We caught up with Phil Nicol from Diversity Role Models, to find out more about the important charity.
Tell us about Diversity Role Models.
DRM tackles homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. We have two main programmes: pupil workshops, which feature volunteer role models sharing positive messages of being or knowing someone who is LGBT, and staff training, to give all school staff the confidence to tackle bullying behaviour. As well as supporting LGBT young people, our work helps create allies of the future among their straight peers – and ultimately makes schools safer learning environments.
We’re hugely proud of our headline figures. In five years, we’ve reached nearly 50,000 young people with our workshops and trained over 2,000 school staff. And we’ve expanded beyond our London base into regional hubs in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Bristol and Cornwall.
But it’s also some of the smaller stories which make us proud: such as the feedback from young people who say they’ve had the confidence to come out following a day of our workshops in their schools, and the reduction in bullying behaviour at schools where we’ve worked in successive years.
Our Chief Executive, Suran Dickson, founded the charity in 2011. As an out teacher, she’d observed the prevalence of homophobic attitudes in all the schools where she’d worked, but her pupils were always accepting of her because they knew and respected her. She had also observed that it’s not just LGBT young people who are targeted by this form of bullying. Anyone with LGBT friends and family, or who doesn’t fit rigid gender stereotypes, can be targeted, while the misuse of language (with phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’) only feeds into this. It was the tragic case of a young man who took his own life after being called gay which prompted her to stand up and take action.
What have been some of your best moments working for DRM?
It would have to be going into schools to observe workshops. I normally do this once a term, as my role is on the fundraising side of the charity. It’s always brilliant to see both primary school and secondary school children respond respectfully and thoughtfully to adults sharing their stories.
And I get to meet those adults too; we are very lucky to have such a fantastic group of volunteers. They’re passionate about inspiring young people to become advocates for change, and to challenge bullying behaviour if they see or hear it.
How far do you think we have to go for equality for LGBT children in schools?
We have certainly made huge progress in recent years. The Equality Act obviously does mean that schools have a duty not to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Ofsted also now includes elements of how well schools are tackling bullying, and creating an inclusive environment for people with all minority characteristics, in their inspection framework for all state-funded schools.
But we clearly still have a way to go, not least around challenging heteronormative values by making curricula LGBT-inclusive. One area where we continue to press for change is around statutory and inclusive PSHE [Personal, Social, and Health Education], which would help in addressing continuing inequalities across the country and within individual schools.
What kind of effects can homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying have for adults in later life?
We know these forms of bullying undermine young people’s mental wellbeing, with higher incidences of self-harm and suicide among victims. But they also impact on educational attainment; not only do young people skip school to avoid bullying, but studies have shown that they change their educational plans as a result. So not only does bullying have a long-term effect on adults’ interpersonal relationships, but it limits their careers and aspirations.
Have you ever had any difficulties with schools not wanting to work with you?
While addressing bullying is very much on the agenda for schools, they do face often competing pressures on their time and other resources, which means it can be difficult for us to open a dialogue with some schools. As a teacher-led organisation, we understand how difficult it is to encourage any school to make this work a priority.
Some schools have expressed an initial reluctance, but our approach is always to work collaboratively, to avoid the risk of alienating the very schools which need our work the most. We’re always able to reassure schools that our focus is on tackling discrimination, rather than challenging deeply-held beliefs. For instance, we don’t consider faith to be a barrier to our work; instead we see it as an opportunity, as do the many faith schools with which we work.
And finally, how do people get in touch with DRM who might want them to get involved with their school or institution?
We’re always looking for introductions to schools, as personal links are always a powerful way to start a conversation. So it would be fantastic to hear from any teachers, governors or parents who are interested in finding out more about us coming into their school. Just email us on email@example.com, or call our Education team on 020 3795 9201 and we’ll work out how best to assist the school.