June 2017


  • Core values
    As statements of values go, ours at ASCL is simply magnificent, says Geoff Barton. It crystallises what we do, what we stand for and how we work: “We speak on behalf of members; we act on behalf of children and young people.” More
  • Leading the way
    Headteacher and ASCL member Janet Sheriff shares her journey on becoming the first ever black and minority ethnic (BME) secondary headteacher in Leeds and the only female headteacher her school had ever appointed. More
  • Time for change
    Tim Ramsey from LGBT+ organisation Just Like Us says that schools and colleges are key in facilitating open discussion and promoting tolerance and respect. Here, Tim shares his personal experience and says that leaders need to reaffirm their commitment to this issue. More
  • Refocus assessment
    Research Manager Dr David Thomas says that schools have been given an important opportunity to develop a bespoke assessment strategy focusing on pupils’ needs. Here he highlights a new resource designed to help schools achieve this. More
  • Invaluable experience
    ASCL Annual Conference is a priceless opportunity not to be missed says Headteacher and ASCL member Pepe Di’Iasio. Here he provides a summary of the highlights from this year’s event held in March. More
  • Building character
    Headmaster Dr Julian Murphy explains why helping students develop a toolkit of habits to ensure that they flourish is so important and how it can be incorporated into everyday teaching. More
Bookmark and Share

Tim Ramsey from LGBT+ organisation Just Like Us says that schools and colleges are key in facilitating open discussion and promoting tolerance and respect. Here, Tim shares his personal experience and says that leaders need to reaffirm their commitment to this issue.

Time for a change

If one voice at school had told me that being gay wasn’t going to ruin my life, it would have made all the difference. I don’t remember anything from Year 5 at primary school apart from one thing: the music lesson when I learnt that being gay was wrong.

We’d been set a project on great composers. My friend Mark had Tchaikovsky. I was busy making notes from a book about Mozart when Mark put his book down and interrupted with, “I’m not doing him. He was a faggot.” The rest at my table sniggered. I had to ask what it meant. It’s the first memory of many at school when I felt ashamed of who I was.

Things weren’t better at secondary school. For a while, I thought it wouldn’t matter and that all I needed to do was turn myself straight. I tried to be a good ‘lad’, dating girls and tearing out photos from a friend’s porn magazine. I prayed for God to turn me straight.

But he didn’t. When I realised I couldn’t change being gay, I withdrew. I didn’t invite anyone back to my house for five years or attend the school leavers’ ball because I felt that I had to find a girl, and just couldn’t face it. I don’t have any real friends from that period.

Sadly, I’m not the exception. For young people across the country, growing up LGBT+ is still unacceptably tough: 96% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pupils hear homophobic remarks (https://tinyurl. com/lp22lbd), two in five skip school because of homophobic bullying. And, shockingly, more than half have reported self-harming and two in five have contemplated suicide (https://tinyurl.com/nxdasue).

These experiences can have a lifelong negative impact on young people’s potential and wellbeing (https://tinyurl.com/kfpgz2v): drug use is seven times higher for LGB people than the general population, binge drinking is twice as common among gay and bisexual men and substance dependency is significantly higher.

And it’s not just LGBT+ students and teachers who bear the impact of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying. It can affect anyone not conforming to expected gender norms – girls who want to study engineering, boys who play the flute.

The situation facing LGBT+ young people today is a much-neglected crisis with devastating consequences. We need to do more to tackle HBT bullying to stem this waste of potential, to help promote positive mental wellbeing and prevent this tragic loss of life.

Relatable role models

Hearing from other young people, for whom being LGBT+ was a positive part of their lives, gave me the confidence to come out. I set up Just Like Us to do just that: to build a world where LGBT+ young people thrive from the classroom to their careers, supported by LGBT+ allies.

We’ve put young people at the heart of achieving this, recruiting LGBT+ young people as positive role models for school pupils and partnering with employers to give them the confidence and skills they need to give talks in assemblies that champion LGBT+ equality and challenge discrimination.

Our ambassadors’ messages are uniquely powerful as students hear from relatable role models, just a little older and a little wiser. Their talks and follow-up support give hope to LGBT+ students that life gets better and they provide a toolkit that empowers all students to be active allies and take responsibility for championing LGBT+ equality in their communities.

School Diversity Week

The highlight of our work is School Diversity Week (3–7 July 2017), the national celebration of LGBT+ equality in education (justlikeus.org/sdw).

Our free resources enable teachers to empower pupils to run an event, however big or small, to show their commitment to tackling HBT bullying. By signing up to the week, teachers get access to a LGBT+ Teacher Toolkit, a chance to attend School Diversity Awards, and opportunities to win prizes for their school or college. They can also become members of a network leading the way in championing LGBT+ equality. School Diversity Week has even been mentioned by Ofsted as evidence of a school’s “harmonious environment” (https://tinyurl.com/ma3vfyd).

The best thing is the impact that our courageous ambassadors are making: 85% of pupils say that they are less likely to be homophobic in their words or actions and 88% understand why everyone should care about LGBT+ equality. More importantly, we’re reaching the pupils who need to hear this message, as one self-identifying lesbian pupil said, “Me and my girlfriend agreed that it was a very motivating and inspirational speech and made us feel incredibly better about ourselves.”


Sadly, there are still obstacles in the way of our vision where every young person is setup for success regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our work isn’t about sex; it’s about wellbeing and making schools environments where pupils can be themselves.

Despite nearly 15 years since the abolition of Section 28, its shadow still looms beyond the three in ten teachers who don’t know if they can legally talk about LGBT+ issues (https://tinyurl.com/ktcjpou). It has left a knowledge gap and an uneasiness about teaching this topic. Some of the more extreme and bizarre responses from senior leaders have included, “We don’t have any gay pupils at the school,” and, “I’m not sure we’re ready for lesbians.” More often, nervousness centres on what age it’s OK to talk about LGBT+ issues. For us, the answer is simple: we don’t wait until a pupil is 16 to tackle racism, nor should we with homophobia.

Behind much of this lurks concerns about how parents will react to their child being taught about HBT bullying. Pushback from parents is the biggest block we face. While the vast majority of parents support this issue and probably assume that everyone thinks the same, they can be drowned out by a loud but tiny minority who oppose any engagement with LGBT+ issues.

Schools are required to tackle HBT bullying under the Equality Act 2010 and Ofsted guidelines. It’s a criterion because there is a moral imperative to support LGBT+ pupils and we rely upon courageous school and college leaders, who stand firm in the face of criticism, because they see this as a duty, not just a requirement.

Schools and colleges are only part of the solution, but they have huge potential to transform the lives of LGBT+ young people by being truly safe spaces for LGBT+ young people: a place where they can be themselves and can thrive and flourish, even if bigotry still faces them outside the playground gates.

Time to act

This year of all years is the time to take action. In the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act that decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, we have much to celebrate and much still to do. With hate crimes against LGBT+ people rising, poor mental health among LGBT+ young people and significant impact on pupil attainment, we need school and college leaders to reaffirm their commitment to this issue.

We aim to support and connect schools and colleges who do this. Holding an event in School Diversity Week and joining the 45,000 young people who celebrated the week last year, is a way that we can send this powerful, united message that schools and colleges are places where everyone feels welcome and that they are set up to ensure that every one of their pupils succeed.

Tim Ramsey is Chief Executive of Just Like Us (justlikeus.org)