In March 2021, against the backdrop of national discourse regarding women’s safety and need for a meaningful response in schools, Head Jane Lunnon announced the inception of a gender equality development plan at Alleyn’s. The plan invited all members of the School community; pupils, staff and alumni to contribute to the conversation and help us determine how gender equality, kindness and respect can be instilled in our young.
Since then, Alleyn’s has launched several initiatives and programmes to ensure that our community can be a part of and lead this necessary change and Mrs Lunnon has been invited by national media to speak on the matter.
Earlier in Advent term, we welcomed parents to an evening event where small groups discussed topics relevant to their children’s age group, for example; body image, inappropriate online behaviour and areas that caused stress. Alicia Drummond from Teen Tips demonstrated her online platform and a draft Gender Equality Charter was presented to parents at the meeting.
We promised to review and challenge sexism in our curriculum. The English department has done amazing work, looking closely at diversity, devising a diversity matrix of all the materials taught as part of the English curriculum. There is, of course, always more that can be done, and we are looking for ways to further refine and improve our practice. The Biology department has also reviewed our internal schemes of work to include the amazing female scientists that have contributed so much, as well as writing to our exam board AQA to challenge them about the lack of diversity in their specifications. This practice was shared with other teachers at the Teaching and Learning Forum and we look forward to more ideas from our departments.
On a safeguarding level, all teaching staff received extra training on Consent at the beginning of the term and Head of Sixth Form Rob Atkinson and I attended the “Peer on Peer Abuse Training” conference which covered the Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools. We have also encouraged staff to refer to and participate in the excellent online training provided by the NSPCC.
The whole school was introduced to the Gender Equality Charter at a special assembly where the Gender Equality Prefects and I talked through the Charter and the reasoning behind the four main themes: Daily Life; Communication and Community Engagement; Academic and Career Choices and the Wider World. The Charter was then disseminated to School sections for discussion during tutor time and in the new Gender Equality Champions meeting.
Our inaugural Gender Equality Champions, members of the Upper School, have shown great leadership and chaired discussions on a wide range of issues, creating space at Alleyn’s for the community to share their views. They have been working with pupils from Year 7 to Year 13.
Sixth form GE Champion Bella told us that she hopes “that everyone at Alleyn’s is, in some way, a gender equality champion, regardless of whether they are on the committee or not. Alleyn’s should be an environment in which we promote gender equality among all pupils and staff.”
The GE Champions have addressed issues from street safety to ensuring everyone feels comfortable in the classroom, for example, in expressing their pronouns, and potentially creating a new PSCHE lesson to discuss inclusive language with the help of an ‘Inclusion Glossary’.
Fellow sixth former and GE Champion Jake shared that the Charter has provided a platform for more diverse voices to be heard and “feedback from these conversations has been essential towards ensuring that the content within the Alleyn’s charter is representative of the views of every member of school community.”
At the end of September, we offered a safe space for students who felt that they wanted to talk about the terrible murder of Sabina Nessa and of the media coverage of the sentencing of Wayne Couzens. We then had follow-up assemblies from our School Liaison Officer, PC Grant Seager on personal safety.
To help our sixth form student leaders, it has been agreed that we will provide them with specialized training. They will undertake the same UKFeminista training that staff completed last term (Challenging Sexism in Schools) as well as in-house sessions run by Deputy Head Andy Skinnard and me. Training for mentors within Houses is also being established.
One aspect of the Charter that I am passionate about is helping our local and worldwide community. Following the crisis in Afghanistan, we have created links with the charity The Bike Project who refurbish bikes for refugees and help teach female refugees to cycle, as they may not have been given this opportunity in their home country. We will also hopefully be working with the Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers in the near future to see how we can assist them.
This last half term, we updated our RSE policy and increased the teaching from our external provider ItHappens. They have delivered age-appropriate PSCHE lessons on statutory requirements, including consent, coercive behaviour, upskirting, youth produced sexual imagery, contraception, STIs and puberty. The founders of the company, Amy Forbes-Robinson and Alex Fryer have written an excellent book called Brilliant Questions about Growing Up (Puffin 2020) which I highly recommend. In addition, the Head of PSCHE, Gill Silver, and I have been working very closely to audit and review the RSE content of our provision moving forward.
Alleyn’s School prides itself on being a diverse, inclusive community for staff and for pupils. We recognise there is always more we can do to promote equality and address areas of concern. We will build on the measures we have taken so far to support our ongoing efforts to promote the school’s core values: Respect, Opportunity, Courage, Curiosity and Kindness.
By Sarah Smiddy, Deputy Head of Upper School and Alleyn’s Gender Equality Lead
Read Mrs Lunnon's June 2021 blog Everyone's Invited is Everyone's Problem.
Main image: Gender Equality Champions Jake, Isabella and Ella, Year 13