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Gay Pride.  By/copyright Pam Isherwood -
Case Study: Stoke Newington School celebrates LGBT History Month 2008

group of year 8 pupils with rainbow flagyear 8 pupils

Stoke Newington School is a non-selective, state school, specialising in Arts, Maths, and Science. The school has been celebrating LGBT History Month for the past three years. In 2008, supported by the energy and vision of Music Teacher and Head of Year, Elly Barnes, the aim of the celebration was to ensure that the message of celebrating diversity extended into the community, reaching all students, parents and teachers, in Stoke Newington and across the Borough of Hackney.

The links on the right-hand side will direct you to Elly's account of how the event took place.


- Developing History Month across Hackney
- Developing History Month at Stoke Newington School:

- Response to LGBT History Month Celebrations
- Where Are We Now as a School?
- Where Do We Go Now?
- Elly Barnes’ contact details
- More pictures
- Powerpoint Presentation


Developing History Month Across Hackney

Astonishingly, up until this year we were the only school in Hackney to embark upon LGBT History month celebrations, and thus the only school reaping the benefits of changing staff and pupil attitudes. My goal for 2008 was to work towards a borough-wide school celebration of LGBT History Month.

To achieve this I worked with the SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) team at the Learning Trust (responsible for running Hackney’s schools). Through their team, I led sessions for year 9 students both at Haggerston Girls’ School and at Hackney Free and Parochial School. After a training session run by myself at the Learning Trust, Hackney Free staff embarked upon their own initiative to tackle homophobia through their anti-bullying strategy. I have since been into Hackney Free to deliver training to the Inclusion team led by Tina Caruso (Senco) who will lead the school on their anti-homophobic bullying initiative.


Developing History Month at Stoke Newington School

Integrating LGBT into the Curriculum

In my own school we continued our quest to change attitudes towards LGBT people through projects within the curriculum.  I emailed all staff in January reminding them of the imminent LGBT History Month, along with useful websites and resources. Shortly after, ideas for projects came flooding back from departments. These are examples of the curriculum work done this February:

You spin me round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive
Year 8 and 9
Teachers: Elly Barnes and James Ramsay

Modern Foreign Languages
Ma Vie en Rose
Teacher:  Murat Karabicak

Design and Technology
LGBT graphics – year 12
Sculptures of LGBT symbols – year 8
Teacher: Zitta Lomax

Statistics presentation
Teacher:  Jai Patel

Made DVD about Civil Partnerships
Teacher: Andrew Plaistowe

‘Identity’ – Andy Warhol

Social Harmony
Teacher: Delyse Lesley

James Baldwin PowerPoint presentation
Teacher: Leroy Coley

‘Ambiguous’ sketch
Teacher: Sinaed Hamilton

Intersex presentation
Trans poem (read the poem on the right-hand side)
Teacher: Shari Norman

Students Rhys and Bronwen posing

Close your eyes,
Pulse beating fast,
Lay your fingers over this body,
Vulnerable spines shiver,
Breasts lay awkward on bone,
Hips impose painfully,
Belly swells hungrily,
Shoulders hunched,
Eyebrows furrow to forget,
Water laps cold over bath edge,
Breathe has ceased,
Coroners circle like crows,
Desperation seeps from fingertips,
Clasping sunken neck,
Old scars shown in new light,
Man unable to escape women,
Close your eyes,
Mine will never open.

Bronwen Lewis-Brooke 11W


Inspiring Staff and Students

students lauging during assembly
© Jess Hurd/

This year I was given time in a staff meeting to present my ideas. Speaking to the staff as a whole was crucial in ironing out individual issues, sharing ideas and gaining staff support. Equally so was speaking at SDG (school development group) which is made up of the Leadership team, Heads of Department and Faculties and Heads of Year. This was crucial in gaining the help and support I needed to ensure solidarity of opinion from staff across the school, in that we would all tackle homophobia in corridors, in the classrooms and through our individual projects.

I then went on to deliver a week’s worth of assemblies to all Year Groups. The purpose of these assemblies is to get the students to think in new ways about LGBT people, and encourage discussion. We discuss laws and rights, history, homophobia, symbols, and community.


Opening Up Discussion

Towards the end of LGBT History Month on 27th February we held an extended registration for all students. Here the students work with their tutor to open up discussion about LGBT issues and also to find out about what the students had learned, or if their opinions had changed. All students in school watched the ‘Spell it Out’ DVD produced by Stonewall. This video is as much for the benefit of staff as it is for students, thus my reason for showing it. The video talks freely and openly about homophobia in schools. I asked staff to forward me feedback from their discussions. This ranged from ‘my religion says it is wrong but I believe everyone should be treated with respect’ to ‘staff seemed scared of the subject and do not seem comfortable talking about it as if they would get in trouble for doing so’.

classroom during the screening of an LGBT film

I asked students and staff ‘Do you feel we are highlighting and tackling homophobia in this school?’

Here are some of the responses:

  • All confident with the terms, who would be included (they also mentioned those identifying as questioning). All seemed to understand why we celebrate the month and study it.
  • The students noted how school has little in the way of a pupil-pupil racism problem and acknowledged homophobia as the major discrimination in school. Felt the highlighting varied across the curriculum during the month. One student claimed he had had only one lesson that directly mentioned LGBT issues. Many felt that lots of lessons introduced a piece of work that was ostensibly LGBT related but promoted/allowed no discussion of context. Many confused about why certain people were being studied and didn’t see a wider connection.
  • Students felt they would still encounter problems in the playground if seen as gay.
  • Very positive response to the idea of creating a whole school safe space culture. Welcomed the idea of staff members promoting their classrooms/offices as safe spaces with posters or stickers as a way of publicly stating support.
  • Students enjoyed DVD and listened well.
  • Students thought that there was enough information in the school if you were to question your sexual orientation. Spoke about the Health Hut, Resource Centre and members of staff who they could speak too.
  • Some staff deal with homophobic language but not all staff. Also staff telling students to mind their language was not always considered enough.
  • LGBT had passed some students by until now. But remembered last year’s assembly!
  • Students know how to respond publicly even if privately they are still homophobic

Hackney Town Hall Public Performance

The culmination and highlight of our celebrations was the Hackney Town Hall LGBT event on the 28th February, organised by Hackney Hate Crime Team. This is what we had been working towards for 4 weeks – we took 60 students who represented a cross-section of our school from varying year groups and subjects. It was a perfect event for us to show the community what we had achieved as a school over the past 3 years.

Stoke Newington School students gave exciting and inspiring performances and presentations resulting from their curriculum work on a range of topics (see list above in Curriculum section). There were additional performances from students involved in music:

You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive – Year 8 and 9
Small Town Boy by Bronski beat – Year 7
Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie - Year 11
Standing in the Way of Control by The Gossip – Year 11
Fast car by Tracy Chapman - Year 9
Take your Mama by The Scissor Sisters – Choir

LGBT History Month kindly gave commemorative badges to all students who took part in the celebrations, made possible by a donation from the Hackney Hate Crime Team.

Socialist Worker and the Hackney Gazette covered the story. You can read the Socialist Worker report and see photos from the event here as well as a review of the event on our forum. More pictures can be viewed in the LGBT History Month photopool.


Student Scott singing his onw composion inspired by LGBT History Month


Whole School Assembly and Mz. Fontaine

Pupils at Assembly with male/female symbol in the foreground

The day after on the 29th we had our own Final whole school assembly at Stoke Newington School. This was a fantastic opportunity to show all staff and students all the inspiring work and the support for LGBT History Month this year:

You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive –  Year 9
Small Town Boy by Bronski Beat – Year 7
Take your Mama by The Scissor Sisters – Choir

Design and Technology
Sculptures of LGBT symbols – Year 8

Social Harmony talk - Year 11 student

Trans poem – Year 11

Poetry reading – Year 9

Mz. Fontaine
Mz. Fontaine, a lesbian hip-hop artist, in an amazing performance challenged the students’ views of what they perceive as ‘normal’. This again proves the point that young people desperately need positive role models. She performed 3 of her songs all of which encouraged everyone to take part and celebrate diversity. She bounced around working the whole crowd giving the microphone to staff and students, naturally gaining the affirmation of the students.

Mz. Fontaine introduced herself as a lesbian; any predetermined ideas the students may have had dissolved instantly when she performed. I had previously-homophobic students demanding to be involved in her workshops!

Photos of Mz Fontaine working with the pupils

Her workshops ran all day and were a complete success as they encouraged full participation from the students who wrote their own lyrics, resulting in the performance of a 15-minute rap that celebrated LGBT people. The performance was videoed.

Mz Fontaine on Wikipedia


Response to LGBT History Month Celebrations

Response over the 3 years has been varied from both staff and students. We have had to tackle head-on outright homophobia from some staff and some students. However, even though homophobia blatantly exists, the difference now in my school after 3 years work is that everybody knows it is wrong and there is reference and a framework for talking openly about it in the curriculum and policies.

Homophobic attitudes amongst staff and students are being addressed. One student shouted abuse at me in an assembly. He was promptly removed by the Head of Year, and the student later came to apologise to me after talking through the issues with a behaviour mentor. Both of these examples demonstrate the solidarity of key staff in my school. A whole-school celebration of this kind is only possible with the help and support of colleagues.

Staff comments:

  • This morning was brilliant.  It was great to see their faces as Mz. Fontaine did her stuff.  She was amazing – as was everyone else who performed. 
  • You have done so much to challenge people’s attitudes and to have gay kids getting up and reading poems about their sexual orientation is amazing. 
  • I wish I had come to a school like this.  It would have saved me a whole lot of worry as a kid. 

Where are we now as a school?

Achievements this year:

  • Larger group of staff supporting LGBT History Month
  • Staff confidence boosted
  • Policies, school code, School Improvement Plan highlighted
  • 2 teachers ‘came out’ to their tutor groups
  • More students ‘came out’
  • LGBT students have the confidence to be themselves
  • Media interest. NUT article, Guardian letter, Teachers TV.
  • Students acknowledge, respect and remember LGBT people
  • Religious beliefs discussed openly
  • Parental support given to school
  • Community links developed through Hackney Hate Crime team
  • Other Hackney schools have expressed interest in the project

Where Do We Go Now?

Encourage all schools to begin tackling homophobia through Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans History Month. To achieve this all staff need training and local boroughs need to make celebrating LGBT History Month a statutory requirement. I will keep striving for this. As I frequently remind my students: “It is only ignorance that causes homophobia - once educated, attitudes do change”.


Elly Barnes
Music Teacher
Head of Year
LGBT Co-ordinator
Stoke Newington School website

You can view the webpage dedicated to LGBT History Month on the school's website here.

Elly Barnes speaking
Elly Barnes at the pre-launch of LGBT History Month 2008 – Royal Courts of Justice, November 2007

More Pictures

Click on the thumbnails below to view the full pictures:
Display for LGBT History Month The stage at the Hackney Town Hall performance Pupils singing at the Hackney Townhall performance Aritcle in Hackney Today

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