‘There are no outsiders in our school.’
Back in the days of yore, when whiteboards were black and operated by a hand-held device called chalk, I was a teacher.
I taught in primary schools, middle schools and secondary schools. I left after twenty years (seven full-time, the rest part-time or supply) when my writing career began to take off. I don’t miss the National Curriculum but I do miss the classroom. I miss the sheer joy of working with children. I miss their energy and enthusiasm and quirky way of looking at things. I miss their honesty and sharp minds and the way they absorb information. Most of all, I miss their rapt attention when they are cocooned in the magic of a story being read to them.
I also, believe it or not, miss planning lessons. I miss how my imagination would fire in all directions as I planned a new project, thinking of the most interesting ways to deliver the subject. What props can I take in? Do I know a great speaker who is an expert on the topic? A parent, maybe? Can we go on a visit? Perform a play? Create a mind-blowing display? Which books will fit in with the topic?
That same part of my brain was ignited when I read ‘No Outsiders In Our School – Teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools’ published by Routledge and written by assistant head teacher Andrew Moffat.
The handbook is designed for teachers interested in delivering the tenets of the 2010 Equality Act. It could also be a useful tool when the government’s Relationships, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (RSE) statutory requirements come into force in UK schools next year.
The Equality Act (EA) is used in all workplaces (schools count as workplaces) and states that it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:
marriage and civil partnership
pregnancy or maternity
religion or belief
‘No Outsiders In Our School – Teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools’ is a primer for schools interested in delivering the EA objects listed above using the No Outsiders teaching pack. The blurb describes it as a resource rather than a textbook. The slim volume (85 pages) is divided into two sections – the first section explains the background to No Outsiders and provides examples on how it’s worked so far in three pioneering schools in Birmingham; the second part contains lesson plans based around a wide range of picture books.
Picture books are the cornerstone of the project. It is the books that provide teachers with the springboard that lead to exploring, discussing and ultimately celebrating the rich diversity of their school community. It was this section that had my brain pinging with ideas. With 35 lesson outlines (5 for each year group from EYFS to Y6) with headings such as ‘To learn from our past’ (Table 7.27: Year 5 p. 72) using Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey’s ‘Where the Poppies Now Grow’ and ‘To understand how we share the world’ (Table 7.13 Year 2 p 58) using The First Slodge by Jeanne Willis & Jenni Desmond, I was transported back to my desk with my A3 sheet of paper and favourite calligraphy pen, jotting down ideas. I’d do this and I’d do that and I’ll use Elmer in this lesson and King and King in that lesson. I was buzzing, I tell you. Buzzing! I was also about £40 worse off as I kept listing book titles I intend to buy. Books such as Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly by Nick Sharratt & Sue Heap, Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp and Ten Little Pirates by Brownlow and Rickerty, to name but a few. There’s a short clip from the Letterbox Library Equalities Primary section here showing how successful the venture has been among pupils, parents and teachers in one school.
The emphasis on the lessons being ‘age-appropriate’ is key. No one expects a KS1 teacher to base an assembly on Maternity Rights on the Shop Floor. What they might do, is talk about how the children can make someone new to the school feel welcome, regardless of whether that new pupil is white, black, Jewish or Sikh; a boy with a hearing aid or a girl with two dads.
In using children’s books to deliver its message, the No Outsiders programme is similar to the Empathy Lab movement that I’ve been involved in. However, No Outsiders has proved to be more contentious and this was one of the reasons I bought the guidebook. I wanted to see for myself what the furore was all about. Specifically, why its lessons on ‘sexual orientation’ – in other words the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) strand of its programme – has caused such problems that parents have staged protests outside some schools using the programme.
In the introductory chapter ‘Engaging parents – lessons learned from three schools’, Moffat acknowledges that: ‘For some schools, for a variety of reasons, teaching children that it’s OK to be gay may present challenges.’ This is despite laying the recommended foundations beforehand with governors, staff and parents to allay concerns. ‘Some parents tell us at the meetings that they are very concerned that, by reading the books, we are going to make their children gay. We tell them a child cannot be turned gay…’ (p31) Further on: ‘At a meeting there are parents telling us they are unhappy with our teaching that homosexuality is acceptable.’ Moffat addresses this by pointing out that ‘… we are simply preparing the children for life in Britain so that they grow up to have a rounded view of society and understand there are different people and communities where they live.’
Gay families exist. That’s it. Why should they hide away as if they are doing something shameful or secret? Why should children with two mummies or two daddies feel ashamed? Why shouldn’t age-appropriate books featuring gay characters (including penguins – see the delightful And Tango Makes Three) sit alongside other books in a school library? The sooner we stop ‘othering’ the LGBT community, the sooner we’ll have a more healthy and kind society. Programmes like No Outsiders can help change mindsets and challenge prejudices.
‘No Outsiders In Our Schools‘ (the handbook) does have its flaws. It’s expensive for a start – £27 – and my copy already has pages coming unglued from its spine. There’s also a lack of statistics, references to other academic studies and resources or quotes about the impact of the scheme from Ofsted (for example). Evidence of the course’s effectiveness is anecdotal and this can lead to criticism. There are also some puzzling leaps on occasion. For example on p 44 Moffat recounts the time a Y6 boy in assembly gasped when it was revealed their visitor (the rugby player Gareth Thomas) was gay. ‘… otherwise there was no reaction at all, which was quite nice because it demonstrated to the shocked child that he was alone in his reaction; his homophobia made him an outsider.’ I’ve learned from my school visits over the years that kids gasp for all kinds of reasons. Concluding the boy was homophobic seems a bit of a stretch! It’s a shame, as such value judgements undermine this otherwise worthwhile resource.
At a time when attacks on the LGBT community are on the rise, and ”You’re/that’s so gay’ is used as a slur in the playground, projects like No Outsiders are more vital than ever. I sincerely hope Moffat’s book is used in schools. I think many teachers would find the sections on how to address parents’ concerns about LGBT issues invaluable. It would give them more confidence and skills in supporting LGBT parents and staff, not to mention emotional support for any pupils who might be the target of homophobic bullying.
That said, No Outsiders is about more than one issue. It’s about creating a school environment where every aspect of living in a community is explored in an appropriate manner. One lesson plan (Table 7.9 Y1: to recognise people are different ages) using ‘My Grandpa is Amazing’ by Nick Butterworth. As a grandma myself, I’m all for kids seeing how awesome older people are! I’d add Matt de la Pena’s excellent Last Stop on Market Street about a boy and his grandma taking a deceptively ordinary bus ride across town, for ballast.
In the end, all No Outsiders is trying to do is to provide ideas for teachers on how they can help the citizens of the future live together in our splendid, diverse and interesting world. That’s not such a bad aim, is it?
I’d add that since the No Outsiders handbook was published (2016) there are even more picture books featuring disability, BAME and LGBT characters. Check out the fabulous The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie, (friendship theme) and The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre (not being fearful about the new folks on the block who are ‘different’). I also adored ‘Look Up’ by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola.
Picture books will save the world – trust me on this.
No Outsiders in our Schools – teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools by Andrew Moffat (Speechmark Books pub Routledge 2016) ISBN: 978190930 172-6