What is School Diversity Week?
School Diversity Week is the national celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT+) equality in education. Organised by the charity Just Like Us (justlikeus.org) and launched with the support of the Department for Education, the week empowers pupils and school staff to take responsibility for tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying. In 2021, schools representing over two million pupils and school staff are signed up to take part.
Why do we need to champion LGBT+ equality in schools?
Growing up remains unacceptably tough for LGBT+ young people with potentially life-long impact on young people's attainment and wellbeing: LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to feel lonely and worry daily about mental health than their peers. By positively celebrating difference of sexual orientation and gender identity, a school can reduce discrimination and improve the wellbeing of LGBT+ young people, and our entire school community.
School Diversity Week puts the spotlight on LGBT+ young people, promoting awareness and understanding, displaying commitment to ensuring all LGBT+ people are rightfully granted a safe, comfortable and happy experience during their time in education and beyond.
Why is my child's school taking part in School Diversity Week?
Schools are committed to creating an inclusive community where everyone – staff and pupils – can be themselves and realise their potential.
Schools and their governors have a legal duty to ensure all forms of bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, are tackled under the Education and Inspections Act 2006. This responsibility was reinforced by the Equality Act 2010 which obliges us to promote understanding about LGBT+ equality and challenge discrimination and prejudice. The Department for Education has shown its support for School Diversity Week across multiple years, and Boris Johnson has sent a letter of support to Just Like Us in recognition of School Diversity Week 'to make children aware of the importance of diversity and help them to be accepting of themselves and others.'
Ofsted will assess approaches to educating our young people about LGBT+ issues and bullying. Involvement with School Diversity Week has been commended by Ofsted as an indication that a school is fulfilling these responsibilities.
Independent research of almost 3,000 secondary school pupils across the UK, conducted independently by Cibyl for Just Like Us' 2021 report, found that in schools where there is positive messaging about being LGBT+, pupils are less likely to have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings – whether they are LGBT+ or not. The independent research shows that having a LGBT+ inclusion in schools, is good for all pupils' wellbeing.
Just Like Us' report, Growing Up LGBT+, also contains recommendations for schools as well as parents and carers about LGBT+ topics. You can read the report recommendations online on pages 64 and 65.
Is my child too young to discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity?
In line with their legal obligations, schools are committed to educating young people about LGBT+ equality and the importance of challenging prejudice and discrimination in age-appropriate ways. This is also true when we tackle other forms of discrimination – on the grounds of race, religion or disability, for example – at all ages. Schools should have a zero tolerance approach to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying at any age.
School Diversity Week acknowledges that sexual orientation and gender reassignment are fundamental characteristics of individual identity, protected by law. It champions the fact that all children, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, will have the opportunity to live happy and fulfilled lives. It recognises the contributions of LGBT+ people to our culture. By taking part in School Diversity Week, a school will be preparing our pupils for a world in which the importance of diversity is recognised, and individuals protected from discrimination. To hear more about why we think this is important for everyone, watch our founder Tim Ramsey's TEDx talk: “Is my child too young to learn about being gay?”
How do I introduce LGBT+ topics in an age appropriate way?
It can be useful to gain a sense of their existing knowledge. For many students, LGBT+ topics may have been covered in school assemblies, however for others this might be completely new. We've provided a terminology guide so your child can establish understanding or refresh their knowledge on LGBT+ terms and their definitions.
If your child has never knowingly met anyone LGBT+ it can be beneficial to think about LGBT+ role models they may know and look up to. You can then discuss their identities and further cement their understanding of definitions.
Our resources encompass the importance of diversity, fairness, representation and understanding. If you feel like you want to talk to your child before they take part in the activity and lesson plans we've suggested some questions which relate to these terms. These discussions should help them form a good level of base knowledge before they engage with these activities:
Why is diversity important? Not just in terms of LGBT+ identity, but also sex, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, and so on?
Do you feel like LGBT+ people are treated fairly today?
Why is it important that we tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia?
Growing up, do you think it's important to be around or see people who are similar to you?
What if I don't know much about a particular topic?
If you're not entirely familiar with LGBT+ topics, learn along with your child. Be honest and approach it from the view of 'let's find out about this together'. We've provided plenty of resources to get conversations started and run activities that are interactive and educational. Learning about LGBT+ people, issues and history is important for young people in accepting differences and preparing them for life in the modern world.
How do I approach School Diversity Week if I think my child is LGBT+?
If you believe your child might be LGBT+ themselves, the activities they do as part of School Diversity Week allows for the topic to be introduced and normalised in a safe space.
There's no formula for how a LGBT+ young person might act or look. It's important not to make direct assumptions until a child does or doesn't come out but instead talk about LGBT+ people in a positive light. This means that if they are LGBT+ they'll feel supported and it will make their journey easier. If they are not LGBT+ they'll have an open-minded and understanding outlook on the topic.
It's also good to remember that because a child may not conform to gender norms (this includes clothing preferences, behaviours, likes or dislikes) it does not necessarily mean they are LGB or trans. Support your child however they choose to express their gender at any given time. Empower them to dress however they like and engage in the activities they want to, even if they don't align with gender expectations. In some instances it may transpire that young people who don't conform to gender norms are trans, but for many it is simply a case of gender exploration.
The activities they do at school may encourage them to talk about topics of romantic attraction and gender identity. If your child is LGBT+ this could be the first time they've heard about these topics and it's likely to be an incredibly formative experience on which they will look back and feel heard and supported.
If your child is openly LGBT+ this is a wonderful opportunity to explore a topic that is important to them in a fun way. Allow them to take the lead on discussions and talk about how engagement in LGBT+ focused activities might be a positive experience for them. Playing a role in School Diversity Week as a parent of an LGBT+ child is a great way to show support.
How do I ensure my child is engaging with the online material safely?
We've taken every step to ensure our online materials and masterclasses are safe for all pupils, and you can ask your child's school to share our safeguarding information with you. It is likely that your young person will be accessing online material independently. Have a discussion beforehand about sites which may be the most beneficial to use in keeping the topic age-appropriate and positive. Websites of LGBT+ organisations often have educational resources available, are well-informed and positive in tone. We also recommend using a parental lock.
Masterclasses will be accessed via social media. The target age group for each masterclass will be clearly stated on its description and at the start of the class. They can be watched without parental supervision, but we recommend you attend with your young person, particularly if they are 13 or under so you can discuss the content and see what they have learned.
If you are concerned about the online safety of any apps your child is using, either for learning or social reasons, have a look at guidance from Net Aware (NSPCC).
Expert guidance recommends that as well as using appropriate safety measures, parents and carers create space for young people to engage in online content. They recommend using conversation to take an interest in apps or games they're using and address any concerns this way, without having to monitor everything they do online.