Leading the way in teaching pupils to be tolerant

Mark Cottingham, principal at Shirebrook Academy
Mark Cottingham, principal at Shirebrook Academy

One of the pleasures of working in a school is that young students’ attitudes to many of wider society’s thornier issues are often refreshingly progressive, writes Mark Cottingham.

Take the issue of the right of LGBT people to express themselves and be who they want to be.

In many corners of society, intolerance means that they have to hide their true identities, fearful of abuse and violence, an example of which was seen in the recent case involving two women on the top deck of a London bus.

And then there are the demonstrations from parents in Birmingham who are unhappy that their school’s new curriculum explores transgender issues and same-sex relationships.

None of this is easy, but I am very proud that our school has an environment of tolerance.

Here at Shirebrook, we have a number of transgender students who are being respected and treated as such.

We also have a strong LGBT student support group.

We have also agreed to become an early adopter for the compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) material, which covers topics such as mental health and online safety topics such as sharing explicit photos and pornography, as well as the variety of sexual and gender identities within families and the need to respect and protect their relationships.

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Being an early adopter means that we will offer feedback on how the material is delivered and received from this September onwards, ahead of RSE being rolled out to secondary schools across the UK in 2020.

This reinforces the fact that we do more in terms of teaching tolerance and acceptance than we are required to and we are grateful that our parents share our vision.

It’s our duty to support all of our students, but also to prepare everyone for a world where people have more and more diverse identities.

The RSE is not about telling them who or what to be or encouraging one identity above another, but instead making them aware of the differences and encouraging empathy and openness.

In that respect, I am very happy to say that at Shirebrook we are widening their already open attitudes, rather than having to break down the barriers and ignorance that you see so often in other places in society.

Mark Cottingham is the prinicpal at Shirebrook Academy.