Lesbemums: What To Ask Potential Schools (as an LGBTQ Family)
With T’s first term at school over and done with, it’s made me realise not only how fast each term is now going to go (where did those 6 weeks go?!) but how far T has come in the short space of time that he’s been in school. He’s doing really well mentally and academically, and I can honestly say that we chose the best school for him. It’s probably not the best in terms of stats and accolades, but to us, those numbers don’t matter as much in comparison to how comfortable your child will be in school, as well as how supported they will be if problems were to ever arise. As soon as we visited T’s school we knew we had found the right one.
As a same sex family we were naturally anxious when we were viewing schools. Researching Ofstead reports and school results are easy, but it’s the stuff in-between, probably the more important things; such as school policies and attitudes in and around the school, which was harder to research and look into.
We were probably the “nightmare parents” when it came to open evenings as we were the ones looking through library books, the artwork on the walls, and asking dozens of questions about equality and inclusion and, dare I say it, their bullying policy. Don’t be naive to think that bullying won’t happen – regardless of whether you’re from a minority group or not – but it’s still important to know how a school deals with issues after that’s important.
1 Year On
It’s been almost a year since we submitted T’s application, which has resulted in me reflecting on all the things I wanted to know when we were carrying out our research, as well as the things I asked and should have asked. I’ve also come to realise how little information there is out there for LGBTQ parents and parents of LGBTQ children when it comes to what questions they might want to ask or things they might want to look for when viewing potential schools.
With this in mind, I thought I’d share some helpful guidance using our own experiences from when we were looking round schools and what made T’s school the right one for us. It may come in handy when you’re viewing schools, and later making the final decision on what school you would like your child(ren) to go to. There are lots of posts about other questions you might want to ask, especially if your child has additional needs, such as this great post by Julie, but if you’re a family like mine it’s important to prioritise you and your child’s needs:
How do you include different families? Follow up with, “Specifically LGBTQ families?”
This was probably one of my first questions when I had the opportunity to ask as I’m not here to beat around the bush. I want to know whether my child is going to be included and whether they are going to be treated like every other child in their class.
Equality is not the same as asking for special treatment.
How do you manage Mother’s Day and Father’s Day for families like ours?
Although probably not at the top of our list of questions or one that got asked during visits, it was still something at the back of our minds, as something as small as making a card for someone who does not exist – the same for single parent families on either day – is likely to have a huge impact later on.
On Father’s day, T’s nursery made ‘Someone Special’ cards with T for Father’s Day and two cards on Mother’s Day, it didn’t take much effort, but it meant T felt included in the activity.
Do you have any books in the library about families like ours? If not, could we please add to your library?
Another big one for us, as books play a big part in T’s life, and during tours I often scoured the bookshelves looking for some diversity. T’s school had a variety of inclusive books which looked well-read, therefore I was happy.
Once T has grown past some of our younger titles I will likely donate these to the school or the nursery attached to the school.
Are there any children in the school with same sex or transgender parents?
If they don’t know the answer to this question, that’s not a good sign! Either LGBTQ parents are not choosing that school, or they don’t know the children’s families very well!
How does the school manage discipline and bullying?
Although you don’t want to assume your child is going to be bullied for having a rainbow family, you equally can’t assume that they won’t, therefore it is healthy to research what anti-bullying policies are in place and then ask a representative about this during visits.
Tip: A lot of school policies can often be found on the school’s website.
How would you respond to negative use of the word ‘gay’? E.g. You’re so gay? That’s so gay? You could also follow up with ‘How would you explain what “gay” meant to a child who asked?’
Depending on how well conversations are going, slipping something like this into conversation will show you how staff react to out of date language.
This might also be a good opportunity to ask how the school is planning / has planned for the recent introduction of RSHE lessons and how their lessons have been developed.
When it comes to forms (and there will be quite a few!), do they have the words ‘Parent(s)’ on them instead of ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’? If not, are they willing to address this?
Prior to T being accepted, there weren’t that many forms to fill in other than the initial application, therefore there’s nothing stopping you asking the question about the language on forms prior to this, as you will spend your life filling in forms in the first few weeks.
For me, it matters whether something, that others often take for granted – such as the makeup of one’s family – has been taken into consideration, as it will show whether everyone has been thought of during the process of wanting to gather information or whether out of date assumptions have been made. There’s nothing worse than having to scrawl out the word ‘Father’ on a form and replace it with ‘Mother’ or ‘Parent’.
Making Everyone Welcome
The factors in deciding which school is right for you and your child will be different depending on the person, even between different LGBTQ families, but regardless of what questions are asked, it matters that they’re asked. This includes allies. Even if your books at home are the most diverse they can be, for example, asking on behalf of another family about the books other children are going to read sends a clear message to the school and other parents.
Here are a few suggestions on what you might want to ask during school visits, but if you think I’ve missed anything out, let me know!