Why inclusivity is essential in the education of our young people

From Emily, Director at Light Up Learning….

LUL is all about supporting students to learn about topics that they choose. We provide them with a safe, non-judgemental space where they can explore interests and ideas that it’s sometimes not possible to give time to, in the classroom. By doing this, we help young people become excited about learning again and this then has a positive effect on their broader academic work and engagement with formal education.

“I’m more interested in the topic I’m doing, so I will put more work into it. I’m happier and feel prouder of the work I’m doing.” ~ Chloe, one of our current mentees, Mar 2019

Our students work on such a wide range of topics that it’s often hard to categorise them, even broadly. At the moment, the list includes:

  • Photography – one of our mentees went on a day trip to the Botanic Gardens this term and plans to return every season, learning about photography and documenting the seasons and changing natural biology.

  • Comics - learning how comics are put together, and spending time creating an original comic

  • Football - a mentee who is also a keen sportsperson researched and produced a presentation on the history of Manchester City football club; spurred on by this, we encouraged him to make some enquiries with Hibs, and he was recently invited to be a flag bearer at a local match

  • LGBT Rights - working on why it’s important that schools should support this work and participate in Purple Friday.

  • Creepy Pasta stories – exploring different creepy pasta stories (short pieces of horror fiction shared on the internet), writing their own fiction, and designing accompanying visuals

At Light Up Learning we believe that no topic is off the table. Having a supported space where young people are accepted for who they are - which includes their interests, no matter how ‘non-academic’ - is crucial for their overall learning and development: leading to increased confidence and a stronger sense of identity. If we can, we also offer relevant field trips, often to meet with people who are connected to the topic: for example our mentee Aspen learnt about filmmaking and sound recording from University of Edinburgh professionals, whilst Thomas met with a member of the Scottish Rugby team, to ask questions about their career path. Whilst we use the term ‘mentoring’, what LUL offers is unique, focusing as it does on sparking that love of learning - and supporting that over the course of several years: it’s also a two-way street, with our mentors learning just as much as our mentees do.

Images taken by one of our mentees during a recent trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

It feels important to share our model at the moment, with the debates that have been happening in the last few weeks (and no I'm not talking about Brexit). I'm talking about the protests that took place outside a Birmingham School, about their LGBT inclusive education and the subsequent comments by ministers on what constitutes age-appropriate LGBT education. It feels like the space for inclusive education is starting to be challenged: we believe our model is important because we do take an inclusive approach - and it starts from meeting the young people where they are.

“LGBT pupils are more likely to be bullied as well as suffer mental health issues, education might help with this. If people know about the topic they might be less likely to bully others.” ~ Chloe, one of our current mentees, Mar 2019

As someone who grew up under Section 28, I know personally the damage that can be done when a wide variety of loving relationships are not shown or talked about in schools: it took me a long time to accept and be proud of my identity as a queer person. This is why I’m so passionate about supporting young people to learn about the issues that are important to them, that help them to define their identity and values.

We need to be supporting young people to explore and understand what it is that makes them unique, and this includes educating them about LGBT rights. Scotland is leading the way, with the recent announcement that LGBT-inclusive education would be implemented across all state schools; however the events last month remind us that giving students space to learn about what they want, and where they won't be judged for their interests, is vitally important.  

This is what we do at LUL: it’s about working with young people where they are, and exploring what they are passionate about; it’s about giving young people positive role models and being vulnerable with our own stories and it’s about inspiring young people to be excited about learning - whether that's creating internet meme horror or researching the history of LGBT rights.

One of our students, Chloe, has been working on LGBT issues with her mentor Lisa. Here’s what she had to say on the topic:

Why is it important to pick your own topic, in your Light Up Learning sessions?

“I’m more interested in the topic I’m doing, so I will put more work into it. I’m happier and feel prouder of the work I’m doing.”

Why is it important to cover LGBT topics in schools?

“You become more educated about the best way to say things or talk about it. It also might make you more comfortable with yourself. If it’s visible you might feel more able to speak about it. You will feel more supported, it’s not like a secret. If it’s not visible in school, it might make you feel like keeping it a secret as no one is talking about it.”

“Schools should cover LGBT issues because people need educated on these topics and the challenges the LGBT community face. LGBT pupils are more likely to be bullied as well as suffer mental health issues, education might help with this. If people know about the topic they might be less likely to bully others. If there are religious barriers to LGBT education, pupils and parents should have a choice to take part in the lesson or do other work somewhere else, rather than stopping LGBT education for everyone. As a member of the LGBT community people might question you, they might not know much about it and accidently use offensive terms or language. If pupils are educated on the topic it may reduce issues for people within the community, help them feel included, and more comfortable within themselves.”

If you have a question for Emily, or want to know more about how Light Up Learning works, you can Tweet at us, or join our mailing list for news and updates.