I actually appreciated the challenges brought about by School Diversity Week
Dallam School is a state comprehensive in the North West of England and just south of the Lake District, with around 1000 students. This year was their first time taking part in School Diversity Week.
We’re a state boarding school, so we have 100+ international boarders: these students enrich the school, give us a different world view, and make us unique. It’s a really friendly school and just a nice place to be.
When I took on line management of PSHE, I immediately started getting emails from all kinds of people - and one of those included Just Like Us. It was the JLU pack which inspired me to bring School Diversity Week to Dallam - but first let me give a little bit of context.
Previously, we’d not taught any content which focussed specifically on sexual orientation or gender identity before, outside of the PSHE programme. So it was more than time to make a big deal out of School Diversity Week and encourage pride in our community.
The online toolkit and resource pack from Just Like Us made it so easy - it’s better than any equivalent resource that I’d seen. No other organisations are offering resources which are so “off the peg” and ready to go. There’s a great level of attention to detail which saved me loads of time, and meant I could focus my attention on how this was going to work in our school.
We wanted to embed opportunities for student leadership in the week, which is encouraged in Just Like Us’s resource. We got the sixth form leadership team on board, and started by asking them to prepare an assembly. This way, it was students talking to students, not just staff talking to students.
It turned out the student leaders were even more ambitious than us, and they asked if they could do more. One member of the team, Maya, even had the idea of designing a PSHE lesson for the school. She was brilliant, and the week really allowed her leadership skills to shine: she also did a staff briefing in which she talked about the challenges our students face in school, such as misgendering. During the talk, you could have heard a pin drop. We were so impressed with her articulacy and passion.
The rest of the school took part as well. The Food Tech team decided to make a cake, and we had a non-uniform day. The Media Department showed Love, Simon and reported back that the film drew a different crowd from normal - there was more mixing amongst the students. We had book displays, and our Humanities department taught the lessons featured in the Just Like Us pack. The Religious Studies lesson in particular prompted “some really important conversations and whole class discussions” and included “really good video clips about what it's like to be LGBTQ+ and a person of faith” (feedback from a Religious Education teacher).
That’s not to say we didn’t have our challenges. We did have a cohort of students who challenged the week and said they might protest by wearing black. We were able to talk things through with our students and in the end, they all remained in school, and there were no protests. I actually appreciated the opportunity to talk through the challenges they brought up - without the week, we wouldn’t necessarily have had these conversations. These conversations also helped me to understand wider safeguarding issues which I hadn’t been aware of previously, meaning that as a school we can take better care of our young people.
Running this kind of week helps you become more empathetic. It has helped teachers by providing a framework about which you can think with empathy about students in front of them.
I had the opportunity to walk around school during the week and spend some time taking in how it was going down around the school. I came across some really good conversations, such as a student who asked their teacher, ‘Why are we not having straight week?’. By the end of the conversation the student had bought a ribbon and was wearing it on her lapel - I got to see our staff making that difference.
A big part of School Diversity Week’s legacy will be in the student voice initiatives which go forward. Maya will lead on this, and will start a Pride Group in the new academic year. On the staff side of things, we’ll definitely be revisiting our PSHE curriculum to ensure it’s inclusive, and we’ll be preparing for an even bigger and better week next year.
To schools thinking of taking part: definitely go for it. We need to make sure schools are places where everyone is welcome, and take particular care to consider minority groups in our community. Everyone should feel this school is a place for people like them, and every single person in our community plays a part in making that happen.