From a safe space to making school wide changes

Helena Romanes School and Sixth Form Centre is located in rural Essex and caters for pupils from 11-18. It currently has around 1200 pupils from across the local area. Helena Romanes School and Sixth Form Centre has worked with Just Like Us for a number of years across multiple programmes. John, the school’s Head of Sociology, has been our main point of contact and School Staff Champion.

We’ve been lucky enough to have worked with Just Like Us for quite a while now and this year have taken part in their Pride Groups programme. We took the decision to join to help support our existing LGBT+ and allies group. The idea to set up a group initially came about because of our involvement with School Diversity Week. We were interested in building on the success of the week and continue to support our LGBT+ pupils in a really focused way, which provided them with a safe space and lots of new opportunities. We knew from our experience of School Diversity Week that Just Like Us would be the perfect partner to support our group as it grew.

When we initially set up the group, we wanted to make sure that pupils were front and centre. They would be the voices setting the agenda and taking ownership. We wanted to encourage pupils who might not have previously felt able to express themselves or feel welcomed by the school to have a place where they could do something positive and assume a leadership role. The Pride Groups programme has allowed us to meet those goals with Just Like Us providing resources and training throughout the year specifically for students.

Just Like Us has been really fantastic in helping us create that safe space for pupils of all ages. Every fortnight we receive something brand new which we can work on as a group. Our group’s favourites this year have been resources on drag as an art form, around LGBT+ history and guidance on how we can plan our own School Diversity Week celebration. Every resource captures the group’s imagination and is so well-researched. It allows us to not only bring LGBT+ culture and history directly into our meetings but also to have lots of fun with different activities and creative tasks.

As educators, it can be a challenge to juggle all our responsibilities so being able to have new resources and external training opportunities throughout the year has been a massive help. Sometimes when you run a group like this, you may not have the same experiences as the pupils you want to support. Pupils appreciate and are thankful for us but we’re not the experts. That’s why having Just Like Us on hand has been perfect for our group.

For me, being involved in the group these last two years has been a privilege. Not only do I feel as though we’ve created a warm, welcoming and enthusiastic group of young people but it has been such a wonderful learning experience. Week in, week out when we receive the latest resources from Just Like Us I feel like I am learning alongside our pupils. I always know that there is someone to talk to about these issues at the charity who has the best interest of Helena Romanes at heart.

All of this is really important to us as a school in a rural area where, while it's growing year on year, we don’t have much diversity. Just a few short years ago we didn’t even have a conversation around LGBT+ inclusion whatsoever so am thrilled that our group now has over 20 regular members.

When I speak to our regular members about what the impact of having the group has been for them, they often say it’s a place to help build their confidence and find support. It’s almost like a mini-community within the school and, as it crosses year groups, you can see it has a far reaching impact on the confidence of the younger pupils. Our group has also had an effect on the wider school community. Yes, it has raised awareness of being LGBT+ but it also has established itself as being a visible sign of how the school is changing with our own display boards and assembly slots. I see us as a very active group within the school community, one committed to offering all students a place where they can feel safe and positive about who they are.

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