Kate leads on Youth Programmes and Student Development at Newham Sixth Form College in London. She is the School Staff Champion for their Pride Group. The college is designed for those aged 16-19 and has around 2,700 learners.
Caring, supportive and (a little bit) loud - those are the three words that sum up our college’s Pride Group and I think they would definitely agree on the third one.
I was beginning to become concerned about the college losing momentum in all of the ways we’ve changed the conversation around being LGBT+ in our corner of London. All of our staff had completed training to combat HBT (homophobic, biphobic and transphobic) bullying and we had LGBT+ staff champions who had supported the group. However, when they left the college I didn’t want the headway we had made to collapse so I took the initiative and contacted Just Like Us to gain their support.
It’s in their hands
I wanted to set up something which was independent of me so that the students felt a sense of ownership. From the very start, they took charge and ran the group with both peer to peer support and with one specific student as the main leader. With the help of Just Like Us’ resources aimed at allowing Student Leaders to plan and run their own sessions, I was very much there as an overseer. Being able to make use of ready-made resources was brilliant, particularly because they weren’t prescriptive. Our group was able to choose what would work best or what most interested them from a wide selection.
When I’m asked what I’ve personally gained from being a School Staff Champion I’m instantly drawn to the work I’ve done in developing our Student Leaders. I was able to mentor, support and encourage them not only when they’d come to me with Just Like Us’ plans for the next meeting but in the way they have used this opportunity to grow as leaders. I can’t understate how valuable they found taking on a leadership role - it was almost like work experience.
This sense of leadership was really consolidated during a training day for Student Leaders and School Staff Champions led by Just Like Us. With a mix of Pride Groups present for a day of activities and socialising, it was a great chance for my students to gain core skills such as teamwork, communication and planning. Within mixed groups, from all over the country, my students reported back that they were so proud to be seen as leaders and took an active part in
organising their groups that day. This notably increased their confidence when they returned to college. On my side that day, hearing the personal stories of Just Like Us staff had a huge impact as I could see the lives of my students really represented.
Everybody’s Talking About Pride Group
Despite being a new group, we’ve done a lot to be proud of this year including helping to plan and run the college's Pride and Healthy Relationships event in February. This coincided with LGBT+ History Month. Again, I handed over ownership to them: it was really their event, and 500 students attended across the morning. This allowed the group to do something a little bit different, to work as a team with a shared goal and reach a wider audience of peers. We made use of Just Like Us’ LGBT+ History session as well as setting up stalls, glitter balloons and a bake sale to raise funds for the group.
We weren’t just confined to the college - we even branched out to hit the West End. Our Pride Group was left on cloud nine after going on a trip to see the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie together. It was a wonderful evening with lots of laughter that really cemented our bond.
Not all smooth sailing
As with anything, there are challenges. The trip to the theatre had to be carefully phrased as for our ‘equality group’ to ensure pupils who weren’t out at home felt confident to ask permission. We also had to deal with comments made during the Pride and Healthy Relationships event. But we did deal with them. And this incident only emphasised why it’s so important to have spaces where our students can feel safe and open. So much of a Pride Group is rooted in being a support network.
The group itself also presented its challenges, as they had to learn to understand each others’ differences. It’s true that at times, tensions ran high, and it took some of them time to extend that understanding to each other. But taking students on that journey is what the groups there to do. That’s another reason why I loved being a School Staff Champion, I was able to allow them to flourish independently but could still step in to help guide them when needed.
Just Like Us resources: the full package
From our very first session, my students were really engaged with the resources and thinking critically about them. This really made the group something special.
The resources provided have been brilliant. I don’t have to go all over the place, they’re all easily accessible and available. The Student Leaders can download, adapt them and share their thoughts with me; I support when I need to but it’s very much something our students can focus on independently. This has provided them with confidence, communication and leadership skills they can carry forward.
There’s never been a resource from Just Like Us which has left me “...and what?”. Everything was focused and timely which also kept the students engaged; it was all relevant. We’ve seen the impact that training, being a student-led group and receiving weekly resources has had - attendance has become much more consistent and we were able to build up the group as the year progressed.
Be the change you want to see
We’ve been a core part of a wider movement to increase LGBT+ visibility. We’ve had Pride events running for three years and I know just having these - and now our group - lets people know that the college is a welcoming place. The group is now informing our Equality Team and will continue to do so going forward.
They’re changing the college, but being part of the group has changed them too. You really get to know them well, have fun with them, and see first hand as they develop their skills and also who they are as people.