Sunday, 31 December 2017

Why responding to the Government's Relationships and Sex Education Consultation matters

On Tuesday 19th December 2017, Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education and Women and Equalities made the announcement that there will be a consultation to help shape the content of the soon-to-be statutory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) Programme of Study guidance (RSE which will be taught in all schools (maintained, academies and independent) in England from September 2019 (Children and Social Work Act 2017 places a "statutory duty" on Ms Greening "to make Relationships Education compulsory in all primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education mandatory in all secondary schools" ( Key stakeholders, including parents and young people have been invited to offer their views on a number of topics including online safety, sexual harassment and LGBTQ+ issues. I believe this a fantastic opportunity for trans non-binary people to submit our suggestions as to how to make RSE more inclusive going forward. I've been talking about the need for LGBTQIA+ inclusive RSE for a while, and have blogged on its importance here: (  I'm far from being the only person making this call. Hannah Kibirige, Director of Education and Youth at Stonewall mentioned in her blogpost for Huffpost "Why We Should All Care About LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education" Stonewall research which has shown that just "one in six LGBT young people have been taught about healthy same-sex relationships", with LGBTQIA+ young people finding themselves using the Internet to access LGBTQIA+ inclusive RSE information and advice, which can be at times "unreliable, and sometimes unsafe" ( Rosa Simonet, writing in The Mancunion, early in December 2017 revealed the results of an anonymous survey conducted by the organisation which found that RSE (or SRE) was " criticised as being too heteronormative, with students complaining they had been given little to no information about safe sex for lesbians or other members of the LGBTQ community" ( Bridie Forrester, Communications Secretary of the University of Manchester's LGBTQ society made some pertinent comments in the article: "the effect of cisnormative, heteronormative teaching is actually dangerous. Many children leave school with little to no knowledge about life as a queer person. Inter-personal problems such as STDs, domestic abuse and drugs are far from exclusive to cisgender straight people and everyone would benefit from having a greater understanding of LGBTQ issues" (

Recent reports that have been released by sexual health charities and organisations in the UK have also demonstrated that young people themselves have identified the need for LGBTQIA+ inclusive RSE. One report jointly authored by the sexual health charity Brook and the National Crime Agency's COEP command (Digital Romance) surveyed over 2,000 young people aged 14 and 25 in the UK (and 72% of them being aged 14-17) with disturbing findings being made; for example, LGBT young people use the Internet to meet partners "with significantly more gay young people (9.9%) reporting they met up with an online contact who was not who they said they were compared with straight young people (4.9%). On the quality of RSE generally, only 72% reported receiving any education on relationship skills and only 26% of those respondents rated it as good or very good (

Every child and young person in the UK has the right to access age-appropriate, effective RSE. Every child and young person has the right to learn about healthy relationships and to know that LGBTQ+ people can have happy and healthy long-lasting relationships that are respected by the majority of people living in the UK. Students who have SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) have the right to access information and guidance on safe sex and healthy relationships that is presented in an easy-to-understand format without patronising or infantilising them. However, as the Brook-CEOP report has shown, at the moment not every child/young person is receiving high quality RSE and it has been the case for decades. One of the largest studies on the opinions of young people, conducted by the UK Youth Parliament in 2007 which had over 20,000 participants under the age of 18 (Sex and Relationships Education: Are You Getting It?) found that 40% believed the RSE they had received was either poor or very poor. Having a basic Programme of Study that schools have to follow will allow for standardisation of content which should lead to greater consistency in delivery. 

There are also fears that the RSE consultation may allow for loopholes that faith schools can go through so as to not discuss essential topics relating to sexual health, including contraception. There may be discussions in RSE lessons that advocate against abortion when RSE lessons are meant to be delivered as free from bias as is possible. Equally there may be RSE lessons delivered which are anti same-sex marriage. Recent guidance released by the Church of England encourages Anglican schools to facilitate lessons exploring same-sex relationships but have not made it a mandatory part of their current PSHE programme probably because senior members of the Church are concerned there will be resistance from conservative Anglo-Catholic teachers if the new RSE programme of study makes it compulsory for them to teach about same-sex marriage in their classrooms. The Government last week released a statement that said that faith schools should be allowed to "teach RSE in accordance with the tenets of their faith". I would argue that this goes directly against what Greening has said in her piece for the Times Educational Supplement where she states that RSE has to be "relevant to modern life in Britain". For me, that has to include age-appropriate, sensitive discussions around same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ relationships in general.

RSE critics deliberately paint a bleak picture of the subject. Thomas Pascoe from the Campaign of the Coalition for Marriage infers that RSE is part of the "indoctrination process", arguing that it will lead to "sexualisation of children" and mistakenly concluding there is "no "age appropriate way to teach primary school age children about homosexual relationships or transgenderism" ( There are a number of things wrong with the statements Pascoe has made. Firstly, recent evidence has suggested that age-appropriate RSE helps reduce underage sexual activity; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), as quoted by sexologist Goedele Liekens, found that explicit sex education "reduces the amount of young people having sex from a very young age, reduce the numbers of sexual partners young people have, as well as preventing people from conducting or being victims of abuse" (

Secondly, there are a already number of RSE experts who have designed age-appropriate guidance and lesson plans to help primary school teachers who are PSHE and RSE leads in school deliver excellent lessons on LGBT+ related topics including gender identity. I don't think Mr Pascoe is aware of Professors Richard Woolley and Sacha Mason's book on delivering RSE to 5-11 year olds which includes how primary school teachers can answer challenging and embarrassing questions (I suggest he may peruse its contents a can buy your copy here: Deborah Price has written a great academic textbook that gives information and advice to Early Years professionals who want to talk about gender diversity and sexuality ( Lynnette Smith, MD and Founder of Big Talk Education opinion-eded in iNews, pointing out 2015 research which found that "children who have received age-appropriate RSE are three times more likely to speak out if something untoward is happening to them" ( Smith then went on to suggest a blueprint for delivering age-appropriate RSE based on the Programme of Study RSE experts within her organisation have designed (emphasis on experts...something Mr Pascoe is not on this issue) which includes discussing gender identity.
As I've blogged about many a-time-before, I believe that the new RSE guidance should include age-appropriate lessons on gender identity. There is no shortage of children's books that can help introduce the topic sensitively, not least the excellent (and current very popular "Are You A Boy or Are You A Girl?" written by the sassy Sarah Savage and illustrated by the fabulous Fox Fisher available here ( So I really don't know what Mr Pascoe and other "professionals" like him are going on about. 

Before I go on, there's something that I should draw everyone's attention to regarding appropriate use of terminology (something RSE leads will need to be given training on to deliver lessons on gender identity effectively): there's no such thing as "transgenderism". Transgender people are not espousing an's a word that is used by critics to try and discredit trans activists from speaking out (e.g. about the need to design more trans inclusive medical service provision within the NHS). Critics like Mr Pascoe can debate with trans people based on ideology but the ideology he and others perhaps are taking issue with is Queer Theory and the debate should be between proponents of Queer Theory and proponents of Christian Fundamentalism (Pascoe) or Radical Feminism, all three of which may be taught about in secondary school at Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. Let's hope that Mr Pascoe will be inspired to investigate best RSE practice going forward and maybe listen to lived-in experiences of trans people before he passes judgement on yet another topic he doesn't really seem to know very much about (there's rather a lot of rent-a-gob hack opinion-eding going on at the moment, especially about trans people....perhaps it will reduce in the future as a result of LGBTQIA+ RSE...let's hope so!)

The Brook and CEOP Digital Romance report revealed that young people are using social media messaging platforms to connect with each other, in both positive and negative ways. Young people want RSE practitioners to recognise the benefits of digital romance-i.e. "not convey a general negativity about all things online" as well as celebrating the positive actions young people themselves are taking to educate others about online safety. Some young people see digital technology as allowing them to exercise positive control, "some freedom from negative judgements and pressures, and space to be authentic" ( However, it seems that sexting has become increasingly prevalent, with 34% of respondents stating they have sent a nude or sexual image to someone they were interested in, 52% stating they had received such an image and 26% of 14-17 year olds saying they had sent a nude or sexual selfie. More worryingly, 9% of respondents said they had sent a nude or sexual image onto someone else which wasn't of them and 28% had felt pressured into sending an image of themselves ( with girls feeling more pressured (36%) than boys (11%). RSE lessons should address this issue head on, ensuring that all young people understand why it is important not to share images of others without consent and build young people's confidence to call out the sending of nude images as being unsatisfactory. Brook suggests that schools work with partner organisations to develop "positive bystander'" programmes and empower young people through RSE to intervene and challenge "the negative attitudes and behaviours they witness", including breaking down gender stereotypes (i.e. young men talking to their friends about respecting their body and that of their friends and partners).

As someone who was raped orally while at University and who didn't know where to turn for the initial support and advice that any rape or sexual assault victim deserves regardless of gender, I believe that RSE lessons need to contain crystal clear guidance on consent and on access to rape and sexual assault advice and support services locally, regionally and nationally. Grace Avila Casanova, from youth empowerment organisation Shout Out UK points out the current situation regarding sexual offences: "the number of sexual offences by under 18s against other under 18s in England and Wales rose by 71% between 2012 and 2017 (there were 4,603 offences in 2013-14 and this rose to 7,866 in 2016-17....see for more stats on this). For Casanova, "such indicators highlight, among other things, the importance of appropriate, inclusive and up-to-date guidance on sex and relationships" (
At primary school level, lessons should focus on reinforcing the idea that touching certain body parts on others is unacceptable (and ensuring that students know the proper names of those body parts so they can tell their teacher/parent when someone has touched them inappropriately). At secondary level, lessons on consent should include references to key legislation as well as signposting young people to services so they will know where to go for help and advice free from judgement and stigma if they find themselves in the situation that I found myself in. No young person should ever feel afraid to approach specialist organisations for help. The help should be freely available to all regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.

I'm also very supportive of the need for RSE to contain lessons on domestic violence, abuse (DVA) and coercive control, especially at secondary school level. Young people should be able to spot early signs of abuse and be encouraged to report their concerns to organisations so that they have the best chance of protecting themselves and their family. It must be noted that whilst DVA primarily affects women and girls, anyone can become a victim of DVA and coercive control, including men but with non-judgemental help and support, they can rebuild their lives and survive. LGBTQIA+ people, especially trans people are also more likely to be survivors of DVA and coercive control; statistics quoted by Broken Rainbow (an organisation that helped raise awareness of DVA in the LGBTQIA+ community which unfortunately closed in 2016) found that Domestic Violence affects at least 1 in 4 LGB people and up to 80% of trans people (The Scottish Transgender Alliance research)and studies have shown that LGBT people are less likely to say they are victims of DVA for fear of being outed by service providers ( Stonewall's research found that 25% of lesbian and bi women have experienced domestic abuse in a relationship and 49% of all gay and bi men have experienced at least one incidence of domestic abuse from a family member or partner since they turned 16 (
LGBTQIA+ young people need to be given the reassurance that if they ever find themselves in an abusive relationship, they will have services to turn to who will at least treat them with respect. At the same time, all young people should be participating in these lessons so they understand standards of acceptable behaviour in relationships.

As well as signposting for DVA, young people should know about what sexual health services are provided in their local area and how to access them. The Mancunion survey found that 26% of young people asked did not know where they could get tested and 33% had not been tested in the last 6 months. RSE leads in schools and NHS sexual health service providers should collaborate more regularly to increase awareness, whether that be organising annual visits to sexual health clinics so that secondary school students understand the sexual health check process and sexual health professionals can debunk myths around lack of confidentiality or designing innovative learning modules so that young people can visit the sexual health clinic without having to attend (using 360 pictures, videos etc). Sexual health professionals have valuable information to impart and such examples of collaboration in the past have been successful in encouraging attendance; for example there was a pilot of running mock sexual health clinics in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham in 1995, where 300 pupils in Years 10-12 attended a sexual health clinic and learned how the clinic operated; by the end of the pilot year, there was an increase of 29.5% in under 16s registering at sexual health clinics in the area (Lucy Emmerson, Secondary Schools and sexual health services: Forging the links, 2003).  Young people who are empowered to look after their sexual health when young will be more likely to continue to do so in the future. 

RSE does need to contain lessons that are focussed on prevention and protection but at the same time these lessons need to be delivered in a positive and engaging manner by professionals who are passionate about the subjects covered. Let's not just talk about what a young person can't do but also tell them that their future relationships can be happy, healthy and truly fulfilling. That includes relationships that are not sexual in any form. Young people at secondary school level should learn about asexuality- to know that we are not all sexual beings and it's OK not to have sexual desires. RSE should be a subject where children and young people are encouraged to embrace and celebrate (not just respect) differences.

RSE programmes will never be truly effective unless young people are involved in their design. As Ian Bauckham, who is leading the Government's review of RSE states in his article for The Telegraph, the consultation will only really be successful if it has managed to convince young people to contribute their opinions: "they (young people) will have important views and direct relevant experience which should help shape the decisions made on this topic" ( Some young people have already contributed to the debate; a group connected with Brook helped craft the Young Person's Manifesto for RSE, which gives 12 recommendations to create the "baseline for quality RSE". Recommendations include ensuring that regular RSE lessons are timetabled, that RSE "promotes equal, happy relationships" and that RSE leads and professionals feel OK with reacting to student's feedback and have been appropriately trained to do so ( Other young people should be encouraged to contribute their views on RSE and the key to this is ensuring secondary school teachers, FE college lecturers, university lecturers and personal tutors, parents, guardians and carers and yes, maybe even the local parish priest, imam or rabbi publicise the survey and make students aware of it. The PSHE Association has even devised a lesson plan that can be used to encourage Key Stage 3 and 4 students to respond: Posters, social media platforms including blogs and YouTube vlogs can all be mediums used to raise awareness, hence why I'm using my small but nicely formed platform. So please do encourage as many people as possible to take the online survey, which can be accessed here:
You've got until February 12th 2018 to respond!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Reflections on 2017 & Hopes for 2018

The festive period is a traditionally a time for reflection for many Christians, other people of faith, agnostics and atheists alike; a period where we consider the thoughts we have had and the actions we have taken over the last year and decide whether we need to amend our behaviour to be more compassionate, helpful people in the following year. 2017 has certainly been a challenging one for liberal minded people, with the seemingly unstoppable ascendency of Trumpian and Alt-Right thought and the continuation of division along Brexit voting lines, with discussions proving less than fruitful at times. Reminding ourselves of Jesus' birth and the compassion he demonstrated to people seemingly very different from himself should remind us of the need for dialogue, for breaking down erected stereotypes in order to try and establish common ground on which to build a brighter, happier future. So here's my reflections on 2017 generally and some of my hopes and recommendations for 2018.

Brexit and Politics:

When examining the situation of folks in the UK, you can see that people from both sides of the Brexit referendum hope to see positive changes made to the working and living conditions of people in the UK, although they may differ on how best to deliver that long-lasting change. I believe it's true to say that the Brexit referendum was used as an attempt by some as a way of cementing blame for the lack of UK economic security and ability to destiny-shape on the EU. However, it wasn't our membership of the EU that contributed wholly to the decline of our industrial heartlands; neither is it the fault of the EU that we continue to have low productivity growth a decade after the banking crash. Successive governments have failed to deliver appropriate industrial strategies designed to maximise the potential of small and medium sized businesses based in rural as well as urban constituencies. The Conservative government has spent too much time focussing on designing and implementing short-term austerity measures and not enough time co-ordinating an industrial strategy that is bold and wide-reaching. Establishing maths schools and Universal Technical Colleges is all well and good but there has to be jobs in regional areas for graduates of those schools to go and funding still needs to be place for young people to become apprentices in enterprising small and medium sized businesses located near to where they live. It shouldn't be the case that young people feel they have to migrate to larger cities to find sustainable work and it isn't right that small and medium sized business owners are not getting the real targeted help they need to expand and take on local talent. Brexiteers tell us that Britain outside the EU will present many free trade opportunities for businesses yet little evidence is out there that convinces small and medium sized business owners that those opportunities will benefit them directly. It's time to stop focussing on massaging the egos of corporate hedge fund managers and Nigel Farage and instead come up with ideas that will benefit businesses based in places like Skegness and Metheringham first.

Brexit wise generally, I have no idea whether the trading negotiation outcome will be anything near to the favourable trading conditions we currently have with the EU. I still remain convinced that our interests are best served by being a member of the Single Market and Customs Union but that option is only available if we decide to remain within the EU. A Survation poll conducted for the Mail on Sunday and released earlier this month found that out of the 1,003 respondents, 50% said they “support the holding of a referendum asking the public if they accept or reject the negotiated deal” ( The most recent BMG Research poll for The Independent has indicated a continuation in the shift in attitude towards Brexit itself, with 51% of 1,509 respondents stating they wish the UK to remain a member of the EU and only 41% saying they still want the UK to leave ( I believe a 2nd referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal should be on the cards but at the moment it looks unlikely to happen (Jeremy Corbyn remains quiet on the subject but I'm still unsure as to why he is so reluctant to advocate for a 2nd referendum and Keir Starmer doesn't seem to believe it would be a worthwhile policy idea to back at least in public). What is certain is that voters need to be realistic about the UK's current economic prospects outside of the EU trading bloc; thus far, they look less than optimistic. Inflation is already hitting people's pockets. The British Retail Consortium has warned that prices could rise unless existing trade deals can be replicated: tariffs on clothes from Turkey could increase from 0 to 12% and duties on Icelandic fish could end up being 11% when they are only 3.4% currently. The Government is clearly worried about the potential economic impact of Brexit (whether there is a deal with the EU or not) too; I wonder why Chancellor Philip Hammond is so reluctant to publish the Brexit impact reports that have been created by the Treasury; would the analyses revealed by data modeling (tax funded by the way) be too hard for die-hard Brexiteers to swallow? Or perhaps the Tories are so arrogant as to presume that not many people outside Westminster would not be bothered reading them? ( I hope next year that there will be a more concillatory attitude demonstrated by proponents of Brexit; one that acknowledges the concerns of Remain voters and works towards securing economic prosperity for everyone in the UK, not just people like Farage or Rees-Mogg.

The UK General Election and ensuing events have brought with them hope, disappointment and satisfaction. I have certainly more hope for a better future for the UK given the wide-ranging ideas that were contained in the Labour, Lib Dem, Greens and Women's Equality Party manifestos. There's no shortage of proposals that could be implemented (and lord knows whether the Tories will ever be bothered to implement them what with their current preoccupation with Hard Brexit) and there are some amazing MPs who are and I suspect will continue to try and make a difference to the lives of those who are Just About Managing to keep their heads above water financially speaking. I've been impressed by the wonderful Marsha de Cordova, who has become Labour's first dedicated Minister for Disabled People and Dawn Butler, Shadow Secretary of State for Equalities who both happen to be sassy, intelligent women of colour and who could both one day be viable candidates in the next Labour Leadership race.

However, I can't say that I've been entirely happy with all of Labour's policy announcements or the actions of certain Labour MPs (who shall remain nameless in this blogpost) this year. I'm still not convinced that Labour should be focussing efforts on renationalisation of our utilities (certainly not in their first term back in power anyways). Equally I am beginning to get the sense that Corbyn is in danger of developing a credibility gap (albeit primarily with older liberal minded voters at the moment) on the issue of Brexit; it's a gap that could continue to grow if Corbyn avoids discussing issues resulting from Brexit head-on. I can understand his reluctance to nail his colours to a particular mast; he doesn't want to alienate pro-Brexit voters based in Northern and Midland constituencies including ones that Corbyn want to win back like Mansfield (majority of 1,057) and Stoke-on-Trent South (majority of 663) yet at the same time he doesn't want to upset liberal minded voters in metropolitan constituencies and risk losing Scottish gains from the SNP including Midlothian (majority of 885) and Glasgow North East (majority of 242). The example of how Lincoln voted in the June General Election however should give Corbyn and his team some food-for-thought: Karen Lee, a nurse and City Councillor for Carholme Ward managed to defeat a hard-line Brexiteer Tory partly because of her willingness to talk openly about the UK remaining a member of the Single Market to protect jobs and workers' rights at hustings held across the city. I need not remind politicos in the Labour party that Lincoln constituents voted to Leave the EU in the Referendum yet there was an increased turnout at the polls in the 2017 GE compared with the 2015 GE which increased the number of voters for both Labour and the Tories and I would surmise that Labour won because Remain voters were energized to turn out and vote to turf out the Brexiteer. If it happened in Lincoln, it could happen in other constituencies that had similar voting percentages in the Brexit referendum. A recent poll conducted by YouGov for the Best for Britain campaign group also gives an indication of the anti-Brexit sentiments of Labour voters across the UK. The poll of 1,075 people who said they intend to vote Labour at the next General Election found that 63% would be delighted or pleased if Labour declared they will stop Brexit and remain in the EU, with only 21% opposing such a policy decision. 24% of respondents also said they would change their minds and vote for another party if Labour decides to proceed with the Brexit process ( Despite such emergence of anti-Brexit sentiments in the polls, Corbyn has kind of made hints recently that he himself won't back calls for a second referendum although Deputy Leader Tom Watson has said that “nothing has been ruled out” ( There is a real risk that a reluctance to allow voters to either have the final say on the Brexit deal or vote in a second referendum will alienate swing voters who had voted Remain in the EU Referendum in order to appease Brexiteer socialist and communist elements. I would argue that Corbyn should not only be advocating for at least a referendum on the deal but also push vigorously against the Tory version of Brexit that will leave voters who are classed as Just About Managing worse off. Corbyn has a duty to continue to fight to protect workers' rights from being eroded (in addition to continuing to talk about the new rights he would introduce including the banning of unpaid internships over 4 weeks and the banning of zero hours contracts). He should not be afraid to be more vocal about the potential danger economic or otherwise that may result from a Tory driven Hard Brexit. He needs to be promoting the efforts of Labour MPs to challenge the Government approach and his questions at Prime Minister's Questions need to framed more around questioning the Tory Brexit approach; for example, critiquing the Government over their hoarding of money for a No Deal Brexit when local authorities are seeing yet another deep cut to their funding streams, forcing them to push up council tax bills to help pay for local policing. The “constructive ambiguity” approach that Corbyn has adopted will only be effective for a short while longer; he needs to make a brave choice before his opportunity to enact social change passes him by.

Disability Rights:

Disabled people in Lincoln and across the UK have continued to bear the brunt of austerity measures this year:

It's really not good enough. Affirmative action needs to be taken to help empower disabled people and that means giving disabled people like myself and others the tools to enact change. I'm very much in favour of Marsha de Cordova's suggestion that there should be a public awareness campaign led by disabled workers which would include encouraging more small and medium sized businesses in rural areas to consider taking on apprentices who happen to have a learning disability or who are on the autistic spectrum and encouraging small and medium sized business owners and managers to attend training sessions so they are aware of the measures they can take to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace and understand the Access to Work Scheme. Equally the Tory Government should be made to promise that existing disability rights being brought into law through the Great Repeal Bill will not be eroded for the duration of this Parliament and to consider adopting aspects of the EU Accessibility Act which “would set new accessibility standards across Europe for ticketing and check-in machines for bus, rail and air travel, as well as for computers, ebooks and ecommerce” ( and read more about the EU Accessibility Act here:

All public spaces and business premises, especially shops and restaurants should be accessible for disabled shoppers yet this is currently not the case; research by Scope has revealed that 75% of disabled people and their families had left a retail outlet or business premises because there were not making provisions for them, even though there is an existing legal requirement that businesses make reasonable adjustments to cater for disabled customers ( I hope the Government will consider strengthening the Equality Act so there is a duty on businesses that are customer-facing to have accessible facilities. That may send the necessary message to those businesses attempting to stall on making their premises more accessible.


The word of 2017 as decided by the Oxford English Dictionary is “Youthquake” and I have to say that I've been impressed by the sheer number of young people across the UK who have decided to make their voices heard, whether by attending anti-Trump and pro Feminism marches, by being brave enough to come out and talk about their ideas and opinions, risking bullying and harassment and discrimination as a result and by choosing to vote in the General Election. Very few political and cultural commentators thought that Corbyn's campaign could have energised and empowered so many but very few would now dare to underestimate the power of the Millennial and Generation Z vote. What was incredible in my own constituency was listening to a group of sixth form students choosing to debate vigorously and openly a few days before the election. Their passion for wanting to be part of the driving force that they believed could enact social change was truly inspiring and I am no longer as despairing for the future of the country at the end of the year than I was at the start because I know that even in a possible post-Brexit Britain there shall always be young people willing to stand up for liberal virtues of compassion, and openness.

Young people can generate some truly inspiring ideas and be amazing campaigners in their local communities and on a national level. Too often there are narrow-minded people out there who refuse to listen to them just because they consider them “too young” to be politically active. This cultural attitude needs to change. My hope is that in the coming year will see a commitment made by more liberal Conservative MPs towards giving young people aged 16 and 17 the right to vote and putting in place the education they need to help empower them to consider going to the polling stations. It cannot possibly be acceptable for a 16 year old to pay National Insurance, get married (albeit with parental consent) and not have the ability to help shape the policies that affect their day-to-day lives. Rather than disillusioning young people in our sixth form colleges, further education colleges and who are on an apprenticeship, we should be encouraging them to enjoy being citizens and that means continuing to energise them to vote.

LGBTQIA+ Rights:

Not much progress has been made on improving rights for non-binary or intersex people in the last year despite vigorous campaigning by activists. A national LGBT survey has been commissioned by the Government which is designed to help inform decision making going forward. There was meant to be a review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to make it easier for trans people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate but that seems be parked now till at least spring 2018 and the release of the LGBT survey results because of fears expressed by radical feminists and right wing media types. It seems 2017 has been defined by a real flaring-up of stereotyping and vitriol against trans and non-binary people with certain elements of the mainstream media (particularly The Sunday Times) eager to fan the flames of discord. A moral panic on heat so to speak has ensued. Some of the articles that have been published do betray a lack of even basic knowledge of legislation or terminology on the part of the journalists who wrote them whereas others were quite clearly crafted in a radical feminist vein, honestly reflecting the views of the writer. Whilst I am someone who understands the value of living in a society that respects freedom of speech and the right of newspapers to vet what they print relatively free from government control, I have at times this year questioned the judgment of some of the editorial teams involved and would caution them in the future not to give out the appearance of favouring a particular ideology (Radical Feminism is an ideology, after all) in order to pander to a particular group of readers. As the ever insightful David Levesley pointed out in his iNews opinion-ed “The media needs to stop weaponising children in their crusade against trans people”, the never ending stream of opinion-eds by cisgender people has been mostly unhelpful; trans rights campaigner Ashley Talbot stated quite rightly: “I have plenty of opinions about things but I don't have free reign to write about them in national newspapers and then claim I'm being silenced when people point out how offensive it is” ( I am not naive enough to surmise that articles questioning trans people's right to be themselves will stop in their entirety but I do hope there will be more newspaper editors willing to publish articles penned by non-binary activists, experts and ordinary hard-working people or maybe perhaps editors who will consider taking on more non-binary columnists and journalists to better reflect the experiences of non-binary people across the UK. The talent is out there; editors just need to be bothered enough to seek them out. In the meantime, cis (and some trans) people opinion-eding should read the existing oeuvre of non-binary people and educate themselves before presuming to pass judgment on them. Think before you write!!!

The amount of income that working class people have across the UK to spend continues to be unsatisfactory. Latest figures released by the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) demonstrate just how woeful wage growth is in the UK compared with other countries: a study of OECD figures has revealed that the rate of wage growth in the UK will be “the lowest of any wealthy nation” with workers “seeing their earnings decrease by 0.7% in 2018 when inflation is taken into account ( The Resolution Foundation has also concluded that wage growth in real terms will stagnate in 2018, although they acknowledged the increase in the National Living Wage will help workers marginally. This is very worrying news for young workers already struggling to afford to pay their rent, utilities and food bills who hoped that the Conservatives would have introduced radical policies to help them in light of the GE result. The Lloyds survey conducted in November only confirms the nation's current feelings regarding the economy: “63% feel negative about the current state of inflation, up 14% since last November” and “2/3 feel negative about the UK economy” (

Low wage growth has inevitably meant more households turning to loan companies to provide them with the money necessary to pay for car repairs or rent deposits. Recent Labour research using statistics from the Office for National Statistics which includes student loan debts has found that “unsecured debt is on course to exceed £15,000 per household next year” ( The Guardian has already examined unsecured consumer credit debt and discovered there are 8.3m people in the UK classed as having a problem debt. Action is going to have to be taken to bring this number down, whether it be limiting access to credit for those who have already borrowed a certain amount of unsecured debt or are struggling to maintain payments and scrapping or at least capping the interest rate on consumer loans, including student loans (or at least scrap the 3% rate above inflation which is at 3% and costing students currently around £3,000 a year) so people are not saddled with an increasing burden which they may never have the means to pay off, thereby costing the taxpayer even more money (a proposal already suggested by David Willetts, the former universities minister who engineered the plan to raise fees to £9,000 a year).

Housing and Homelessness:

I have always believed that every person living in the UK deserves a comfortable, safe and secure place to live. Yet events this year have shown that we are far from achieving this dream of universal comfortable housing. The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire demonstrated the inadequate fire safety and building regulations we currently have in the UK as well as the chronic shortage of affordable housing in metropolitan consistencies and the reluctance of certain housing organisations and local authorities to listen to and take action on legitimate safety concerns raised by tenants. There needs to be a cultural shift in the way social and council housing is managed as well as ensuring that high rise buildings of any nature have essential fire safety features built-in to their design. As the Lib Dems called for at their Autumn Conference, all high rise buildings should have sprinker systems fitted as standard, with fire retardant cladding fitted and annual fire drills planned for all residents ( 
Councillors and managers of housing associations should also be held more accountable for their actions and forced to resign in the event of mismanagement, including ignoring tenant's valid safety concerns.

Thousands of people remain homeless in the UK at the end of this year. Current figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 15,290 households were accepted by local authorities as being homeless between the 1st July and 30th September with 79,190 households in temporary accommodation, up 65% from 48,010 in December 2010 ( Many more families are classed as hidden homeless, sofa surfing with family members, friends and colleagues whilst they try and find an affordable place to call home. The number of homeless households with a family member with a mental health condition has risen from 3,200 in 2010 to 5,470 in 2017 and the number of homeless households with a family member with a physical health condition has risen from 2,840 in 2010 to 4,370 in 2017. Tens of thousands of young people have approached councils in England, Scotland and Wales because they are homeless or at risk of being made homeless. Figures released by 234 councils as a result of a Freedom of Information request by the Lib Dems have shown 45,000 18-24 year olds have approached their local authority in the past year yet with more than 100 councils not sharing information on youth homeless, the figure could be as high as 70,000 ( The Government wants to block these young people from routinely collecting housing benefit, claiming that benefit payouts aren't sustainable (an ageist and heartless move from a Government that has implemented numerous ill-thought out, discriminatory policies) and instead are trying to minimise the effects of this policy decision by contributing to a “Fair Chance Programme” which has already been in place since September 2015 and will end in the next year and which only helps those young people defined as NEET (not in education, employment or training). The Fair Chance Programme interim reports have admitted that “securing and sustaining suitable accommodation (tenancies) for young people was widely seen as a prerequisite to progressing towards education, training, volunteering and employment outcomes” (p4) and the number of young people on the programme is small -1,909 young people were recorded as being on the programme as at December 2015 but pleasingly 1,637 had entered accommodation by December 2016 with 81% of those having achieved “a 6 month sustained tenancy”...

Short-term piecemeal solutions are not going to help reduce the problem of homelessness. The Government should commit to building far more council houses than they have currently announced: new council homes with the cheapest rents are only being built at the rate of 6,800 a year ( and these homes should have 5 year guaranteed tenancies as standard. Eviction is still the primary cause of homelessness (as a result of families not being able to pay the rent due to housing benefit cuts or losing their job) and local authorities should be given more funding to intervene now and pay outstanding rent arrears in order to prevent evictions, especially of families who are beholden to the Universal Credit system (which needs administrative change to become more efficient and process claims faster).

More thoughts:

2017 has taught me the continued value in trying to be compassionate to others who may not share the same views on life as myself. It can be hard to have the wherewithal to sit down with those who may never accept my gender identity as being separate from my sex assigned to me at birth or accept that I have an emotional attachment to my European and liberal identity that will never be severed, regardless of where Brexit happens in the end or not. I remember having an interesting conversation with an older gentleman in my ward, Birchwood who could neither accept my wish for the UK to remain in the EU nor my non-binary status. He did however want to talk to me about the value of a strong community: “it's a shame that people don't talk to their neighbours much Mum and Dad used to invite Mrs Samuels (the next door neighbour) to tea every Wednesday afternoon and they were always going to baptisms and marriages and funerals a few times a month. Everyone in the street looked out for each other. I don't know my neighbours next door at all...they just seem to play loud music a lot. I do feel lonely sometimes; I wish they'd come and speak to me”. The recent report on Loneliness, published by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness made clear that the experiences of the gentleman I met were repeated across the UK: over 9 million adults said they are often or always lonely and according to Age UK, 3.6 million people in the UK aged 65 and over said that the television was their main source of company. Loneliness isn't something that affects older people either: Action for Children figures reveal that 47% of 17-25 year olds who are using Action for Children services have experienced problems with loneliness ( There's far more we need to do as a country to tackle loneliness, with people across the country being empowered to set up community based projects that bring people together, whether through volunteering their skills or attending a tea dance or cookery class. In order for such projects to be viable, there needs to be a sustainable source of funding and I hope in the next year the Government will implement the recommendations of the Loneliness report and create an “innovation and spread fund” to provide seed funding for new community based projects as well as allowing existing projects to scale-up. I know such funding would be invaluable for projects based in Lincoln, particularly those that help to facilitate intergenerational dialogue and I would love to set up a project myself encouraging people from different political and social backgrounds to meet up and come up with their own community based projects; breaking down barriers and empowering people should be what I focus on in the next year – in the vein of Jo Cox, Jesus Christ and other inspirational folks with JC initials.


Next year I hope there will be more of an effort to implement some of the solutions offered to the issues that have been so prevalent this year. We can all play our part in trying to reduce prejudice, stigma and suffering, whether that be volunteering for a few hours a week to help a local charity or third sector organisation with the planning and provision of services, spending some of our time speaking to others who do not share and may never share our own outlook on life and participating in local (and potentially national elections) to help shape policy ideas for the UK going forward. The best of humanity is often demonstrated in times of crisis and hardship and the resolve and kindness of many families who are Just About Managing towards others regardless of their background should be celebrated. The country continues to be plagued by low wage growth and unsustainable work opportunities; a report issued by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation stated that just under 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are considered to be in poverty than 5 years ago and 1 in 5 people living the UK are now classed as living in poverty. Yet kindness and compassion has not been rationed by people who find themselves in reduced circumstances. Those of us fortunate to have a stable household income stream, food and drink a plenty and opportunities to go out on leisure activities like shopping and clubbing without worrying about the heat and lighting bill should be proud to learn from those who have little but never seemingly complain about their situation. Christians have a responsibility to fight against poverty and whilst at times it may seem hopeless, hope for a brighter, better future is what keeps us strong. Brexit may be happening at the moment which many of us do not agree with but we should not give up trying to help others. Such compassion will be greatly appreciated in the coming year. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

My thoughts on the Church of England's "Valuing All God's Children" Anti Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic Bullying Guide

It can be quite tough at times juggling different parts of your identity. I on the one hand am a proud trans non-binary person, living my life openly and publically, feeling like I'm winning the battle with my gender dysphoria whilst at the same time feeling that every time I meet a new person, I may somehow offend them by my mere existence. I am someone who puts their faith in God to help traverse the path of life, a Lutheran Christian who believes it is more important to value compassion, respect and tolerance over being overly judgemental, petty minded and sanctimonious. Christians should aim to follow Jesus' example, no matter how difficult it might be to follow at times. We're not perfect and we can all be prone to being judgemental, especially if such judgements are based on lack of interaction with people whom one is pronouncing those judgements. Part of being a progressive Christian should be to recognise when we are being judgemental and try to take positive steps to prevent us from making those same judgements in the future because sometimes we have to accept that our words and/or deeds can have unforeseen consequences. Take for example friend. A few years ago he was watching Manchester United vs Chelsea in our local pub (it's literally 2 mins from the door but I hardly attend myself but my bro loves the atmosphere) and he made a string of homophobic comments which he dressed up as "banter" against one of my brother's other friends "on the spur of the moment" who happened to be bisexual. This young guy tried to brush off the comments but a few days later he phoned my brother to tell him that the comments made by the "banterous" friend had made him feel as if he didn't belong in the pub group and that he wouldn't attend in the future so as not to be subject to targeted mockery and insults. My brother made it clear to his other friend after the phone call that his behaviour had been completely unacceptable and that he needs to think more about the line between "banter" and homophobic and biphobic comments. Mr Banter never made such comments again after this intervention. Sometimes there has to be a conversation that makes it clear what constitutes hateful comments so that the situation does not escalate into bullying. A firm approach is to be welcomed, even if others may be upset that their freedom to speak has been curtailed.

The Church of England does have a role to play in tackling all forms of discrimination in society and that includes in their schools. Currently there are 4,664 Church of England primary and secondary schools in England and 200 church schools in Wales. Approximately 1 million children attend church schools in England and Wales ( Setting a good moral example for children and young people to follow is one of the most important duties that educational professionals have and it is one that should be taken seriously. The Church of England has realised that in some cases, this duty has not been fulfilled correctly, especially in relation to discrimination against people who happen to LGBTQIA+ (students, staff, parents, family members, neighbours and strangers). Unfortunately, evidence has shown that discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people within schools still remains commonplace, especially against trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and agender people (see the Stonewall School Report for more information). So I am very pleased to see the Church of England taking a firmer stance against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, one which focuses on trying to follow Jesus' example and remembering that the Bible tells us that everyone has been made in the Image of God.

In order to help students and staff in Church of England schools tackle existing discrimination against LGBTQIA+ students and staff,  the Church of England has issued detailed updated guidance (entitled Valuing All God's Children:  In the introductory section, it is made explicitly clear that staff and students should remember that according to Christian theology, there is "the truth that every single one of us is made in the Image of God" and that their love for us is unconditional (I'm someone who believes God is neither male nor female and does not conform to any gender stereotypes that might exist on Earth because they are beyond our human comprehension. God may know everything (he is Omniscient) including our little White lies but he also happens to be Omnibenevolent too). Church school staff need to remember that the virtues of compassion, tolerance and respect should be valued and put into practice wherever possible because there should be a desire to try and love  unconditionally wherever possible. This includes making LGBTQIA+ students aware of their "intrinsic value" whilst also celebrating their collective humanity in a joyful manner.

Valuing All God's Children is an extremely well-research document, drawing on a number of recent studies to paint a picture of the current situation facing LGBTQIA+ students in schools, including the Stonewall School Survey 2017. The findings and recommendations contained within that survey should certainly be taken on board and I recommend anyone with the time accesses the document and familiarizes themselves with the key figures. One of the most shocking statistics (and noted in the Valuing God's Children guidance is that "9% of trans young people are subjected to death threats at school". No young person should ever receive a death threat, whether made face-to-face, on paper or on social media made by their peers or by anyone else for that matter. It needs to be made clear in RE lessons and PSHE lessons that such actions will not be tolerated and a strong disciplinary procedure should be in place in every school that gives staff a framework to follow in the event that a LGBTQIA+ student (or their friend/peer) informs them a death threat has been made against them (or their friend/peer). Another statistic that is important to pull out from the Stonewall School Survey that relates directly to faith schools is that students attending faith schools are "less likely to report that their school says homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying (HBT) is wrong". There may be staff members who will say they do not know what might constitute HBT bullying; one staff member may think it's OK for students to misgender a student who has socially transitioned based on their own belief that "there are 2 genders" or simply that misgendering doesn't constitute a serious enough offence for them to take corrective action. As the guidance notes: "HBT language....can often be considered as casual and it is therefore often dismissed as "harmless banter".  It should be made crystal clear that misgendering is a form of bullying, especially if it occurs deliberately and regularly as a way of mocking a child to try and get them to "conform" whilst in the classroom. I agree with the view put forward in the Valuing All God's Children guidance that schools need to denounce any form of HBT language that occurs in the classroom to send a consistent message to students that use of such language will not be tolerated socially and contravenes Christian values. In order to help staff implement this zero-tolerance approach to HBT language and bullying successfully, schools should "develop an "agreed school script"" telling them "how to address issues of bullying and the misuse of language to infer derogatory status to LGBT people" (p8). Updating the anti-bullying policy, equality policy and safeguarding policies so that they make explicit reference to no tolerance of HBT bullying is important and staff should be made aware of such policies and the "agreed school script" through Continuing Professional Development sessions (for existing staff) and embedded into the induction period schedule for new staff members.

The Church of England's Valuing All God's Children guidance needs to be seen as part of the overall strategy for a more inclusive and well-rounded educational programme for students in C of E schools. This is informed by a truly Christian vision "with the promise by Jesus of "life in all its fullness" (John 10:10) at its heart. For students to follow this vision, they should remember four key words:
  • Wisdom: when students learn about the harmful nature of bullying, including HBT bullying, they are more likely to want to learn techniques to protect themselves and others from HBT bullying and instead value "their own uniqueness and the uniqueness of others" (p10). Students should be taught about the "legal context of people's rights" in the UK (that must include the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in addition to the Equality Act 2010) to prepare them for a productive adult life. Students should also be able to "discern when to stand up for justice" (p10), helping people who feel they are being devalued by society (through no fault of their own).
  • Hope: Students in C of E schools should "have the hope of being free to be themselves" so they have a better chance of achieving their full potential. Students should be given an opportunity to "learn from their mistakes" and be forgiven for making those mistakes so there is a greater hope that the world will be a "more caring and peaceful" (p10) one in the future.
  • Dignity: Students who are LGBTQIA+ should be specially and carefully protected and nurtured (in the same way Jesus cared for the marginalised and feared) by schools. LGBTQIA+ students should also be empowered to "live fulfilled, embodied lives" (p10) and celebrate the diversity of humanity.
  • Community: Students should be reminded of the importance of being "neighbourly" and school staff should allow students to "explore their identity without fear of harm, judgement or being ostracized". At the same time, students who have made mistakes should "be allowed to falter, get things wrong and try again as they work out how to be in relationship with themselves and others". The C of E believes in a "community of compassion" which allows people to make mistakes and correct them with the help of staff and their peers (the definition of "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Hebrews 10:24). 
I'm glad that the guidance makes it clear that tackling HBT language and bullying is not going to stifle freedom of speech as some Christians on the right have suggested. The reality of the situation is that C of E school staff have a range of views on "same sex marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity" which should be respected and acknowledged in the existing PSHE/RE curriculum. Subjects that encourage debate about controversial issues are an intrinsic part of a well-rounded curriculum and staff should not be afraid to initiate such debates. The guidance points to Professor Trevor Cooling's "Bedouin tent of meeting" model as being a handy one for Church schools to adopt: "This strategy asks teachers or facilitators to host a space where different views can be aired and honoured: "a place of hospitality, welcome and respectful engagement, sacred and mutual, but not neutral to its own Christian values, whilst being genuinely open to the free expression of engagement".   The Church of England for example currently states that same sex marriage cannot be officiated by Church of England clergy or in churches but that stance is not reflective of the views of the General Synod or lay Anglicans as a whole. There will be disagreements in schools between staff members on this issue but the guidance makes clear that no "back turning" should happen as a result of those disagreements. That being said, action still needs to be taken to tackle HBT language and bullying actions when they occur because these go beyond mere disagreement.

The Valuing All God's Children guidance is progressive in the sense that it accepts that for many young people living in the UK today, "LGBT rights are a non-issue, just a matter of fact, a given". This is backed up by research; the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research in 2016 (measuring public attitudes around trans issues for the first time using a random probability survey) found that 61% of 18-24 answered that prejudice against trans people "is always wrong" but only 40% of those aged over 65 answered in that way but the difference reduces when taking into account the "always or mostly" option (76% of 18-24 and 64% of over 65s) when ( Unfortunately, the research also indicated that only 40% of people believed that trans people should definately be employed as a police officer or primary school teacher and 21% of respondents stated that trans people should never become primary school teachers. Such research reveals the importance of schools, especially faith ones, to challenge transphobia and discrimination in primary as well as secondary schools to prepare young people for the reality of working life, when it will become more likely that they will meet trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer and agender people.

The guidance makes reference to key legislation and Government duties that need to be followed by all schools regardless of their religious preference. It's great to see such information included in a clear and easily accessible manner, pointing out where such  legislation has an impact on schools to tackle HBT bullying. For example, Part 6 of the Equality Act 2010 "which applies to all maintained schools and academies, makes it unlawful for the responsible body of a school to discriminate against, harass or victimise a pupil or potential pupil" in relation to the admissions process, access to the school curriculum or exclusion policy. This means that a Church of England school cannot refuse to admit a potential pupil on the basis of their self-declared sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation at the time (this will apply more to secondary schools) or the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of their parents. Equally a pupil cannot be excluded from school on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity. Quite clearly such examples of discrimination would not be acceptable in most schools, but faith schools need to be aware that parents can take that school to court over failure to adhere to the Equality Act.

Another aspect of the legal framework referred to in the guidance that should be highlighted is that teachers do have powers under the Education and Inspection Act 2006 to "discipline pupils for conduct that occurs at a time when the pupil is not on the school premises and is not under the lawful control or change of a member of the school's staff". These powers can only be enacted where it would be considered reasonable for the school to intervene "to regulate pupils' behaviour". HBT bullying incidents that occur on school or public transport, within the local area (particularly when pupils are still in their school uniform and thus representing the school) could be reported by the victim, friends, peers or concerned people for the school pastoral team to examine. In fact the guidance makes it clear that "any bullying outside school, which is then reported to school staff should be investigated and the appropriate action should be taken" (p15). Failing to do so could be seen as a failure of the school to safeguard LGBTQIA+ pupils' welfare and a tacit acceptance that staff do not see HBT bullying "as the school's problem" when pupils are not on school premises.

Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS):

As well as adhering to the legal framework and being subject to Ofsted inspections, Anglican schools are also inspected under SIAMS. The guidance from SIAMS states that for Anglican schools to get an excellent or good rating, they have to demonstrate "how well the school has created an environment where all pupils can flourish and are treated with dignity and respect (p17). This includes providing creating opportunities within the existing curriculum that allows pupils to "understand, respect, and celebrate difference and diversity" (p17). I'd say this means ensuring that the story of LGBTQIA+ role models are incorporated into lessons wherever possible (e.g. celebrating gay World War 1 poets in English Literature) and encouraging young people in secondary schools to explore the contribution that the LGBTQIA+ community has made towards modern society (including the Lesbians and Gays Supports the Miners organisation).

All Anglican schools should aim towards putting in place policies and procedures to prevent incidents of prejudicial behaviour from occurring. This means taking on board the views of pupils themselves in the drafting of policies and procedures (certainly doable in secondary schools) and empowering students so they can take the lead "in challenging prejudicial behaviour and language" (p17). This could be achieved by appointing more young prefects/mentors who are LGBTQIA+ to school councils and making students aware of the anti-bullying policy (in an age appropriate way) so pupils themselves know how to identify instances of HBT bullying and language and know who and where to report to.

Practical measures (General):
  1. Headteachers should speak clearly about LGBTQIA+ equality and speak out against HBT bullying and language on a regular basis during morning assembly
  2. Teachers should speak clearly about LGBTQIA+ equality and about the school's zero-tolerance approach to HBT bullying in lessons
  3. Teachers and pastoral staff should be given training through Continuing Professional Development schemes to identify all instances of HBT bullying and language and be empowered to take appropriate action
  4. Teachers should be able to signpost LGBTQIA+ pupils appropriately so they can receive tailored support (either from trained colleagues within the school pastoral team or from professional organisations such as Mermaids and Stonewall)
  5. Headteachers and teachers should ensure that the school curriculum being delivered is inclusive and allows for ample opportunity to address sexuality, gender, gender identity, gender expression and other LGBTQIA+ issues in an age-appropriate manner; this will help create a "culture of respect towards LGBT pupils and will actively contribute to the prevention of HBT bullying" (p18)
  6. Schools should look at participating in events including LGBT Month and Trans Day of Remembrance.
Practical measures: Primary:
  1. Teachers should allow children to explore gender through play: "play should be a hallmark of creative exploration". Opportunities must be provided where children can "explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision". I do agree with the guidance in that labels are not necessarily fixed but teachers, teaching assistants, pastoral staff and other school staff should avoid using pejorative language (don't label a child's behaviour as abnormal just because they are not fitting into traditional gender stereotyping)
  2. Teachers should be prepared to read gender diverse books in English lessons with students: I recommend Are You A Boy or Are You A Girl? by the extremely talented writer Sarah Savage and illustrator Fox Fisher who happen to be trans and trans non-binary respectively (the book introduces the character of Tiny who enjoys dressing up but doesn't want to tell family or friends that they are a boy or a girl and embraces themselves proudly) but there are other books too including I Am Jazz (based on the true story of trans teenager Jazz Jennings), Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship (where Teddy tells their friend Errol they want to live as Tilly (a girl teddy) and Errol accepts them for who they are) and All I Want to be is Me (an amazing book that celebrates the full diversity of the gender spectrum) 
  3. Schools need to "promote an anti-bullying stance", including anti HBT bullying at all times in accordance with existing Anti-Bullying policies and procedures
  4. Teachers should address HBT language used in the classroom as soon as it arises (for example, explaining to a girl in an age-appropriate way that calling a pencil case gay is using the word gay in a flippant and inappropriate way and she should refrain from using the word in that context in the future). 
Practical measures: Secondary: 
  1. Secondary schools should be places where young people are allowed to explore their identity free from prejudice and discrimination 
  2. Students should continue to "explore the prejudice and the harmful language of labelling and stereotype that can surround issues of sexual orientation and gender identity". This should happen not just within PSHE lessons but across the school curriculum, including in Religious Education
  3. Schools should embed LGBTQIA+ rights and topics within PSHE and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) especially so LGBTQIA+ students feel they are included and empowered and all students are aware of the fact that LGBTQIA+ people can lead happy and healthy live (e.g. they can get married). Introduce LGBTQIA+ role models to students and invite local LGBTQIA+ people to come into school and deliver talks/lessons on gender identity, the LGBTQIA+ rights movement etc
  4. PSHE should also be a lesson where gender stereotypes are tackled so that all students can develop a positive sense of gender identity. Students at Key Stage 3 should for example explore gender stereotyping in advertising and clothing and have discussions based on their understanding of gender stereotyping in the music industry or in sports. 
  5. Teachers should that all students leave school aware of key equality legislation so they can be model citizens and workers in the future (bare minimum should be awareness of the Equality Act 2010 and the Gender Recognition Act 2004)
  6. Schools should try to avoid Gender segregated activities wherever possible (except PE lessons where separation is typical for contact based sports)
  7. Schools should ensure that trans and non-binary students can access the facilities that best correspond with their gender identity so they feel safe and secure and reduce the likelihood of transphobic bullying and harassment
  8. Teachers should be able to signpost LGBTQIA+ students themselves to appropriate services if they need further information or need to talk to other people who are LGBTQIA+ whether local or nationally. 
Christians have a duty to try and follow the teachings and actions of Jesus and his disciples as closely as possible; remember the importance of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37): the Levite and the priest never demonstrated compassion towards the traveller who had been attacked and left for dead but a Samaritan, whose nation was despised by the Jews helped the man by cleaning his wounds, transported him to an inn and paid for his care out of his own expenses and was praised by Jesus for his compassion. Being compassionate and tolerant should come easily but too often Christians are amongst those who are too quick to cast the first stone and judge based on stereotypes, caricatures and stigma. Christians who are teachers, teaching assistants, headteachers and members of the pastoral staff should be willing to empower LGBTQIA+ students to be themselves. The updated guidance from the Church of England is timely; it reinforces the need for robust Anti-Bullying Strategies, frank conversations on gender identity and sexual orientation with a variety of viewpoints being offered and, rather importantly, making it clear that LGBTQIA+ students are welcome to be part of the congregation and engage in collective worship. There are policy documents that can be reviewed, adapted and then adopted by Church of England schools and I especially approve of the Church of England's survey proposal to see whether the resource is being utilised effectively and "determine whether any additional resource is required to support dioceses and schools" (p.25). I hope that headteachers and school governors across the board audit their current policies and procedures and actively engage in making their school more LGBTQIA+ friendly, including redesigning the PSHE curriculum and preparing for the new RSE curriculum (if they do not currently have a comprehensive programme in place) . Not only will having a compassionate, open-minded school environment benefit LGBTQIA+ students but their peers too and prepare them for the reality of living a diverse, vibrant world, one they should not be afraid to explore for themselves.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Tory Austerity Lite's Still Failing Us: Autumn Budget 2017 Thoughts from 4 Voters in Lincoln:

As I've done several times before in this blog, I thought it'd be interesting to examine and
scrutinise the Autumn Budget 2017 policy measures with a group of 4 voters from Lincoln. 2 of them (Voters A and D) fall into the still much cited category of "JAMs" -the Just About Managing voters (who are described as barely affording to pay essential bills but still have enough  disposable income to afford a few treats in the year) whilst 2 of them (Voters B and C) can be described as more comfortably well off.

The voters have different political affiliations and voted differently on Brexit in June 2016.
  1. Administrative Assistant at an Accountancy Practice. Labour voter who voted to Leave the EU.
  2.  Owner of a logistics firm. Conservative voter who voted to Leave the EU.
  3. Sales and Marketing Manager at a local firm. Labour voter who voted to Remain in the EU.
  4. Charity Shop Worker. Lib Dem voter who voted to Remain in the EU.
Here's a few summary points from the discussion (for those who don't have time to read the whole table):
  • Most of the voters were happy with announcements on Maths and Science teaching, the prospect of a 26-30 discounted railcard  and appreciated the freeze on Fuel Duty and Alcohol Duties (except for white ciders). 
  • Most of the voters believe the abolishing of the Stamp Duty will help some first-time buyers but there needs to be more support for private renters.
  • Voters A, C and D thought that there should be an increase in the Council Tax Premium levied on empty home owners in Lincoln.
  • There was some concern shown as to whether some of the funding increases/ allocations announced would actually benefit Lincoln residents in the long-term especially housing funding. More detail needs to be offered by the City of Lincoln Council and Lincolnshire County Council on this as they begin to assess what the Budget will mean for Lincoln and Lincolnshire.
  • Voters A and C thought that investments in R&D were too high and that some of the money should be diverted to help sustain frontline public services instead (Schools and Hospitals in particular).
  • Voters noticed the absence of funding allocated to Social Care and Policing and attributed that to Brexit.
  • Voters expressed dismay at the lower than expected increase in the National Living Wage for the over 25s but were fairly pleased with the planned increase in the Personal Allowance.
  • Voters A, C and D were highly critical of the Universal Credit announcements and want to see the Government pause the roll-out until issues are addressed.
  • Voters A, C and D are worried about potentially leaving the EU without a free trade deal.
  • Voter intentions seem to remain unchanged although Voter C did state they were undecided at the moment because of how Labour are handling the Brexit negotiations.

Here's the results below:

Autumn Budget Proposal
Voter A:
Voter B:
Voter C:
Voter D:
£3bn to help the UK prepare for Brexit over the next 2 years in addition to the £700m already invested.
I'm not sure £3bn is going to be enough to help us weather any economic storm following a Hard Brexit. It's disappointing that the Government are still talking about the prospect of a No Deal; surely it's better to compromise and secure a free trade deal by offering the EU a decent financial settlement than walk off with nothing.
The Chancellor is well within his rights to put money aside in the event that Brexit negotiations break down but I think he's being a bit too hasty. However, if we left the EU without a deal, any
short term economic pain will be offset massively by free trade deals negotiated outside the EU. I'm sick and tired of people talking British businesses and the Government down. There's no evidence to suggest there would be a great recession. Remoaners need to get on board with the program now.
£3bn will not be anywhere near enough to help us if we end up leaving the EU without having secured a trade deal. It won't even cover potential extra NHS running costs let alone help people with huge inflation rises. Hammond hasn't even said what he'd spend the money on in terms of Brexit preparation. If we weren't leaving the EU our economy would have probably grown even more and we'd have more money to fund Social Care and Policing, which weren't even mentioned in this Budget!
I understand why Mr Hammond feels the need to squirrel away money for a potential short-term economic crisis following a Hard Brexit but I don't believe it'll come to that. The EU wants to trade with us and they may be willing to compromise to secure that trade deal. Then maybe most of the money can be spent on giving nurses a pay rise or funding Mental Health services in Lincolnshire.
Tax free Personal Allowance Income tax threshold rise from £11,500 to £11,850 from April 2018.
I'm afraid that the Personal Allowance increase isn't going to help young people very much, let alone families. What's going to happen if prices keep rising? It's costing me more money to buy the kids Christmas presents this year. I doubt Mr Hammond has to worry about budgeting for them!
Excellent proposal announcement by Mr Hammond that's going to help Just-About-Managing families across Lincoln. You wouldn't get such a policy measure from McDonnell!
It's a good start I guess but I'd have liked to have seen the allowance increase to £12,000. Maybe next year?!

Wow! Another rise in the Person Allowance will help me save money towards a deposit on my first house, so that's good news!
National Living Wage rise of £0.32 from April 2018.
I'm disappointed by the pitiful rise in the NLW this year. It's not going to be enough to help young people save for a house and my son, who's an Apprentice is only getting an extra 20p an hour.  Why can't young people under the age of 25 and Apprentices be paid the same amount as me or my peers?
I think £0.32 rise was satisfactory.
I can't believe those under 25 are still moaning about not being paid the same as those over the age of 25. How do they think small businesses can stay afloat if they start paying the NLW to all employees? As for paying everyone the Living Wage (£8.75) that's a farcical notion!
£7.83 an hour is still a small amount really for working in care homes or doing the cleaning in offices. You hear of people on benefits turning down work because the employer or agency can't pay them more than the NLW. With Brexit happening and people leaving the country, how are businesses going to get the staff to replace them? They're going to have to raise the NLW to a decent amount....why not pay everyone who's not an Apprentice £8.75 an hour?
I know some SMEs would struggle to pay an extra £1.75 an hour to pay the Living Wage but maybe an extra 50p an hour would have been a better offer so workers can prepare for possible food and clothing inflation and still afford to pay the rent.
Abolish Stamp Duty on all homes under £300,000 for first-time buyers
This is all well and good for young people who have managed to club  together the money for a deposit and mortgage but those of us who already have a property and want to move will still have to pay the Stamp Duty. As for private renters, there was little in the Budget to help them. Shame!
I think this is a well thought-through policy that'll help my children get onto the property ladder. Young people should aspire to own a home of their own and the Conservatives are the ones to help them achieve their dreams.
The Tories have once again missed the mark. What happens if demand for homes in Lincoln increases and that pushes up house prices? Those who are looking to move homes rather than buy their first one may end up paying more for the house. That's no good. Plus there's no mention of council housing in this Budget; the Government needs to look after vulnerable people and not just rich people.
This policy announcement couldn't have come at a better time! I'm excited to buy my first house with my boyfriend and the money saved on the Stamp Duty could go towards paying Estate Agent fees or to buy new furniture. First-time buyers needed an extra incentive to purchase and this was it.
£44bn in capital loans to help build 300,000 homes being built by mid 2020s.
We do need to build more homes so that everyone can have a suitable place to live, including people on Housing Benefit. I don't believe the Tories will build 300,000 homes a year and even if they did, most of them would be for people to buy. We need more council houses now, not in the future.

With the massive influx of people from Eastern Europe over the past 13 years, we have ended up in a position where we now have a housing shortage. The loans need to be taken out to build the extra housing but I hope that there aren't many more developments in Lincolnshire. We need to protect our countryside from being over-developed I think.
Housing's a big issue in Lincoln. I know families who are desperate to find an affordable home to rent and it's good that Lincoln City Council are investing in house building on waste land already. I don't know how much of the funding Lincolnshire will get for house-building and I'm not convinced the Tories will ever be able to help build 300,000 homes a year. They never seem to meet their targets on anything else!
More housing in the Lincoln area which would be affordable (and not just to satisfy an increase in students) would be greatly appreciated . I hope Lincolnshire will get some of the capital loan funding but we won't know any details until next year I guess.

Ability for councils to 100% premium council tax on empty homes
I think it's right that the City of Lincoln Council should be allowed to charge a 100% premium on empty homes. There may not be many here but the extra money can help fund bin collections.
I don't really understand why this policy is needed. If a council can already charge a 50% premium, is it that fair to double it just because the home being held for investment purposes?
Homes should only ever be empty for a few months of the year. They need to be maintained properly. If some home owners only buy a property for investment reasons, they should be forced to sell within a year or two. It's like people who buy land for development and they never use it. The Government needs to stop that from happening.
This is a fair measure that should bring in some extra money in Lincoln but I'm guessing the areas which will benefit the most will be in London.
£40m to train Maths teachers and £600 Maths Premium for schools, for every pupil taking A-Level or Core Maths.
It's alright encouraging more young people to take Maths A-Level but not everyone is going to be a Maths genius and we shouldn't neglect the importance of Arts subjects, including English. Let's stop stifling creativity in schools. Where's the extra money for art materials or musical instruments? We need an Arts Pupil Premium.
Maths gives people the core skills they need to be savvy business entrepreneurs. Those who study Maths will earn more in their working lives. Why should they be told to take fluffy subjects Media Studies or Drama when all it teaches them is how to draft a newspaper article or how to use a different accent. Those skills aren't useful in today's competitive jobs market.
While I appreciate the need for more people to be good at Maths, I don't understand how learning geometry or formulas would help me in my job. I guess there are vacancies in engineering but not every young person wants to go into engineering. I agree with Voter A. We need more money for creative subjects to help with social skills and verbal communication.
I can understand the Government's decision to invest in Maths. Engineering firms are struggling to hire young people with the right skills in Lincolnshire and getting schools to encourage more of them to study A-Level Maths and Engineering is important.
8,000 extra Computer Science teachers so there is 1 qualified teacher in every UK secondary school
I guess we all need to be competent at using computers in the workplace so this is a good policy measure.
Young people need to know how to code, how to use computer software packages beyond MS Office. This was a no-brainer policy move.
I never studied ICT beyond Year 9 in school and it never did me any harm in the workplace. I guess coding would be a good skill to learn but I don't think every child should be forced into putting all their effort into Sciencey or Techie subjects.
It's important to have qualified subject teachers in schools and Computer Science should be no exception. Coding skills, formatting skills and graphics skills are all utilised by marketing people in small businesses.
£20m to support introduction of T-Levels in Further Education Colleges
I didn't know what a T-Level was until my friend explained it to me. I think it's good to recognise vocational skills in hairdressing or accounting.
Another great policy decision by the Conservatives. Who said they weren't the party of Education?
As long as the T-Level isn't just another rebranding exercise, this will be good for young people. Colleges need more funding though so they can continue running A-Levels and short-courses and employing good lecturers.
£20m doesn't sound very much for FE colleges but it's only to get the T-Level courses organised. Maybe some of the money will be spent on hiring more teaching staff...I don't know really.
£30m in Digital Skills distance learning courses as part of a National Retraining Scheme (run by the CBI and TUC in partnership with the Government)
I wonder how many people in Lincoln will benefit from this scheme in the future. If it's not advertised or promoted well enough, not many.
A National Retraining Scheme is a great concept and will help older workers learn the digital skills they need to gain good jobs.
I thought the ECDL qualification was meant to help people learn digital skills. Why not fund that instead of designing yet another course and put the money into other projects?
This is a great idea. Nobody should be left on the scrapheap as a result of changes in technology. It's just going to take a lot of marketing of the Scheme and encouraging people to see it as useful.
Fuel Duty rise cancelled again.
Good news but the cost of car insurance will probably offset any benefits from this and if petrol prices rise, I may start taking the bus to work.
I don't drive currently so the measure won't affect me. I know my friends are quite pleased they won't be paying more for petrol. I read in the Sun ASDA reduced the cost of petrol by 2p after the announcement so maybe prices will reduce across the board.
The Tories are frightened of raising the Fuel Duty because rural voters may be more tempted to abstain from voting or voting for another party in protest. We need more money to fund our public services and part of that extra funding could come from a small rise in Fuel Duty.
I'm glad that the Fuel Duty rise has been cancelled! The money saved I can put towards food and clothing.
Duty on wines, spirits, beer and most ciders has been frozen but "white cider" duty will increase.
As a wine and spirits drinker, I'm happy that the price won't be going up as the result of Government duties.
Cheers! The freeze on alcohol duty should benefit our local pubs.
I don't drink that much but nobody's going to be that unhappy about a duty freeze on alcohol.
My brother drinks white ciders so he's a bit miffed he'll be paying more. I'm glad there isn't going to be an increase on wines but I'll be paying more for my cigarettes.
£2.3bn extra for research and development (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering).
The government wants to support science and technology so I guess this isn't much of a surprise. Whether it should be used to build electric cars or in AI is up for debate. I think the investment amount is too high when schools and hospitals need more funding now.
Britain has always been an innovative country so I'm pleased more money will be used to support projects. 
Where's the extra funding for Primary Schools in Lincoln? Where's the extra funding for SEN support staff for pupils with learning difficulties? What about funding for Arts based R&D? We don't need to fund electric cars when people are shivvering cold on our streets and in their homes. The Government has got its priorities wrong yet again.
£2.3 billion seems a huge amount to waste on “happy go lucky” science projects. We need more investment in apprenticeships and internships to make them more accessible to working class kids. We need to spend more money on improving IT skills for working class employees too!
£385m investment in digital infrastructure. (5G mobile networks and Superfast Broadband).
Digital infrastructure programme do need to be encouraged but was giving 100% business tax relief to digital firms for fibre cabling the way forward? It seems Hammond and May want to appease big business rather than improve the lives of working class Millennials in the countryside. Will the initiatives  be completed by 2020? I'm not convinced.
Digital coverage needs to be vastly improved in Lincolnshire. I need to be able to process orders regularly throughout the day and that means having continuous internet connectivity pretty much 24/7. I doubt McDonnell would have invested in 5G....Labour doesn't seem to have a technology plan....not a workable one anyways.
I can't see why more money needs to be pumped into internet coverage in the countryside. So much has been given already....why can't the telecoms companies stump up more cash?
Great news. I hope Labour supports the funding decision because digital coverage needs to improve in rural areas. It doesn't just help farms and rural based SMEs to connect with their customers faster and more securely but will also allow rural people access to better streaming of films and to listen to podcasts.
£1.5bn to help rectify Universal Credit concerns, 2 weeks of extra Housing Benefit for new UC claimants and access to a 100% advance UC payment within 5 days of applying for UC.
Hammond should have listened to concerns and paused the UC roll-out. Vulnerable people are at risk waiting for the money to come through and an advance needs to be paid back. Now they'll be a 100% advance available next year means that people will need to pay 1 month's worth of money back within a year. If they're not working, how will they do that?
The benefits system needed to be reformed and the Government have been taking action to reform it. If people aren't happy about UC, they should get up in the morning and look for full-time work. Extra Housing Benefit payments will help most people stay in their homes whilst their claim's being processed. The UC benefit is too generous already but the Government wants to please skeptics and have caved in.
It's just not enough money. The Government won't help disabled people or homeless people with such small changes. I want to see the UC scrapped and the Government apologise for wasting money on it.
I think the UC system is a good idea in theory but more work needs to be done to plan its roll-out. Housing Benefit should be covered for the whole period so people are not threatened with eviction. Advance payments are OK in 12 months to pay back if you're working or find work but what if you'll never be able to work? The Government hasn't thought it through enough.
26-30 Railcard Scheme saving a 1/3 on rail fares from Spring 2018.
This is good news for 26-30 year olds who use the train to get to work but I guess that's not many people. We need to reduce rail fares for everyone. What's the Government doing to facilitate that?
I'm not really fussed by this policy and it's just a gimmick to get more young people to vote Conservative.
Rail fares are too high for everyone without a discount railcard because the railways are in the hands of private companies who just want to make more and more profit. Labour would work to renationalise the railways and encourage companies to reduce rail fares quickly following the next election.
I use the rail card at the moment to get to work so the extension will benefit me directly but very few of my friends travel by train to get to work.
£2.8bn to fund the NHS in England over the next 3 years including £338m to help NHS trusts cope this winter
Our NHS needs funding to ensure essential frontline services can be maintained. They asked for £4bn and only got £2.8bn. Where was the money to give our amazing nurses a pay-rise? They did it for prison and police officers!
We can't keep throwing money at NHS managers without expecting them to make their NHS Trusts more efficient. Where's most of the money going? They need to stop paying agency staff and focus on recruiting more permanent staff and if they can't do that then maybe they're in the wrong job.
It seems like the NHS has been given the bare minimum funding it needs to operate. This Government has no idea how to plan for the future of schools or hospitals (only Brexit). There was no money for Social Care either. I thought there would be at least a cap on care costs.
I don't think enough money has been given to the NHS for them to cope with demand. I'm worried that waiting times will increase. My GP surgery's already struggling.
I can understand why nurses are upset about not receiving a pay rise. My friend has had to use a food bank just a week once. It was a humiliating experience for her.
Best Policy
Funding for Maths and Computer Science Teachers
Freeze on Fuel Duty
Funding for Maths and Computer Science Teachers
Funding for Maths and Computer Science Teachers
Worst Policy(set of policies)
Universal Credit
Council Tax Premium increase on empty homes
Brexit funding
Universal Credit
Voting Intention as of 27/11/2017