Solutions: A whole-trust approach to LGBTQ+ safeguarding

Evie Cryer reflects on the gains Oasis Community Learning has made in safeguarding LGBTQ+ pupils and staff by creating a trust-wide, inclusive culture

Evie Cryer reflects on the gains Oasis Community Learning has made in safeguarding LGBTQ+ pupils and staff by creating a trust-wide, inclusive culture

9 May 2023, 5:00

Earlier this year, Edurio and The Key released their national review of safeguarding, drawing on the views of 70,000 pupils. The study found concerning differences in feelings of safety between pupils with different sexual orientations and gender identities.

While most pupils overall feel safe in school, this number dropped significantly among pupils who did not identify as heterosexual, and those with a gender identity other than male or female. With these alarming findings in mind, and in anticipation of the government’s promised guidance on transgender pupils, I’m proud to share my trust’s approach to inclusive safeguarding.  

It is non-negotiable that safeguarding provision is available to all, in a way that best meets the needs of the individual. Issues around sexual orientation and gender identity can be emotive, but as all educators know, knowledge and clear communication are powerful tools for building bridges and fostering an inclusive community.

Culture starts with staff

Our trust-wide LGBTQ+ & Allies network began with staff, as we felt that without staff we would struggle to encourage pupils to follow. Now, our networks stretch across the pupil population as well, with student voice, champions and events a vital part of the equation.

Our first and most important step was to ensure LGBTQ+ stories were represented across our curriculum. This goes beyond awareness days or PSHE/RSE sessions; It’s about supporting all subjects to highlight the experiences of people from different backgrounds.

Challenging behaviours

Setting an example and encouraging an open and accepting mindset among students is the best way to ensure the long-term safety of all pupils. In the short term, however, interventions may be necessary.  We categorise incidents into three tiers, developed with our LGBTQ+ & Allies network. Tier 1 represents a learning opportunity, with advice on what to do next time; Tier 2 requires more structured sanction from school leadership; and Tier 3 covers serious incidents that may require police intervention.

For Tier 1 and 2 incidents, we’ve produced an educational booklet for pupils in detention so that alongside the sanction they also get the information they need to grow from the experience. We have also trained our staff to support young people to work through the booklet.

Working with parents

We bring parents into the conversation where possible, inviting them to events in school and our community hubs. This again recognises that it is adults who set the culture within which children grow and act.

We register pupils who wish to identify as LGBTQ+ under the instruction of parents or carers. If a parental request is made that the pupil be registered and known as their chosen, rather than their birth name and gender, then this request will be upheld.

Where there is conflict, we recognise the importance of supporting young people’s right to self-expression. However, our academies will not take any action until a compromise with parents has been achieved.

Tips for implementation

As a large trust, we have access to a wide a range of excellent people and practices. However, delivering genuine LGBTQ+ inclusion is within any school or trust’s reach. Here are nine actions that have helped us to deliver genuine LGBTQ+ inclusion:

  1. Zero tolerance to homophobia, aligned to our values and ethos.
  2. Capturing student voice often and involving pupils on the journey of acceptance.
  3. Providing definitions of our policy’s terminology and examples of what it references in action, including what breaking it looks like.
  4. Checking our policy’s wording with someone from within the community the policy serves.
  5. Not overlook things we think will ‘never happen’. If you can think it, it needs a policy to protect the community from it.
  6. Ensuring our policies have a mental health focus, working on the assumption that there are hidden harms. In severe cases, suppression can cause extreme feelings of stress, anxiety, and trauma. 
  7. Getting buy-in from staff. Policy is only as good as the people who implement it.
  8. Integrating student networks by sharing what they do with the wider school on a regular basis. 
  9. Share lessons from those with established whole-school approaches with those who are beginning the journey.

Correction: After publication, Oasis said a paragraph that stated they would not normally discuss a pupil’s gender identity with parents was incorrect and not their policy. They have since amended this paragraph to instead state while they recognise the importance of supporting young people’s right to self-expression, no action is taken until a compromise has been achieved with parents.

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