It’s now 20 years since Section 28 was repealed in England yet in primary schools we’re still, it seems, reluctant to talk with young people about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or more. Some of us can’t get past the LGBT+ acronym, never actually defining what each letter stands for.
“Can I say ‘gay’ in Year 2?” one lead teacher for EDI was asked recently. We were talking during a recent 1:1 coaching session on developing best LGBT+ inclusive practice across the school. Deeply frustrated, the teacher bemoaned her experience with colleagues: “Some of them won’t include it beyond PSHE. Others never get round to it, telling me they’ve run out of time.”
Many primary class teachers are fearful of parental backlash in front of groups of other parents and their children. Some know that their senior leader colleagues are just as wary. And it’s true, this is one area where some parents and carers often feel emboldened to speak their mind. It’s embarrassing to be on the receiving end and, if you’re not confident about why we’re including LGBT+ themes in our learning and our environments, it’s easier to put your head in the sand. But let’s not forget that it’s statistically very likely that every family will have someone – parent, uncle or aunt, sibling, cousin or grandparent – who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or more.
“We want to make sure it’s age appropriate…”, say primary schools.
The DfE’s compulsory guidance on RSE came into force in September 2020, stating, ‘Primary schools are enabled and encouraged to cover LGBT content if they consider it appropriate to do so.’
With an independent review currently in progress to ‘advise the Secretary of State for Education on what is appropriate to teach in relationships and sex education and health education, and at what age’ , the stakes for ‘age-appropriate’ are high.
Of course, it’s important that the curriculum is appropriate for the age and experience of the children in each year group. But let’s not forget that when we talk about equity, diversity and inclusion, we’re moving beyond curriculum into the realm of whole school culture. The reservations we may have about being LGBT+ inclusive in younger year groups do not sit well with a culture of inclusivity and belonging. As a Primary Headteacher, I know that the majority of primary schools now include at least a handful of same-sex parented families, and often at least one child questioning their gender. That’s not forgetting the afore-mentioned LGBT+ relatives and friends. Surely we owe it to all the children living in LGBT+ families to see their own lived experience validated by our practice and provision? At the very least, our culture and curriculum should reflect and represent our LGBT+ children, both those who know it already and those who will know it soon enough. It’s our moral duty.
So, what could be more appropriate, for EYFS up, than talking about how families are made up differently, and that they have love for each other in common? Quite simply it is appropriate to have a curriculum where we share stories with young children about families and individuals who may dress, speak, identify or love differently from those they know, whilst talking about kindness and respect. We must also surely help children try to understand the injustice of being discriminated against, or harmed, simply for loving someone of the same gender.
We know that learning about sexual orientations other than heterosexuality does not ‘make you gay’, any more than learning that some people question the gender assigned them at birth ‘makes you trans’. Young people are discerning and knowledge is power. If any of the above applies to them, they will learn about it in a safe, accepting space. If it doesn’t apply, they have learned respect and compassion for others. Is it then morally acceptable to put our heads in the sand when we know that through educating our children, we educate our families and our communities?
Put simply, LGBT+ inclusion is about showing respect and compassion for all LGBT+ people as equal members of our diverse school and wider communities. It’s about being included in every aspect of school life and knowing you belong.
It’s always appropriate, at every age.