I am both pleased and dismayed after reading Andrew Johnson’s article in the ‘I’ newspaper today (Monday 3rd November 2014). The new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan has stated that all schools including faith schools are going to have to demonstrate how they address and promote fundamental British values such as the ‘tolerance’ of other faiths and gay and transgender relationships.
This move would, from a legal perspective, ensure that schools conform to the public sector equality duties of the Equalities Act, and from an ethical perspective give young people from diverse backgrounds a more equitable experience of education, thus supporting their educational attainment and general well-being. This all sounds like great news but those of us who have worked in schools over a number of years will know that these sentiments have been verbalised on numerous occasions by numerous people working at all levels, and by those who have experienced the British education system. After all these years it seems that change to create more inclusive learning environments is still down to individual schools, the views and values of senior staff and governors, and it some cases, parents. Surely if we are to address ‘British values’ in all schools there must be a baseline that all schools must achieve as a minimum that involves the views and aspirations of young people themselves.
My main concern is that Nicky Morgan’s words are not just rhetoric and the guidance that will be provided by Ofsted to assist schools will not lack substance in terms of how to implement change. It’s easy to headline what has to be done but far more difficult to know how to do it operationally.
If faith schools are to ‘accept’ rather than just ‘tolerate’ children and young people who may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) for example, then they must take time to understand what that means rather than dressing it up in immorality, unacceptable sexual activity and perverse relationships. All children and young people deserve an equitable experience of education and telling them that to be gay or trans is unacceptable doesn’t stop them from being gay or trans it just makes their lives in terms of their authenticity far more difficult and their educational attainment is far more likely to suffer as a consequence.
Collectively we need to have more conversations at a local level about how we address these issues, sensitively and respectfully not just to appease people with strong religious beliefs that may not ‘accept or tolerate’ an LGB or T identity but to ensure we meet the needs of all young LGBT students and others in the school community who identify as LGB or T. It’s about saying to the whole school community, you can celebrate your religion and your identity at the same time and not have to choose one or the other.
Surely, if we can all be authentic in all aspects of our lives we are far more likely to live healthier, happier and productive lives.