In 2003, a policy that prohibited the discussion of homosexuality in schools (Section 28) was repealed, meaning staff and teachers are free to disclose their sexual orientation if they wish. However, there is some evidence that whilst staff are legally allowed, many individuals across England still feel our schools and trusts have a way to go before they would consider them completely inclusive of those within the LGBTQ+ community. Interestingly, it's estimated there are 50,000 LGBTQ+ teachers in UK schools, but almost no openly LGBTQ+ headteachers or senior leaders.
How does this affect your school or trust? Well, in 2020-21, we ran England's largest study of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) among school staff. We reviewed the EDI experience of over 16,000 staff members from 381 schools, 33 central trust teams, and 50 trusts. We asked these staff members about the whole workplace experience, from recruitment to on-the-job experiences and advancement, looking at how people with different protected characteristics feel about their time working in schools and trusts. During this research, we gathered data from staff who identify as heterosexual and those who identify as LGBTQ+ to compare their day-to-day experiences.
As a result, in this blog, we're shedding light on this data again in support of Pride month and as a follow-up to our recent webinar at the Diverse Educators DEI Leaders Conference event.
Current Backdrop of Inclusion: Sexual Orientation within England's Schools
Our research found that most staff felt their workplace is committed to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion, with 80% of staff overall responding positively to this question. However, a smaller proportion of LGBTQ+ staff believe their school/trust is committed to promoting EDI compared to straight staff.
What Are the Key Differences Between Staff Members?
Staff experience is similar between groups with different sexual orientations for most elements of school life. Yet, there is a difference when asked how inclusive their workplace is. For instance, in our data we uncovered, LGBTQ+ staff were 3 times as likely to have experienced comments, jokes, or behaviour they perceived as offensive. This data matches similar experiences reported from the LGBTQ+ news outlet Pink News in 2020, where ¼ teachers reported facing homophobic discrimination within schools.
We also found that while almost all heterosexual staff felt comfortable with their background or identity during the recruitment process, only 8 in 10 LGBTQ+ staff did. This sentiment matches research Stone Wall did into LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace across Britain; in all industries here, they found LGBTQ+ staff looking for work often face discrimination when applying for jobs.
In our review, we found that more than three-quarters of heterosexual staff feel comfortable being their true self. This is compared to just two-thirds of LGBTQ+ staff, and 11% didn't feel comfortable at all being their true self in the workplace. This disparity is perhaps no surprise to those in the education sector, as in 2020, The Guardian reported that one LGBTQ+ teacher had to live a double life.
8 in 10 heterosexual staff felt comfortable discussing additional support they might need, and this is compared to 7 in 10 LGBTQ+ staff. While this difference isn't huge between heterosexual and LGBTQ+ staff, it indicates that trust and schools could do more to help ensure staff feel comfortable enough to talk and get the additional support they need.
Lessons for Trust Leaders
If you'd like to understand better how staff from the LGBT+ community perceive your school or how you could approach things differently, here are a few things we recommend.
Firstly, in our EDI report, Hannah Wilson from Diverse Educators shared some questions for school leaders to consider, when it comes to increasing inclusion in their organisation. She asks you to ask yourself:
How are you communicating your commitment, your progress and your impact?
How will you celebrate diversity all year round instead of in different weeks or months?
How will you explicitly make your workplace more inclusive?
How will you diversify your leadership team?
How can you make your advertising more inclusive?
In addition to this, Diverse Educators encourage teachers to make a network or support group where they can talk about LGBT issues and use this to show that LGBTQ+ voices matter. Check out this individual's LGBT proposals for school and trust leaders from Diverse Educators - which include such things as:
- Using inclusive language
One example Jared Crawley gives is: "When asking about a colleague's weekend or personal life in the staffroom, be mindful of the pronouns they use to describe their partner. If they do not specially describe their partner as 'he' or 'she', they make be indicating their partner is of the same sex. Never assume someone is heterosexual and is attracted to the opposite sex." On the other hand, if you'd like to make recruiters feel more comfortable during your process, info.recruits recommend using gender-neutral language in recruitment messaging.
2) Having visible support for your school or trust's LGBTQ+ community
This could include giving teachers a choice to wear LGBTQ+ badges/pins or have LGBTQ+ lanyards or displaying the Pride flag inside and outside your school.
3) Educating yourself to understand the LGBTQ+ perspective further
Jared recommends a few books to help with this, including Shaun Dellenty's 'Celebrating Difference. A Whole School Approach to LGBT+ inclusion and Catherine Lee’s ‘Courage in the Classroom: LGBT Teachers share their stories’.
Finally, if you’d like to know more about how your current staff feel in order to make the appropriate changes we’d suggest offering an anonymous survey - like Edurio.