I don’t say this very often but in some ways schools can learn from business- particularly in the area of diversity and its powerful impact on recruitment at retention. Most of the business world has clocked on to the fact that creating workplaces that celebrate diversity is key to success- education could learn from their experiences.
I had reason recently to go back in time and revisit the late 1980s- an era in which our Prime Minister was castigating schools for teaching children that they “have an inalienable right to be gay”; teachers were being reprimand in national papers for “flaunting their homosexuality” by deciding not to actively hide it, and unions were tackling a rising case load of teachers being summarily fired for being LGBT+. It was a fraught time for the LGBT movement and one which resulted in the now notorious Section 28 which hampered attempts to stamp out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. Many have a rosy picture of the education industry now; but with the national context the way it is there are many teachers who can see us getting back there all too quickly.
However, there are reasons to be cheerful because, in many ways, we have come a long way. Last week the NAHT and Stonewall created a quiet milestone in the movement to end homophobia in schools by releasing its first set of guidelines for school leaders. This is the first document of its kind in the UK and provides a useful blueprint for all leaders in schools about how to support LGBT staff. I would go so far as to argue that it is almost compulsory reading for anyone trying to build an effective retention strategy in a turbulent employment market.
In terms of tone and content it moves the diversity question subtly in a new direction: that of moving away simply from tolerating difference to celebrating diversity. The guidance is also a hallmark in another way- it sends a very clear signal that diversity is not simply about what you say, it’s about what you do.
There are some worrying statistics in the guidance about LGBT experiences in the workplace. Of 200 senior members in business, 80% of LGBT individuals were not out at work. 86% of these individuals reported feeling isolated from their colleagues and the same 86% experienced anxiety as a result of the fear of being found out. Educational workplaces operate best when people collaboratively in teams and all people feel they can contribute- we know that- so these statistics should be a wakeup call for educationalists who may casually assume that the lack of visibility of homophobia means the problem doesn’t exist.
There are a series of practical stems for leaders to take if they want to celebrate and support their LGBT staff. Crucially, this report lays the responsibility on those right at the top. The guidance lays out clearly that school leaders “are in an ideal place to create environments where their staff members can feel safe to be open with colleagues and pupils”- an important comment in an industry in which this has often been left to the LGBT+ members of staff who are ready and willing to make their identify a matter of policy. This document rightly puts that notion to one side. You shouldn’t have to hope that you go to a school with another member of out staff to hope for a sense of security. The guidance is clear that classroom teachers can now expect that leaders will champion this cause regardless of their own personal relationship to it.
How does all this link to learning? Well, of even greater interest to school leaders will be all the opportunities that are being missed at the moment. Here are the statistics from a survey of 90,000 out LGBT workers across a range of sectors:
- 71 per cent more likely to be satisfied with the support they receive from their manager
- 67 per cent more likely to be satisfied with their sense of achievement
- 65 per cent more likely to be satisfied with their job security compared with those who are not comfortable being out to anyone.
Who doesn’t want staff that are happy with their line manager and feel confident in their work? We work in schools where 75% of staff have suffered mentally or physically from stress at work and 1 in 5 have suffered from panic attacks. This stress is the result of so many complex factors and can be so hard to tackle as a school leader but this is such an easy win for educational leaders. If you get your LGBT+ policies right you have one route into creating a happy, effective workforce. Yes, this is only one piece in the puzzle but in a sector beset by recruitment and retention problems this guidance should be music to the ears.
Jane Cahill is an English Teacher and education blogger living and working in London. You can read more from her blog here: https://findtheirvoices.
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