2022 Autumn Term 1


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    Led by students, the Speak Up Speak Out programme is giving staff the tools and a script to tackle discriminatory language and behaviour head on, says Headteacher Jo Halliday. More
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Led by students, the Speak Up Speak Out programme is giving staff the tools and a script to tackle discriminatory language and behaviour head on, says Headteacher Jo Halliday.

Not just banter

We returned to school after the winter lockdown in March 2021 when society in general seemed to have shifted away from everyone pulling together to a more fractious set of relationships. Everything just seemed a little more unpleasant. 

Our student council noticed. Disrespectful language seemed to be more apparent – casual (or overt) sexism and racism, gender or sexuality-based insults, ‘banter’ and cultural slurs were the norm, they told the leadership team. They wondered whether staff really weren’t hearing it or whether turning a blind eye just seemed easier. And when we are surrounded by it in society, how does a teacher respond with meaning and impact in the middle of a maths lesson? 

The leadership team listened and wondered whether the best people to lead on this needed change were the students themselves. Fewer top-down rules and more bottom-up culture was what was needed. 

At the same time, several other changes were underway in our school in our third year of new leadership and a new trust. We were working towards the Diana Award for Anti-Bullying, putting the final touches to our relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) programme, changing our reporting systems for safeguarding, and developing a variety of leadership and ambassador roles for students. All these changes were punctuated by lockdowns, but they were gaining momentum nonetheless. 

Conversations with students 

The idea of a manifesto grew out of conversations between the leadership team and senior students. It would be an agreement that the community could sign up to, one that would set out our stall at Theale Green School and lead the way, even when perhaps society was floundering. 

And then of course, came the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard, and Everyone’s Invited (bit.ly/3RKrZ5R) followed. 

We talked to students and especially to the sixth form, who held a day of action around sexualised behaviours and language, as well as how equipped staff were to challenge when needed. We have worked intensely to build a culture of feedback in our school, but this felt like the hardest feedback to hear. We will never regret listening to our students in this way. 

A sixth form student and an A level teacher took the feedback and went through it meticulously, producing a draft manifesto that was sent to the whole school for more feedback. The question of what would happen to anyone who ignored the manifesto kept coming up and it led to some challenging discussions for staff about the measures that could be put in place to ensure that all staff felt equipped to respond with impact; scripted conversations and simple recording systems were the answer. 

Staff would not have to get into debates about what a word meant or whether it was ‘just banter’ – the scripted response would always be the same. The exact words used by the student would be recorded on class charts so parents would be left in no doubt at all what had been said when discussing it with their children. 

The manifesto continued to develop alongside our other work, driven by passion for what we were trying to achieve. It led to the idea of Speak Up Speak Out – an umbrella title for all the work we were doing and under which every student should feel entirely protected and safe at all times in our school community. And it would mean they would know exactly what to do if something was to go wrong. 

We launched Speak Up Speak Out in September and staff training was the foundation for its success in all aspects. Students helped to train staff, scripted responses were rehearsed and we launched it at assemblies. Forty copies of the manifesto were placed around the school and a board about the campaign was put up in our canteen. The adults were driving forward what the students had rightly asked for and the students saw very quickly that we were serious. 

Precise feedback 

At the start, there were some inconsistencies in staff reporting, inevitably. But with regular and precise feedback, staff were reporting everything that they saw and heard. 

At October half-term, having analysed the results so far, we sent detailed communications to some parents about our concerns and the need to support our manifesto. A fixed-term exclusion followed for two students in term 2 and while this is not to be celebrated, it was a clear moment to acknowledge that our culture was changing. 

Clarity and simplicity of scripted responses and reporting have been key to success. No comment is ignored, and students recognise the huge change that they have empowered staff to make. The student council confirms that the difference is palpable, and the data supports the culture change. There is still a core element whose behaviours are more deep-rooted, but we believe that by persisting with the programme, this will change. 

Discussion with students underpins our data and feedback. A Key Stage 4 pupil involved in the initial group commented: “There has been a big decrease in the use of homophobic language; people don’t find it funny anymore. A transgender student started with us recently from another school and they were automatically made very welcome. We’ve noticed that far more students are now open about their sexuality because they can be.” 

Culturally, students tell us that they feel very accepted for their differences when this has not always been their experience in the past. 

‘Empowering journey’ 

Training for staff continues termly to keep this at the forefront of our minds and to ensure we don’t slip back into old ways. One of our newer teaching staff said: “This journey has been very empowering to me as a practitioner in the classroom. In a subject like history, in particular, controversial topics will be discussed as part of a curriculum that is diverse and fully representative. The manifesto has given me a very consistent and robust system through which to challenge the behaviour of students who do not meet those expectations. As a recently qualified teacher, the scripted responses are very empowering for situations in which my lack of experience may prevent me from improvising an effective and appropriate statement to deliver to the student which has impact in the moment.” 

Our manifesto is shared with the community and our expectations surrounding it apply equally on the school bus, corridors, the playground, the classroom as well as all other walks of school life. 


See the mission statement, approach and other details of the Speak Up Speak Out Manifesto at www.thealegreen.w-berks.sch.uk/speak-upspeak-out 

Jo Halliday
Headteacher of Theale Green School in West Berkshire, part of the Activate Learning Education Trust

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