sessions for Years 7 to 13 on thhis year’s themes: activism, reconciliation and peace. These were received very positively across the school, from both students and teachers. In future, the group and I are planning on looking at making sure school policies are LGBT+ inclusive.
Generally I’ve had a very smooth journey running the club, but our most challenging situation came recently, when the Senior Leadership Team checked in because I wanted to do a couple of surveys of the students. They wanted to check that the wording was age-appropriate for the students and didn’t feature any references to sex, but I reassured them it was focussed on wellbeing. Doing the survey has enabled me to learn more about the young people in my group, and it’s also contributing to my NPQSL, in which I need to provide evidence of the work I’m doing.
I’ve been really lucky in the support I’ve received from our SLT. On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia they made sure we had our displays showing on every single screen in the school. The Parent Support Association also gave us £300 to buy LGBT+ books for the library.
Our school has a bronze Stonewall award, and we’re looking to complete the silver award this year. We have a couple of boards for LGBT+ and approximately 100 posters around the school. As well as this, we use the school magazine to share the activities we’ve done at Skittle club, which this year included celebrating LGBT+ people of colour during Black History Month. We are looking forward to see what we can do to go at Pride as a school: that's our next chapter.
If there was a key moment which crystallised for me why this work is so important, it would be when we got gender neutral toilets. The Skittle Club requested these to resolve the difficulties our trans students were experiencing. We got the OK so easily and it made me appreciate how receptive our school is when it comes to progress.
To anyone starting up a group: have clear goals in mind. What do you want to do in the short, medium and long term? And lastly - just do it! Whatever your school makes it possible for you to do, just do whatever it is your students need.