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Stockport Academy Principal, Frank McCarron, speaks at Stonewall Education for All Conference

'Welcome, I am Mr Frank McCarron, Principal at Stockport Academy which is part of the United Learning Group.

Throughout my career as a senior leader I have been committed to promoting initiatives within my schools that have addressed discrimination head on. I have been fortunate enough to be able to do this in schools as varied as:

  • St Bonaventures an 11-18 All Boys School in the East End of London (where as a little side note I was the present Chief Inspectors Deputy Headteacher),St Joseph’s RC 11-18 school in Bradford, which was an all girls school, and I was its first male Head Teacher in its 100 year history. A very interesting school in that it had 75% Catholic and 25% Muslim girls and in 1996, I believe, we were the first Catholic school in the north west to create a prayer room for our Muslim girls.
  • and St Monica’s a coeducational Roman Catholic High School in Bury, 11-18 which achieved 3 outstanding Ofsteds and was regularly in the top 5% in the country.

Since 2012 I have been Principal of Stockport Academy which, like other United Learning schools has as its central core value the desire to bring out the best in everyone. The Academy as part of United Learning has at its roots a Christian ethos but accepts students from all faiths, and none, without discrimination. The Academy has 49% pupil premium and 24 young carers and we are delighted to have recently been appointed as a Quest Leader.

What I’d like to focus on today in speaking to you is not why being inclusive is the right thing to do. To be honest, I would be preaching to the converted.

What instead I’d like to focus on is why an inclusive approach, driven by an ethos and values that respect and accept every individual can enhance the running of a school. How it can drive improvement, create opportunities for students to be involved in their school community; and create the culture of success where everyone is valued.

Our Academy is underpinned by a shared vision of Belief, Aspiration, Achievement and Respect. We have an uncompromising drive towards excellence in every area including emotional wellbeing and inclusivity for all. The school has a five year plan which includes a shared documented vision of developing a sense of Local, National and Global Citizenship in all.
But such things, whilst worthwhile in their own right, are meaningless if our behaviours as a school do not reflect this.

We work to achieve tolerance, inclusivity, respect and place emphasis on respect for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. There are no barriers and no excuses, either in relation to attainment or behaviour towards others. All members of the community are encouraged to aim high regardless of background; social, equality, race, culture, belief, gender, sexuality, role or age. The whole school has a shared understanding that in order to become a high achieving academic Academy we first need to have high values.

I strongly believe, therefore, that to succeed academically as a school, it is essential that you instil a culture where everyone – each student and member of staff – feels confident in themselves; who they are, how they feel and what they want to be.

All of our school policies including admissions and SRE are fully inclusive, and this is made clear in our diversity and equality policy and our equality objectives. The school ensures equal and fair treatment of every member of the community regardless of disability, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, race or culture.

Looking at sexuality in particular, it is embedded within our curriculum as opposed to being a bolt-on training for staff.

The ethos and the strategy are put into practice throughout the school which include:

  • our approach to assemblies and collective worship. These are specifically themed and include: homophobia, young carers, anti-bullying, as well as celebrating festivals of various religions and inviting speeches from groups such as school councillors, Mosaic and alcohol and drug abuse organisations. We work hard throughout our assembly programme to develop the understanding that all members of our community are precious and make a contribution to our community in different ways.
  • We promote links within, and beyond, the school community, with groups as the LGBTI and Stonewall. There is an excellent amount of material out there that is easily accessible by schools and we use technology effectively to deliver our message.
  • In terms of admissions and recruitment, United Learning is proud of its track record both as an employer and admissions to our schools.
  • We use the curriculum to compliment the overall ethos and strategy in areas such as; drama, religious studies, H&SC, SMSC day, events and learning outside of the classroom. Our PHSE programme is a series of collapsed timetable days based on health, relationships and diversity. Our diversity days include sessions delivered by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, religious speakers from different faiths, paralympians, Mrs Walker from the Anthony Walker Foundation in relation to race crime and Sylvia Lancaster from the Sophie Lancaster Foundation regarding discrimination against sub-cultures.
  • Also, something that is particularly important is that we have never rested on our laurels. Where the school has identified an area of weakness, we have acted upon it.

What you introduce from the Senior Leadership at the school cascades down.

Student Leadership has been extremely effective in ensuring an inclusive culture and a strong stance against any form of bullying. Ofsted praised our students securing the Childline BIG Award in recognition of the Academy’s excellent work in challenging bullying in all its form, including homophobia. (Refer to slide here)

Peer mentors design all of the posters that are around the Academy and we have given these posters a high profile so that they are framed on display in the atrium. During anti-homphobia week in May each year there has been a selection of assemblies throughout the week organised by the students. (Refer to slide).

Anti-bullying Ambassadors have worked to ensure that our community recognises and celebrates difference. All students in the school complete anti-bullying tasks and just recently we have won the National Award for Show Racism the Red Card.

Why is this important? Because as I said earlier, it brings a school together, it celebrates that every one of us is unique, and it values every single member of our community. If you can’t learn this at school, then you really have to ask yourself, what is the point of education?

As I said, I have led Catholic schools and now a school with Christian roots. To me this is very important to my faith and my outlook. But it is not an excuse to avoid the challenges of debate and discussion that make issues such as religion both contentious and remarkable.

In beliefs all our students study all religions and consider arguments for and against the existence of God. Students are encouraged to ask questions and come to their own conclusions regarding their own spirituality. The Academy has a Deep Club and a Charities’ Group organised by our School Chaplain; and students of all denominations, or none, attend.

We encourage our students by being able to meet people from different backgrounds to develop empathy and a genuine respect for others through understanding.

But, there are two important things that underpin this approach:

  1. Our students fully recognise the importance of being an inclusive school, they understand and demonstrate daily the importance of inclusivity and love and respect for all. It is our student leadership whose work and input means that these programmes are successful and, as we have shared these programmes with other academies across our Group , the importance of student participation and ownership is something that we all believe to be of fundamental importance.
  2. Secondly, I would have to say that we would never undertake any of these activities just to satisfy any tick box culture. We undertake these activities because we feel it is the right thing to do and in doing so we will create not only just a better academy environment, but also hopefully a better local environment and a greater global understanding as we open doors and build bridges.

We are fortunate that, as a school, we are a member of national family of schools and academies, United Learning, which fully supports us and all its schools in the ethos and culture we engender at Stockport Academy. As a group we share best practice and as a result we are introduced to ideas that others have successfully run in their schools. It means you never get stale, you’re never complacent and you’re always looking for better ways to engage your students.

Your time at school should be a time when you begin to define who you are and who you will be for the rest of your life. Young people can be particularly vulnerable but as a teacher, you really hope that nothing that happens at school is irreversible for the rest of someone’s life. We want your students to feel safe and secure in being the person they really are, not the person they think they are expected to be.

This is a far bigger issue than sexuality alone but, to those students to whom it is the issue, it is one that, if not handled with acceptance and in an environment of stability, safety and support, can be extremely damaging to them.

Likewise, if every student who passes through our school, leaves with an informed, intelligent and tolerant view of diversity in every form, then I believe we are genuinely creating a better tomorrow for all of us to enjoy.

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