How I brought Pride to school for LGBT+ students
When James Bennett was a student, there was next to no LGBT+ inclusion. Years later, the Teach First ambassador set up his school’s very first Pride Club.
The response to Pride Club at Holloway School has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers pop in and ask how they can help; parents have taken it well (despite recent controversy in Birmingham); and students finally have a safe space to be themselves.
“There were a few pupils who were out before we set it up, but I think they felt quite isolated and bullied,” explains James. “The group has brought more people together, they’ve built friendships and they’ve also brought along [peers] who don’t identify as LGBT+.
“It has raised visibility and people know they can get support.”
Though James has since left his post for the Ark Network in late 2019, Pride Club remains a successful legacy. It runs every week: hosting structured sessions where pupils engage with pressing topics, or simply just talk. This thriving community is a far cry from the Teach First ambassador’s own school experience, where he did not know any ‘out’ LGBT+ students or teachers. For this reason, he did not come out until university.
Twenty years on from the repeal of section 28, which prohibited teachers from discussing same-sex relationships in school, the importance of initiatives like Pride Club could not be greater.
“If I had a teacher who had led something like [Pride Club], it would have made a big difference,” he says. “That’s what I wanted to create: a safe space for students to feel like they belong.”
Bringing to LGBT+ inclusion to the classroom
LGBT+ inclusion has always been an important part of James’s Teach First journey. Before joining the Training Programme, he championed the cause at recruitment events as a Campus Rep and actively partook in Network meetups. After joining the 2017 cohort as an English teacher, he was placed at North London’s Holloway School and established initiatives to celebrate equality and diversity – including Pride Club and LGBT+ History Month.
“I came into teaching knowing that I don’t want my pupils to feel like they don’t have anyone to go to,” he explains. “For many of the pupils I teach, they might not have family or friends who support who they are. This needs to change.
“Teachers can and should help make this part of a child’s life much, much better.”
During LGBT+ History Month last year, his school was invited to Bloomberg (one of Teach First’s partners) to take part in workshops with Diversity Role Models. A mixture of pupils, both Pride Club members and supporters, came to speak about their ideas. James believes seeing successful role models in a professional environment is important for pupils, so they know they too can be successful one day beyond the classroom.
James is currently in the planning stages of celebrating Pride Month at his new school later in the year. Alongside this, he's worked with his PSHE unit on covering homophobia and stereotyping. He even came out to his form class, who he says have all been very supportive.
Being LGBT+ at Teach First
James attributes part of his success to the support from Teach First. He explains he was made to feel welcome and part of an open organisation, grateful for his Development Lead’s aid. Furthermore, he was hugely inspired by stories from ambassadors who had set up their own initiatives.
“Every route into teaching has the responsibility to ensure that every teacher is able to walk into the classroom confident that they can deal with homophobia and transphobia and support pupils effectively,” he explains. “The ripples of impact that one teacher has is huge.”
By training over 1,500 teachers a year, Teach First will impact tens of thousands of students. As such, it’s extremely important that our organisation gets LGBT+ inclusion right.
James encourages any LGBT+ trainee to join the Teach First LGBTQIA+ Facebook Group for support.
“I found the best thing was to talk to other teachers, irrespective of whether you’re out or not in school,” he says. “You are able to talk about your struggles.”