To celebrate Diversity Week we asked pupils, alumnae and staff to share their thoughts on why diversity and inclusivity is so important in today’s society. In this article, Deputy Head Pastoral, Mrs Franks-Doyle, shares her thoughts on our ever-evolving diversity programme at NHSG.
The standard definition for ‘school’ is ‘an institution for educating children’ and nobody can really argue with that! But one thing we are careful to do at Newcastle High School For Girls (NHSG) is to not only educate, but to empower our pupils to shape their own educational environment and the future society in which they want to live.
In my generation, the idea of ‘labelling’ somebody wasn’t especially a positive one. Why can’t we just be who we are, why do we need to put ourselves in boxes? It would be easy to project that mindset onto our children and young people, but we have to remember that the world is constantly changing and we need to move with that, not against it. In fact, even in my generation, there will be many people who for a long time felt suppressed by not having the ability or the vocabulary that we have today.
Today, people want to feel proud and proactively acknowledge and celebrate their sexuality, gender, race, culture or neurodiversity. And we need to ensure that a safe space is created in which our pupils can do just that. At NHSG we are lucky to have a diverse student make up and we want everyone to feel included and celebrated within the community. At the end of the day, the school community is simply a microcosm of the wider world we live in. It needs to reflect what our girls will see after they leave – both at the end of the school day and at the end of their educational journey.
That is why at NHSG we embed these principles through evolving language and a celebratory programme of activities throughout the school year. Even more importantly, we don’t just implement these things for the girls, we shape them with our students.
We need to learn from them what they need and how they want to identify, rather than projecting our idea of what that should look like onto them.
By understanding one another better we can create more meaningful dialogue between the whole school community. As well as helping students from all different backgrounds succeed, it encourages acceptance and prepares all students to thrive in a diverse world.
As human beings we are learning all the time, and that includes teachers of course! It is only by listening and engaging with the views of others that we can come to reasoned judgements. We’ve done a lot of consultation work with our pupils, to ensure that we are using the correct language, programming the right events, etc. We are currently in the process of finalising our new Diversity and Inclusion Code of Conduct in collaboration with our student forum and this is something we expect all students, teachers and parents to acknowledge and embrace. After all, it reflects who our students are and how they want to be identified. We have also supported our student-led Anti-Racism group and Pride group for several years now. Moving forward, we are keen to have a diversity and inclusion representative across each year group to meet on a regular basis and discuss what else we could be doing to support our diverse community.
We simply can’t imagine or assume what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, we need to listen to all of these different experiences to respond appropriately.
If pupils feel unable to come to school as their true selves they may feel excluded, unhappy, and ashamed. It will undoubtedly impact their mental health, happiness and future success. It’s important that we understand what happiness means to each one of us, and try not to project our own ideas of what it should look like. We are all unique. And that is the very essence of what diversity means to us.