This months guest blog comes from Lorna Lawson, Head teacher at St John Ogilvie High School.
St John Ogilvie High School is situated in the Burnbank area of Hamilton. It is a 6-year comprehensive school with a pupil roll of 1033. It currently has over 70% of its pupils coming from deciles 1-4 of the SIMD scale of deprivation and 44% from deciles 1 and 2.76% of our 2018-19 S4 cohort reside within SIMD 1-4 and 60% of our 2018-19 S5 pupils reside within Deciles 1-4 yet as a school we continue to improve and increase the academic achievements of the young people we serve year on year.
You may ask what the above data has to do with Improving Gender Balance but we believe that our school involvement in the work of the STAMP organisation, the Equally Safe Whole School approach and now our Improving Gender Balance and Equalities (IGBE) work has had a significant, positive impact on the young people of St John Ogilvie. We feel that it has helped to improve the Health and Wellbeing of pupils, Pupil Confidence, Strengthened and Increased pupil voice, Increased pupil understanding of protected characteristics, Enhanced discussion around subject choices, Career pathways, highlighted gendered career areas and the Impact of ‘negative’ stereotypes and attitudes are better understood and tackled now.
Around 2016/17 we began to work with Rape Crisis Scotland. This was a very powerful and positive experience for the school which led to a number of our pupils becoming involved with the organisation STAMP. This group sought to tackle harmful gender stereotypes as portrayed in the media. Through this connection we became involved in the Equally Safe at School programme. This was a Whole School Approach to preventing Gender Based Violence developed and delivered by RCS in partnership with Zero Tolerance. The programme arose from RCS Sexual Violence Prevention Programme.
What did we actually do as a school through this programme?
We surveyed all staff to gather their thoughts and opinions about a number of related areas including gender stereotypes, gender based violence, social media etc…We also held staff focus groups and pupil focus groups for three different age ranges, S2, S4 and S5/6. We informed all parents of our plans and presented our work to the Parent Council. We then formed a core working group of both pupils and staff who would meet regularly. At around the same time and linked to the Equally Safe team a core number of female pupils formed a Women in Science group. They became key partners in our Equally Safe Whole School Approach. The pupils from both groups delivered powerful whole year group assemblies under staff guidance.
Enhanced training of all Pupil Support staff and key leaders took place and this was focussed around issues relating to social media, harassment, gendered language, gender roles and responding to disclosures. All staff then received training in our May in-service day from members of staff in the Equally Safe group. As a school we wrote a school Gender Based Violence policy which is currently being updated. This will most likely be updated again to become an IGBE policy insert. This augmented our school Ethos Policies which include GBV, Anti-Bullying and the School Ethos and Discipline Policy. We were invited to deliver a presentation showcasing the work to all South Lanarkshire Council elected members.
All of this work was highlighted in the media through the STV evening news and in the Herald newspaper. SLC recognised the achievements of the group at their annual Celebrating Success ceremony.
What didn’t work out for us?
We had hoped to create a space on the school website dedicated to Equally Safe at School. This could have included information on the Action Group, updates on work, the media coverage of the campaign and a ‘drop box’ for pupils to access. This never really took off but I think that may have been more to do with a lack of IT skills within the group than anything else!
So, has the school changed?
We feel yes, it has changed. We have a raised awareness of the issues that surround gender balance and a good idea of the practicalities involved in trying to improve things. There is a real awareness now of the language used in and around school and how that can impact on individuals and groups.
We feel that young women are more able to articulate themselves and unwilling to tolerate negative attitudes. Young men are more aware of unacceptable attitudes, behaviours and language.
In 2018 we were selected as one of 50 schools to be included in Education Scotland’s PSE Thematic Review. This went very well for the school and Education Scotland praised the school in a number of areas including the Equality work through Equally Safe at School, GBV and the Rape Crisis Scotland work. We were then invited to present at the Scottish Learning festival with our pupils delivering their thoughts and feelings about the equality work of the school.
We know that we must revisit this subject regularly due to the changing nature of schools, their pupils and staff if it is to continue to grow and develop. It is with that in mind that we reformed as the St. JOHS Action Plan: Improving Gender Balance and Equalities Whole School group. This new group formed as a staff school improvement team with representatives from most subjects in the school. Members of the group have started to carry out a whole school audit of gender balance in each subject. Once this data is collected we can research interventions/strategies appropriate to our school to improve balance in individual subject areas. Linking with Hannah Brown from Education Scotland, we have organised two professional learning opportunities. We have invited our primary colleagues to take part in this work and we are delighted that some are able to join us. We aim to have one member of staff per department to filter out the messages to the whole school in Departmental Meetings at the Twilight Sessions. We are currently recruiting pupils to organise an S5/6 pupil led group in line with action plan for Secondary schools that will provide them with a voice and platform for enacting change.
We believe that schools are one of the few shared social institutions which can create a sense of belonging or exclusion. We do all that we can to increase pupil engagement and reduce disaffection. Above all, we foster a culture of inclusion and equality which recognises the value and dignity of all members of our community. We are a school which has at its core the desire to serve the common good and a strong sense of social justice. We aspire to help all pupils meet the educational challenges of today and to ensure that we increase the life chances of all those we serve.