Review by David Weston

15 Apr 2018, 5:00

How to transform your school into an LGBT+ friendly place, by Dr Elly Barnes and Dr Anna Carlile

I still remember the stunned, pin-drop silence when I stood in front of 300 students and said “this assembly would have been illegal to give just a few years ago due to a law called Section 28”.

I have to admit that the legacy of this hideous legislation still sits heavily with me and has driven a lot of my campaigning work in this area, whether setting up OutTeacher or supporting the establishment of the brilliant new LGBTed network. It was, therefore, with some excitement that I picked up Elly Barnes’ and Anna Carlile’s new book on how to transform schools to LGBT+ friendly places.

Children make sense of themselves and the world around them by what they experience. Estimates suggest that, on average, every class of 30 children will have between one and three pupils who will come to have a different sexual or gender identity than the majority of their peers.

So how can schools properly speak to these issues that were once deemed unspeakable?

This book is much more than just an exposition of ideas

With the authors’ extraordinary expertise and experience in this field, this compact book flows smoothly from a well-evidenced introduction to the issues, through an exploration of policies, curriculum, environment, community and networks. It is peppered with challenging and uplifting quotes to bring situations to life, based on Elly and Anna’s experience of working with thousands of teachers and pupils over many years through the amazing Educated and Celebrate programme.

But this book is much more than just an exposition of ideas. What immediately impresses and lifts the book to another level is the provision of a wide range of examples. For example, the policy chapter’s ideas are immediately made accessible with 20 pages of examples from nursery, primary and secondary settings.

The curriculum chapter not only provides many illustrations of what schools have done to embed LGBT+ figures into their lessons, it also includes a number of web links where schools can quickly grab more resources to put the ideas into action. This is not just a book to persuade, it’s a genuine toolkit.

This brings me to my first “even better if”. Elly and Anna’s work has been strongly rooted in their own programme. The advantage of this is that they know Educate and Celebrate’s resources and tools like the back of their hand, so the majority of links in the book point to that organisation’s website.

However, I would have loved to see an even wider variety of resources and organisations.

I would have loved to see an even wider variety of resources and organisations.

Schools Out is only briefly mentioned, Stonewall is referenced mainly for their research, while other incredible organisations (such as Diversity Role Models, Just Like Us and the work of unions such as the NEU) don’t appear to be mentioned at all. Does this stop the book being incredibly powerful? No, but a wider variety of links could have celebrated and linked to some of the other amazing work going on.

I have a couple of other minor qualms. In the curriculum chapter the authors say that the required ethos is “to smash heteronormativity” – might this sort of language put off people dipping their toe into this topic for the first time? In the chapter on culture and community I felt that the authors don’t fully engage with the nuanced challenges of situating LGBT+ work in a faith-school environment.

I’d have loved them to give examples of, for example, how schools could use the Church of England’s work on homophobic bullying, or more detail about how they’ve successfully worked with schools where most pupils are of the Islamic faith.

Despite these criticisms, this book is undoubtedly brilliant. I would love every school in the country to have a copy and to work through the ideas within it. It should be read by governors, school leaders and teachers.

This is a book of LGBT+-friendly recipes that could make an earth-shattering difference to so many vulnerable pupils; I sincerely hope that it’s a best-seller and wish that such resources and ideas were commonplace and accepted when I was at school myself.

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