There has been a bit of talk about the Safe Schools Coalition Australia and our new All Of Us resource in the media this week. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation, including claims the program is “run by activists”, has a “political agenda”, and that the new All Of Us unit guide is teaching “inappropriate things” to students or “promoting extreme views”.
We know that schools right across the country are doing amazing things to support their students, so we were pretty shocked by some of these claims, and figured you might have some questions. So we thought we’d share a few key facts…
FACT 1: Safe Schools Coalition Australia was created to support teachers and schools who were asking for assistance to create an inclusive environment for LGBTI students and families. It was not created to drive a “political agenda”.
Teachers are increasingly aware that students who are same sex attracted, intersex or gender diverse can face specific challenges in the school environment. This includes bullying and discrimination that can impact school attendance, mental health and academic achievement. Teachers and principals can see what is going on in their schools and want to do more in this area. They have been asking for advice and support. SSCA allows all schools, regardless of experience, location or funding, the chance to create an environment where every student can learn in a safe and inclusive environment.
FACT 2: The All Of US unit guide is an evidence-based classroom resource written by teachers, curriculum experts and the SSCA team.
Melbourne teacher Christopher Bush in collaboration with Victorian and national Safe Schools Coalition staff members and curriculum consultant Janice Atkin, formerly of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) developed this resource. As part of its development, All Of Us was carefully tested and trialed with focus groups of teachers and with students in classrooms to ensure that All Of Us provides a teacher-friendly tool kit that will make schools safer and more inclusive not just for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, but for their friends, teachers and family too.
FACT 3: All Of Us was carefully prepared to be aligned with and age-appropriate for the Year 7/8 Health and Physical Education learning area of the Australian Curriculum.
It was trialled with students and teachers of Years 7 and 8. It is recommended specifically for use with those year levels. A curriculum consultant was also used to ensure the resource’s appropriateness to those year levels.
FACT 4: Safe Schools Coalition Australia resources help schools to create an inclusive and safe learning environment, so all students can participate and engage with their studies and school activities.
Having a safe and inclusive school environment is key to students turning up and engaging with core subjects at school. If students are not engaged because they feel excluded or unsafe, or if they are not working well together because they don’t understand and support each other, their learning will be compromised. This is why creating a safe, inclusive, positive learning environment is actually key to children learning subjects such as maths, science and history.
FACT 5: Suggested activities in All Of Us are common teaching tools, designed to build empathy, understanding and tolerance, not to “force views on students”.
The resource does not suggest teachers force students to explain why they hold a different view in front of the class and teacher, nor to coach them to alter their views. Students are simply asked to discuss and explore a range of questions that are designed to encourage them to think about being in someone else’s shoes. The discussions encourage understanding and empathy for the experiences of others – promoting messages of inclusion and belonging for all. This is a common method used by educators that has been used for many years to assist students to consider the feelings and experiences of their peers in various contexts, to develop empathy and understanding.
FACT 6: Participation in the Safe Schools Coalition Australia is voluntary for ALL schools. No schools are “forced” to join Safe Schools or use any of the resources.
The program is available nationwide, offering resources and support for teachers, students and school communities at the discretion of individual schools. In Victoria, the State Government is a strong supporter of the program and has pledged that every government secondary school will ‘engage’ with Safe Schools Coalition Victoria by 2018. Even so, membership to Safe Schools remains voluntary in Victoria and schools will not be compelled to join or to use any specific resources.
FACT 7: Safe Schools Coalition Australia encourages students to lead and contribute to positive change in their community. It does not support making a ‘public example’ of children and the resource does not encourage teachers to do so.
All Of Us and the Safe Schools program aims to increase the knowledge, understanding and awareness of the whole school community of the needs and issues faced by LGBTI young people. The program also aims to encourage young people to lead and contribute to positive change in their own school or community to ensure an inclusive and supportive environment for all. When everyone is included and feels safe at school, the whole school does better.
FACT 8: All Of Us provides information for teachers to consider as examples when explaining the possible lived experience of LGBTI students. None of the resources say that people should “not ask the gender of a new baby”.
In the All Of Us resource, students are simply given examples of language used every day that reinforce the notion that everyone will grow up to identify with the gender they are assigned at birth and be attracted to the opposite sex, acknowledging that while this is a common experience, it is certainly not the case for everyone. The suggested exercise is about making young people aware of this so they can develop an understanding of the life experience LGBTI people and work to build a supportive environment.
FACT 9: Safe Schools Coalition Australia resources are designed to support teachers across all subject areas to make students feel welcome and included.
Having positive discussions specifically about same sex attraction, gender diversity, and intersex status can go a long way to reducing prejudice. Using inclusive language in the classroom when teaching any subject will also help to make all students feel welcome and included and to feel able to be themselves and feel great about that.
Exploring LGBTI people and topics may be relevant to achieving key learning objectives across a range of subject areas. This can include topics relating to identity, society and culture, and human and legal rights. In the Health and PE Curriculum for example, students are required to examine the benefits to individuals and communities of valuing diversity. The All Of Us unit guide states that ‘Schools may choose to adapt and use the videos and teaching activities in other areas of the curriculum such as English, History, Humanities, Legal Studies, Civics and Citizenship, and applied learning curriculums (e.g. VCAL, TAS) where the exploration of LGBTI people and topics allows students to explore a range of areas which are relevant to each subject’s learning intentions.’
And here’s some extra info about a couple of activities in the All Of Us resource…
What is the Hiding Your Teeth activity all about?
This is a teaching method that is used to explore a range of topics including such as cultural diversity and learning abilities. The activity aims to help students:
- Recognise that diversity is not always visible and consider what this means for an inclusive school.
- Demonstrate empathy for individuals with a diverse range of experiences.
- Analyse and challenge stereotypes of same sex attracted people.
- List ways to be more inclusive of people who are bisexual.
What is the Stepping Out activity all about?
This activity encourages understanding and empathy for the diverse experiences of others. It is not a new exercise and All Of Us is not the first teaching resource to suggest it. In line with this, Lesson 2 aims to help students:
- Understand how homophobia and discrimination affect everyone’s well-being.
- Recognise that same sex attracted people do not fit into stereotypes.
- List ways to be more inclusive of people who are gay or lesbian.