Posted in bullying, education, Gender stereotypes, relationships, sex and relationship education, Uncategorized

‘It’s okay to be gay’

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.

This is what many of us grew up being told, but the reality of the matter is far different. What may seem like playful jibes and youthful banter can actually have a dark and damaging effect on the person at the receiving end.

Schools are hotspots for bullying, in particular for homophobic, transphobic and biphobic abuse; with 95 percent of pupils reporting that they hear the word ‘gay’ being used as an insult or with negative connotations.[1]

In this modern age, you would have thought that homophobic slurs died out with the dinosaurs and that it is only the people living in the past who share these views – but the truth is startling. In fact, in the three months following the Brexit vote, the number of homophobic attacks in the UK actually rose by 147 percent.[2] To say we are a modernised country living in the 21st century, the number of hate crimes which occur due to society’s attitude towards people who do not conform to gender norms is shockingly high.


Always at the forefront of a battle, teachers are often tasked with the challenge of addressing homophobic bullying amongst young people, with the aim of reducing the number of gender-related hate crimes which occur in future years.

One man who has been a victim of homophobic abuse himself, and is now trying to tackle the problem amongst children, is openly gay primary school teacher, Kai Fison.

Growing up, Kai was like many young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people – confused, embarrassed and harassed, with no one to turn to. The Derbyshire-based Reception teacher explained that: “I was bullied severely at school, and for a long time I felt ashamed of who I was and that I was gay…these experiences impacted my relationships with friends. I wasn’t able to be honest with them and I felt like I had to hide who I was.

“I think if I had received support when I was younger and was shown that I had someone fighting for me, and showing me that I wasn’t alone or I wasn’t strange, things may have been different.”

Using his personal experiences with coming to terms with his sexuality, Kai can relate to what many youngsters may be going through and he uses this insight to help support pupils who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity.

“I feel that teachers being open and honest about their sexuality allows children to see that it’s okay to be gay…by having that open dialogue with children and allowing them to see that gay people are all around, and actually people that you may not suspect, is vital to their wellbeing.

“It allows LGBT pupils to have a voice and a person to turn to who may have been in a similar situation, and most importantly provides healthy role models.”


Nonetheless, Kai further explained that many teachers are not able to act as positive role models for LGBT pupils as they are not appropriately equipped with knowledge regarding LGBT issues. This could be the reason that only 28 percent of pupils feel that homophobic language and abuse is dealt with well in their school, with as little as 13 percent saying that reporting homophobic bullying actually resulted in any actions being taken to prevent future incidents (LGBT Foundation, 2017).

Research undertaken by Stonewall, a leading organisation campaigning for the equality of LGBT people in Britain, supports this view – revealing that 80 percent of secondary school teachers have not received specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying.[3]

Kai added: “I think that teachers need to be able to deal with children who may be having a hard time coming to terms with their sexuality. They need to have an understanding of the types of feelings children may be going through.”

So, how are teachers expected to reduce instances of homophobic, transphobic and biphobic abuse and offer effective support for LGBT pupils if they do not fully understand the problem themselves?

Organisations such as the Proud Trust have been trying to improve this, through working with young people and schools to raise awareness of the LGBT community, in order to create a more accepting and open environment.

We spoke to the Strategic Director of the Proud Trust, Amelia Lee, who said: “The Proud Trust, along with colleagues at Schools OUT, are very much about working towards whole school approaches of LGBT inclusion, which prevent bullying and negative attitudes from taking root in schools.

“Based on the NatCen research into combating homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools, we have created, in partnership with DISC, Allsorts and The Kite Trust, a robust and comprehensive quality assurance scheme for schools to support their whole school approach. This is known as the Rainbow Flag Award.”

The Rainbow Flag Award provides schools with a process for measuring how well they are providing a safe and supportive environment for LGBT pupils, raising awareness of how a whole school approach can be taken.


The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, coming up on the 17th May, provides schools with a perfect opportunity to implement a whole school approach and raise awareness of the kind of abuse that many members of the LGBT community experience on a day-to-day basis.

With 53 percent of young LGBT people saying they are not taught anything about LGBT issues at school (Stonewall, 2015), it is not really surprising that homophobic language is rife amongst young people. Therefore, the dedicated day on the 17th May can be utilised to ensure that pupils are aware that whatever sexuality or gender they identify with, it is acceptable; as well as reinforcing that judging someone and bullying them based on their sexuality or gender identity is not acceptable.

Kai explains that he is “constantly reinforcing the view that it is okay to be different” by challenging anything he hears that “promotes negative stereotypes about LGBT people or gender itself”, and he urges other teachers to do the same.

Talking of the importance of teaching children about not having to conform to gender norms, Kai said: “I feel that children are socialised into believing that being gay is wrong or unnatural. They should be given all the facts and then allowed to form an opinion based on that.

“I think in terms oNoHomoGlo3f bullying there should be a no tolerance policy – bullying of any kind is wrong and needs to be stopped. Children need to learn that being unkind to anyone for any reason is not right.”

The fact that 58 percent of pupils believe that their school is not a safe and welcoming place for LGBT pupils (LGBT Foundation, 2017) is a sad statistic in this day and age. It only highlights the current problem within schools and the importance of utilising the 17th May to not only raise awareness of LGBT issues, but to also ensure pupils are aware of the support available to them.

To help schools better understand the experiences of LGBT pupils and help them to provide effective support to pupils questioning their sexuality or gender identity, we have created a LGBT Policy which can be utilised in order to create an accepting and welcoming environment for young LGBT people.

[1] LGBT Foundation (2017) ‘Facts and figures’, <> [Accessed: 19 April 2017]

[2] The Guardian (2016) ‘Homophobic attacks in UK rose 147% in three months after Brexit vote’, <> [Accessed: 27 April 2017]

[3] Stonewall (2015) ‘Secondary schools’, <> [Accessed: 2 May 2017]

Posted in communication, education, leadership, social media

Managing your online reputation

This week’s blog is brought to you by our legal experts, Veale Wasbrough Vizards (VWV).

In a world of social media, it is incredibly easy for disgruntled pupils, parents or ex-staff members to make their feelings heard.  At VWV, we regularly encounter schools facing issues on this front. The aim for the school is usually to close the issue down without drawing further attention to what is being said, which is often unfounded abuse; so, understandably, it is not something that tends to be discussed. It is, however, helpful to be aware of typical scenarios to minimise the impact on the reputation of your school and its staff should you be targeted. Continue reading “Managing your online reputation”

Posted in Uncategorized

Tested to the edge?

A recent review held by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield found that more than a quarter of children referred to mental health services in England last year received no help. Perhaps more shocking, is that some of the children included in this group had attempted suicide or lived with life-threatening conditions such as anorexia nervosa or psychosis.

Utilising data obtained from 48 of England’s 60 child and adolescent mental health service trusts, the report also revealed that 28 percent of child referrals were denied treatment, mainly on the grounds that their illness was not deemed serious enough. Continue reading “Tested to the edge?”

Posted in education, Free School Meals, policy, procurement

Universal Infant Free School Meals: Working with caterers

The two previous Recipe for Change blogs addressed making the dining room appealing and engaging with parents to help achieve value for money with Universal Infant Free School Meal (UIFSM) provision.

This blog is all about working with caterers. The vast majority do an excellent job and are extremely good at providing healthy, tasty and child-friendly school meals that comply with the school food standards; however, it’s the working relationship that they have with the school and how they communicate with the children that determines whether or not the UIFSM policy will be successful.

The problems

Here are the problems we have had to deal with on numerous occasions over the last ten years with caterers:

  1. Systems designed for adults not children

School cooks aren’t paid much and have little time left after service to wash up and clear away dining room equipment. So, if they can serve all the children as part of a continuous service, they get to finish the job earlier. That’s why so many school dining rooms end up becoming feeding stations. This is a system designed for adults, not children, and it’s why there is a reluctance to introduce our proposed restaurant-style lunchtime we talked about in our first blog based on a series of set sittings.

  1. Not enough cutlery

Schools seem to run out of cutlery often. Despite repeated requests for more, schools often don’t get any. Furthermore, as caterers have benefitted from UIFSM (there are claims that Chartwells have made £30 million) this shouldn’t be a problem. Not having enough cutlery may seem insignificant; however, it does compromise the effectiveness of UIFSM. Recently, we were observing a service in a school which we knew needed a lot more cutlery. There were four members of staff in the kitchen. Two were serving and the other two were busy washing up what little cutlery they had left. If all four had been serving the children, everyone would have been served much quicker. But, because there was only two serving, it took twice as long. So, even if schools create lovely restaurant-style lunchtimes and engage with parents to increase uptake, a lack of cutlery compromises all the good work done.

  1. Performance management

School leaders can’t line manage their kitchen staff unless they are employed in-house. This can often lead to major relationship problems which can really put children off eating a school dinner. In one school we worked with recently, some of the midday supervisors said the school cook sent a young boy to the back of the queue for accidentally spilling his dinner on the floor whilst looking to see if he had got a spot under his plate to win a prize. This creates a very negative association with school meals and will encourage that child to ask for a home-packed lunch instead. The school had to then spend time meeting with the caterers to discuss performance management. This takes time and often doesn’t result in either the inappropriate behaviour improving or the member of staff being replaced.

The solutions

Here are our proposed solutions to the three problems we have discussed based on our experience of working with caterers.

  1. Kitchen staff working patterns

Changing from a continuous service to a series of sittings doesn’t necessarily mean kitchen staff hours need to be increased. It’s often just a change in working patterns. If a school moves from a one sitting service to three, there will be gaps in between each sitting which can be used to collect dirty crockery and wash up. By the end of service, staff will not have done a lot more washing up than they would have done when they were running a continuous service. The work load is likely to be the same – it’s just done in a different way. One school we worked with recently wanted to move from a two sitting service to three but with no changes to the service time. The school were told if they wanted to do this it would cost them almost £1,000. Apart from maybe a few more food containers to deal with the extra sitting, there would be no other costs involved. It should be perfectly feasible and possible, therefore, for school leaders to negotiate an increase in the number of sittings without incurring much additional cost.

  1. Getting more cutlery

If schools are working with a large catering company, the provision of extra-light equipment, such as cutlery, plates, bowls and beakers, should be no problem. Whenever we have been asked by a school to deal with this issue, the caterers seem quite happy to provide the extra equipment.

  1. Whole-school consultation

Employing a third party expert who is knowledgeable about catering and understands how to create a good school food culture may be necessary to solve staff performance problems. We have been employed to do this on several occasions. Our approach is to conduct consultations with the children, the teachers and the midday supervisors so that they can contribute ideas about lunchtimes. This gives the school valuable feedback about exactly why the school cook or one of their assistants is upsetting people and what impact this is having on the children and on other members of staff. When presented to the caterers, this evidence-based information is usually enough to trigger a much more effective solution.

At one school we worked with we were asked to chair a meeting with the headteacher, business manager, the school cook who was causing problems, and their line manager. This resulted in the school cook changing their whole attitude and approach. Having a quick chat with the line manager just doesn’t seem to work, but a professional performance management meeting, with evidence-based information about the problem, is much more effective.

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Posted in education, Free School Meals, policy, Primary, school leadership

Universal Infant Free School Meals: Serving up value for money

It’s over a year since Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) was first introduced and there have already been reports that the policy could be scrapped. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he is very proud of UIFSM and after the money spent on implementing the scheme, he is firmly committed to it.

So, should the policy be shelved or not? It all boils down to value for money. The rationale for offering all infants free school meals was based on pilot research that suggested infants who were offered free school meals, made between four to eight weeks more progress than similar children in comparison areas.

If the policy has a positive impact on pupil progress and helps ensure less children end up obese, then you could argue it is money well spent. In fact Diabetes UK, the National Obesity Forum and the British Medical Association state that: “With one in three children leaving primary school overweight or obese, ensuring a nutritionally balanced school lunch has never been so important.

“A free school meals policy could end up paying for itself many times and reduce the spiralling costs to the NHS of treating obesity and other diet-related illnesses.”

Is this policy having a positive effect on improving progress and helping to reduce the number of children who are overweight, though?

Recipe for Change has identified four key issues that schools face, which, if they aren’t tackled, will mean that this won’t become a value for money policy. However, we firmly believe that UIFSM can improve readiness for learning, increase concentration and as a result, improve progress if our proposed evidence-based solutions to these problems are adopted.

This blog focusses on the first key issue – making the dining room appealing.

The dining room: steps to success

The problem

Dining room environment

If pupils end up queuing for a long time, they can’t sit with their friends or the dining room is noisy, the UIFSM policy will have no impact whatsoever on readiness for learning and progress as it is unlikely that the children will feel inclined to eat.

Pupils feeling rushed as friends will not wait for them to finish, leads to meals being dumped in the bin irrespective of whether they actually want to eat the meal or not. As a result, the children will go back into afternoon classes talking about unresolved lunchtime incidents. That means lost curriculum time and in turn, rates of progress may actually worsen, rather than improve! Sadly, this is what happens in many schools.

Headteacher perceptions

We recently spoke to two headteachers, both from East Sussex. One of them, who had just started as headteacher at a new school this academic year, said: “I decided to join the Year 5 and Year 6 queue for school dinners to see how long it would take to get served. It took me 20 minutes.” The other headteacher said she timed how long it took for a midday supervisor to notice a pupil who was patiently waiting with their hand up. It took eight minutes.

Why the problem persists

So, why do some school dining rooms end up becoming feeding stations where children are literally herded in and herded out again? There are two key reasons.

Firstly, headteachers know all about good classroom provision and what teachers should and shouldn’t be doing; however, they are often unsure of what good dining room provision looks like and what caterers should and shouldn’t be doing. Secondly, as and when a headteacher does decide to communicate with their school cook, the response to making any changes is often: “We can’t do that”, or “We haven’t got time”, or “It will cost more money”. As a result, the lunchtime problems persist and nothing changes.

The solution

Restaurant style lunchtimes

Schools should aspire to create a dining room that pupils actually want to go to and not just some corridor to play. Not only will this help improve the uptake of school meals, but more importantly, should ensure that most of your pupils actually eat their meals.

So, how is this achieved? Simply by creating a restaurant style lunchtime which, like any good restaurant, is conducive to both eating and socialising.

In the classroom, children know what is expected of them, what they can and can’t do, who they will be sitting with and where. Although the dining room isn’t a classroom, the same principles need to be applied. One of the evidence-based ideas Recipe for Change have used for some time is to create a series of set sittings, where children sit in friendship groups on the same table each day. Knowing who they will be sitting with, where they are sitting and at what time, immediately creates a much calmer environment for pupils and reduces noise because the children no longer need to rush around trying to find their friends. This strategy is particularly effective for children with special educational needs and disabilities, who thrive on routine.

Just like the classroom, the dining room needs rules, such as waiting for friends before leaving the dining room and not being able to leave for at least 15 minutes, to encourage fast eaters to socialise with slow eaters.

The impact on UIFSM

How will these changes make UIFSM value for money? Firstly, it will improve readiness to learn because children are much less likely to go back into class and talk about unresolved lunchtime incidents. Secondly, lost curriculum time will be reduced because disruption is minimised so progress therefore, should improve. Finally, school leaders won’t have to spend significant periods of time in the afternoon resolving lunchtime problems.

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Posted in Uncategorized

UK and China forging new links in education

In the past month, we’ve seen massive fanfare over the official state visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, and first lady Peng Liyuan. A major goal of their visit was to forge closer links between the education sectors of our two nations.

During a speech to the Institute of Education (IOE), the president said: “The British have learned the virtues of strict discipline. Chinese children do not play enough. They should play more.”[1] This observation points at one of the key differences between the two approaches to education.

The Chinese leader’s comments were made days after a prominent figure in British education made similar points at a meeting in Shanghai. [2] Sir Anthony Sheldon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said that although Chinese schools were excelling academically, they were missing an important aspect of education. Sir Anthony stated: “Many schools are robbing the young of the opportunity to blossom into the unique individuals they are; because too many teachers think that solely cramming pupils’ heads full of facts is education.” He added: “Many education systems focus on exams being the sole validators of school, but recent research suggests that jobs with a big growth in salary have been those that require a high degree of social skills.”

This focus on results over individuality has been a point of discussion since the BBC aired the documentary; ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough?’. [3] The programme introduced Chinese teachers and teaching methods into an average British school. Since the show aired, professionals in education have been asking what lessons can be learnt? International rankings rate schools in Shanghai and Hong Kong as amongst the very best in the world, but how much of this is down to teaching styles?

As any teacher knows, the most influential aspect of a child’s development is their environment. The Communist party has been enforcing limitations on child numbers for families for over three decades, which means parents are reliant on their only child for security in old age. This sense of duty is multiplied by the political system they are born into. In Chinese society, order and duty are highly valued ideals. By the time they have reached school age, children have an ingrained reverence for authority. When you combine this with twelve hour school days, intense discipline and a ‘listen and copy’ style of teaching, the reasons for high academic results become clearer.

By contrast, British children grow up in a free and democratic country; they are raised to value concepts such as free speech and individual expression. The level of parental pressure is also far lower in the UK. From an early age youngsters here know that it’s ok to be different.

This difference in upbringing was well summarised by author and journalist Xinran Xue. When she spoke to the Independent about the subject,  Xue described the differences in expectations, saying: “In China, when students come to the classroom, you have to tell them you must learn something. It is your duty to your nation, your country and your parents. British students are asked, what’s your future, what do you want for yourself?” [4]

In the near future, we are going to see an increased level of educational cooperation between the UK and China. Last month, the UK government announced a new fund to increase the teaching of Mandarin in British schools. [5] Describing the scheme, the Chancellor stated: “This investment means we can give more young people the opportunity to learn a language that will help them succeed in our increasingly global economy. I’m here in China to help forge closer economic and cultural relationships between our nations and this announcement is another great example of things we are doing to help grow both of our economies.”

Last month, the two countries signed 23 educational agreements. Among these is the ‘UK-China Strategic Framework in Education’, aimed at cultivating closer ties between the two school systems. The UK will provide sports education, whilst China will help to boost this country’s science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) provision.

Despite these lofty ambitions, some important questions remain unanswered. Is it possible to change educational outcomes without changes in wider society? The cultural factors that shape young people in China are unlikely to change. Whereas we live in a more open society, it would take change at a national level, over a prolonged period, to change attitudes to education. Even if we could make these changes, would it be beneficial in the long term? By adapting, would we lose an essential part of what makes us British? Only time will tell if this fusion of ideas can produce positive results for our two nations.

[1] Julian Borger (2015) ‘Xi Jinping: China has taught UK schools discipline – and learned about play’ <> [Accessed: 23 November 2015]

[2] Hannah Richardson (2015) ‘Chinese schools ‘robbing young of individuality’’ <> [Accessed: 23 November 2015]

[3] BBC (2015) ‘Are our kids tough enough? Chinese school’ <> [Accessed: 23 November 2015]

[4] Doug Bolton (2015) ‘Is China’s world-beating school system really the best for students?’ <> [Accessed: 23 November 2015]

[5]GOV.UK (2015) ‘Boost to Mandarin teaching in schools’ <> [Accessed: 23 November 2015]