Case Study: Lesmahagow High School
Motivations for undertaking ESAS
Personally, I was familiar with the vision and principles of Equally Safe at School, as I had previously worked at a former ESAS pilot school in South Lanarkshire (St John Ogilvie High School). I had seen first-hand how ESAS brought a school together to tackle gender inequality and ensure the safety of girls in particular, so when our local authority offered Lesmahagow High School the opportunity to undertake ESAS, for me it wasn’t a question, we would of course accept. Locally, nationally and globally, conversations around gender inequality and gender based violence has really picked up pace and we at Lesmahagow High School wanted to be part of that drive and part of that change.
The Whole School Approach
While the whole school approach of ESAS can seem like a big commitment, to me it makes sense that it’s so thorough because equality and inclusion should never be a tick box exercise or a flash in the pan. As with any equality and inclusion initiative, you have to embed ESAS and continually work at it. It’s easy to fall into society’s gender norms, so it will take more than a one-off workshop to achieve change and tackle inequality. Instead the work has to be ongoing, consistent and embedded into a school’s ethos and policies. That’s why at Lesmahagow, every policy that has been reviewed and developed over the last year or so now has a strong ESAS message within it. For us it was important for everyone to be singing from the same hymn sheet and to have a really consistent approach to gender based violence and gender equality. We therefore view the whole school approach of ESAS to be fundamental.
The staff training provided by ESAS was key to our journey. Following the training, many members of staff came to the SLT to note how helpful it had been and to share their reflections. They spoke about their reflections on language and how they realised that they often unconsciously centre male students in their language, for example by referring to a mixed gender group as “guys”. They were also keen to reflect on how a key part of responding to school incidents of harassment is to support the perpetrating pupil to understand their behaviour in relation to attitudes, beliefs and perceptions around gender and to challenge those mind-sets, even where it might be unconscious. Following the staff training, we saw a systematic change in terms of how staff addressed the issues. Seeing how hard the staff was working to promote gender equality and challenge GBV really motivated the SLT to continue to work towards embedding the key messages of ESAS into the school structure by developing policies and procedures.
Looking back on ESAS, a real highlight has been seeing the enthusiasm and commitment of our pupils. When forming a pupil led action group, we ended up with so much interest that we had to select from a long list of pupils. I can’t emphasise enough how motivating it was for me as the ESAS school lead to see so many pupils who wanted to be part of a movement to tackle gender based violence. I’m really proud of our young people for that. I’m also really proud that all of the ideas that we are progressing to address the issues have come from the young people themselves. Their ideas are to develop clear, consistent procedures on responses to sexual harassment, to make pupils more aware of specialist GBV support services via a poster campaign and to put in place a peer education programme that focuses on homophobia and transphobia in schools.
Links with LGBT Charter
While undertaking ESAS, we were also working towards the LGBT Chartermark. This worked well for us because gender equality and LGBT equality are so connected. The two initiatives really complemented each other in terms of promoting tolerance and acceptance. ESAS and LGBT Charter were often positioned alongside each other in policies as two distinct yet complementary aspects of our work on equality, inclusion and wellbeing. The work that we had done with ESAS around challenging language and behaviours that are discriminatory and can make young people feel unsafe to be themselves only supported the work we were doing with the LGBT charter to remove stigmas. Together, ESAS and LGBT Charter go a long way to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of our pupils.
Advice for Schools Thinking About ESAS
Gender equality is a really important subject that is being spoken about globally, so you need to have young people at the heart of the work if you want to create change in a way that feels current and relevant to them. I’d tell other schools not to under-estimate how much young people’s values and beliefs relate to being part of a movement to promote gender equality and prevent gender based violence. Knowing how important it is to young people is very motivating in taking the work forward.
– David Robertson, Depute Head Teacher