Myton School is an all-genders comprehensive, with approx 1600 students aged 11-18, including 300 students in sixth form. It is based in Warwick, with a diverse intake of students, some of whom come from the poorest wards within the local area. We have a diverse body of students, with 20 percent from Sikh heritage.
Simon Jones is the school’s Deputy Head, and Mitchell Burns-Jackson is a Year 12 student who runs the school’s Pride Group, named H.E.R.O (Helping Educate Regarding Orientation).
Simon: I’ve been the curriculum deputy for seven years, with a wide range of responsibilities including PSHE and RE. There has been a movement for inclusivity in the curriculum over recent years, and I wanted to make sure that the student body was recognising tolerance and respect. It wasn’t. It still isn’t in its entirety, but we’re getting closer. The most remarkable reason for the group coming about is Mitchell’s doing, so I’ll let him tell his story.
Mitchell: it all started in Year 9: I’m in Year 12 now. I experienced a high level of homophobia from my peers. I hadn’t already come out at the time, I was young and not well informed about the LGBT+ community. I was more or less on my own with that struggle. As I progressed through the year the homophobia became worse: more derogatory and verbally violent.
In Year 12 I had the one aim that nobody would go through the experience that I had to go through. So I ended up telling my story to the whole staffing body - all the people who’d taught me for the last five years. I wanted them to hear about all the things which had happened to me at school so we could begin to do things differently.
From that I set up the H.E.R.O support group. Since then, we’ve had weekly meeting every Wednesday. About thirty kids come every week and we’ve been running for the last 6 months.
Every week we have a different group topic. What we needed more than anything was an in depth education for the students as to how those - LGBT+ and not LGBT+ - can support their peers. How they can challenge language they hear being used. Not just saying that’s wrong, but saying that’s wrong, and this is why.
We’ve covered multiple topics in term of education, but now we’re starting to do less education and focus more on emotional support: sharing stories, communicating as a group, supporting one another. It’s evolved very naturally.
We want LGBT+ to be an intrinsic part of everyday school life, so we’ve also made displays about books to read and films to watch. Prompted by H.E.R.O, the school has brought in an LGBT+ lanyard which staff can wear to show they are supportive. Now we’ve even begun sharing everything we have done here and have taken it to another local school who are interested in us developing and supporting an LGBT+ group there.
We did face difficulties in starting up H.E.R.O because people weren’t used to a support group for LGBT+ community existing in the school. We didn’t know whether to go in full throttle or to feed things in gently. In the end, we went with the gentle approach, but started with a few posters, getting the word out about what we do, where we are, before going on to full year assemblies and drop-down days.
As we began to publicise the group even more, people began to switch on to what it was and what it meant. After the staff training in September we saw more challenge to the behaviour and language that people were using.
Simon: Mitchell’s story really did shock the staff, and caused them to take stock and think, ‘is that really happening here?’ After that, they were better recognising it but also more empowered, because we followed it up with ways to tackle inappropriate language or behaviour.
The planning for this event really started in the spring and summer terms of last
year. Julie Stevens, one of our Assistant Headteachers, began some work on tolerance and
respect following our Ofsted inspection and their action point recommendation that we
“Further improve pupils’ personal development by strengthening the curriculum for personal,
social and health education to ensure that it better meets the needs of pupils in key stages 3
She attended some Stonewall training and was looking into ways that we could
improve equality across the school. As Mitchell was coming to the end of Year 11, after his
exams Julie had several meetings with him and others in the LGBT+ community at Myton to
identify what might make the biggest impact. It was her efforts and leadership that
implemented the training day, got Mitchell in front of the staff and kick started the whole
movement. She has now been promoted to Head of Sixth Form, so the liaison with Mitchell,
the H.E.R.O group and the ongoing drive for equality and tolerance has shifted over to me.
Mitchell’s was the key moment for me in all of this. Before he was in sixth form, he and I had worked reasonably closely together. I’d taught him RE in Year 10, and he’d reported instances of inappropriate language and comments to me. But to hear it all as a complete journey was a whole different ball game.
I knew that we could do something: transform children’s lives and provide a better environment for the school community and a safe haven and somewhere to go. Everyone who comes to school should feel happy and safe and we need to provide mechanisms to make that even better.
Mitchell: recently at a weekly meeting and two individuals who are in a relationship sat down next to each other and supported one another of when they shared their stories of receiving homophobic abuse in the past. I could see their confidence, acceptance in themselves, and that ability to be able to share those experiences with people they didn’t necessarily know. It really showed how they felt comfortable and would get the necessary support from individuals they may not know or have a relationship, with apart from the fact that they’re supportive of the LGBT+ community.
Simon: I would say that in order to be as successful as possible from a school’s point of view, you need to get the buy-in from staff. In order to get this we needed something which was hard hitting and high impact as part and parcel of the staff training. It could involve bringing in an organisation or a group, statistics from a school survey, or just one person being brave enough to stand up and say ‘this is my story’, like Mitchell did. It has worked best for us with students leading the entire process: promoting it, shaping it, and supporting it.
Mitchell: having student leadership is fundamental to ensuring H.E.R.O’s main purpose of making school life better for the LGBT+ community.. Teachers are there to educate you and pick up on things, and that works for some people. But when it’s a peer picking you up on things, it may be more likely to sink in and have a positive effect. If I hear derogatory language I always challenge them now. They know my role is not to educate them, which means when I challenge them, they know the language they’ve used is just wrong!