Case study: St John Ogilvie High School
St John Ogilvie high school have engaged in extensive equalities work over the years, showing a whole school commitment to tackling gender inequality, stereotypes and making the school a safe environment for all learners.
We have worked with Lanarkshire Rape Crisis to ensure workshops adopting a primary preventative approach to gender-based violence were delivered across the whole school. We also worked alongside the centre to support the establishment of a young person’s project called STAMP which aimed to empower young people to challenge harmful gender stereotypes.
The school also engaged in the pilot of the whole school approach to preventing gender-based violence with Rape Crisis Scotland, informed by Scotland’s Equally Safe policy, and this involved the establishment of a learner and practitioner working group, professional learning for all practitioners, embedding messages throughout the curriculum, assemblies and pupil workshops to all age groups, learner informed policy review and engagement with parents and carers.
A very successful pupil led 'Women in Science' group developed with help from science staff. The group sought to highlight the historical contributions women had made to the sciences and to promote gender balance in the science subjects.
Since then, St John Ogilvie have worked closely with the Improving Gender Balance and Equalities team at Education Scotland to develop their existing equalities work through addressing gender imbalance and unconscious bias. This involved professional learning for practitioners, establishment of a working group, a curriculum review and consideration of how to widen learner pathways and opportunities.
St John Ogilvie school are also engaging in the pilot of the Improving Gender Balance self-evaluation framework and have equalities work embedded in their school improvement plan to ensure a sustainable approach is maintained.
Why Equally Safe At School (ESAS)?
As a denominational school whose core values are about respect, tolerance and dignity, the ESAS intervention made a lot of sense because there were so many links with our school’s values and ethos. We also recognised how the intervention fitted well under the broader umbrella of rights and increasing pupil voice, which are incredibly important in our school. There were also clear links between ESAS and improving attainment. ESAS increased pupil voice and therefore confidence and participation, encouraging pupils to think outside the norm. This translated into how young people thought of the careers available to them. ESAS generated a buzz in the school which motivated staff and pupils to keep going with the work.
Setting up the intervention
Introducing the ESAS intervention to our school was made smoother by the fact that we already had a group of students who felt strongly about gender equality through their work with STAMP.
STAMP is group of young people who work to challenge gender stereotyping in the media. The pupils who became involved in the ESAS action group had already been involved with STAMP, so there was already a lot of interest in addressing gender inequality.
Additionally, St John Ogilvie already had a Rights Respecting Group and strong pupil leadership teams so again there were structures in place that naturally fitted with the intervention and could support it being launched rather than having to create those structures from scratch, which would have been more challenging.
Facilitating the Success of ESAS
The worker from Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) who supported us with the work, was very open and flexible. She helped us to deliver the intervention in a way that worked for our school. The RCS worker having an understanding of how the work slotted in with the wider work of the school and an awareness of the day-to-day issues we face as a school was really key to our success.
Everything we did also went through the parent council, so we brought them with us and made sure that the parents were aware of what was going on too.
After ESAS, much that we did as a school was viewed through a different lens. I believe that the girls in the school became less tolerant of gender-based name calling and boys knew that this type of language would not be stood for. Staff also became more confident in challenging discriminatory views and behaviours, even in instances involving parties external to the school, for example, when a school photographer had unconsciously suggested gendered poses for the school photographs, with boys looking confident and straight at the camera and girls doing a different pose with a hand on their hip, school staff very quickly notified the Senior Leadership Team and we were able to request that poses weren’t gendered in this way in the future.
In another instance we had visitor to the school who mentioned ‘girls interested in childcare’ and staff quickly corrected them by saying ‘pupils interested in childcare’. These are two simple anecdotes, but, they highlight that staff are aware that gendered assumptions about pupils are unhelpful and not in line with the school’s position on equality. Staff work hard to protect the school as a space where equality and opportunities for all are upheld.
ESAS made us re-evaluate how we looked at the curriculum and school events too. When we were planning our Remembrance Day, we realised that in the past we often focussed solely on the war time stories of men at our special Remembrance assembly so we adapted the presentations to make sure that we were also reflecting on the work of women during war time.
There have been times when some may have felt uncomfortable during discussions surrounding gender and the different lived experiences of male and female pupils at school but all good debate should prompt reflection on and an increased understanding of the issues at hand. Discomfort with an idea or concept isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s an important part of the learning process.
Since undertaking ESAS we have worked hard to keep up momentum and interest in sustaining the intervention which has been extremely difficult since March 2020 due to the covid 19 pandemic. We have had a Women in Science group who held regular events and film nights, our senior pupil induction days feature an input on gender equality and pupils delivered their own workshop on gender equality to their peers. This type of work has not been possible in recent times.
We have also created an insert into our school ethos statement to ensure that the work we have done developing our school culture is formally embedded. We have gone on to sign up for the Improving Gender Balance Programme which naturally branched off from the work we had done with ESAS because it involved a whole school audit of subject choices by gender.
In late November 2019, we carried out an audit of all elective subjects to identify discrepancies in gender balance within each subject. We found that an imbalance exists in a range of subject areas. In health and wellbeing subjects, more girls take dance and more boys take physical education. The Health and Wellbeing faculty have worked to challenge some of the harmful stereotypes surrounding different sports, particularly dance. The imbalance also exists in STEM subjects, with more girls opting to take biology and chemistry and more boys taking physics and computing science. The science faculty have worked hard to raise awareness of women in science which inspires young women and encourages them to study the sciences.
We also established an IGBE pupil group. This allowed the young people to talk about the issues that directly affect them and allowed them to make suggestions about strategies that could be put in place to improve gender inequality. The members of the pupil group presented to their peers at an assembly to raise awareness of the issues that exist and how they are working to address them. The pupil group also took part in Education Scotland’s Young Ambassador training, but they have not had the opportunity to implement any of their ideas due to Covid 19 irregular timetabling and other restrictions.
We still regularly update the IGBE Instagram page to continually raise awareness of everyday issues and highlight related new articles. We look forward to resuming normal activities in the next academic year.
We’re really proud of our work on gender equality and have presented on our journey thus far at conference days and events. We were also delighted and proud to receive a special award from South Lanarkshire Council recognising our work and it felt really meaningful and significant to have our work acknowledged in such a public facing way.
We hope to continue on our journey when we are able to do so.
– Lorna Lawson, Headteacher