Stonewall is relaunching its “School & College Champions Awards” this month but as Jo Bartosch reports there are many questions about its purpose and approach – and its cost to schools.
Schools need not worry about bullying anymore, Stonewall have it covered. The relaunch of the Stonewall “School & College Champions Awards” heralds an end to all flavours of ‘phobia’ and the dawn of a glorious, new egalitarian age of freedom in education. Maybe. The government-funded LGBT giant claim to benchmark against best practice and that:
“An Award from us helps you feel confident that your school or college is leading the way in celebrating diversity and supporting LGBT young people.”
The awards cut across every aspect of the operation of the school, from demanding the submission of minutes from board of governors’ meetings to advising teachers to “introduce yourself at the start of the year using your pronouns and encourage students to do the same.”
An indication of Stonewall’s priorities can be found in the frequency of the words used in the application guidance: “trans” appears 96 times, “non-binary” 29 times, “gay” ten times, “lesbian” nine and ‘bisexual” twice.
Should only twenty per cent of schools and colleges sign up to the scheme that’s still an income of £2,017,351 – enough to cover the salaries of the seven highest paid Stonewall staff members for just over three years.
Mo Wiltshire, Director of Education and Youth at Stonewall said: “We’re proud to work with thousands of schools up and down the country to ensure young LGBT+ people are free to be themselves. Our School & College Champions Awards recognise schools who are taking positive steps to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and deliver a whole school approach to LGBT inclusion”.
The scheme looks set to be lucrative. The average sized primary school would be charged £330 per year and the average secondary £540 for membership. Given that there are around 4188 secondary schools (excluding pupil referral units), 227 colleges and 20,832 primary schools in the UK, that’s a possible total income of well over £10 million. Should only twenty per cent of schools and colleges sign up to the scheme that’s still an income of £2,017,351 – enough to cover the salaries of the seven highest paid Stonewall staff members for just over three years.
In acknowledgement of the precarious financial situation for schools Stonewall helpfully suggest: “a bit of creative thinking might be needed in order to fund your LGBT-inclusive work.”
Stonewall’s School & College Champions Awards’ web page
Still, it may well be the case Stonewall need the additional income for future court cases. Previous legal analysis has found that Stonewall are on shaky ground when it comes to the interpretation of the Equality Act (2010). Notably, following a long-standing campaign to remove single-sex exemptions, in her evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee earlier this week Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley claimed: “one of the things that’s really important to say is that we don’t advocate for the removal of the single sex exemptions.” This is, not to put too fine a point on it, an ‘alternative truth.’ In their 2015 submission to the Women and Equalities Select Committee Inquiry on Transgender Equality Stonewall recommended:
“A review of the Equality Act 2010 to include ‘gender identity’ rather than ‘gender reassignment’ as a protected characteristic and to remove exemptions, such as access to single-sex spaces”.
A forensically detailed legal analysis by lawyer Naomi Cunningham strongly advises organisations not to sign-up to Stonewall schemes concluding:
“If you are a public body, it will distort your policies and decision-making in ways that will expose you to judicial review, and embarrassing and expensive climb-downs of the kind already performed by Oxfordshire County Council, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Office for National Statistics… But worst of all, depending on the nature of your functions, it may cause you to infringe liberties, mis-state the law, commit or condone criminal offences, and put children and vulnerable adults at risk of serious harm.”
The messaging in Stonewall’s School & College Champion Awards is also troubling. An investigation by the safeguarding group Safe Schools Alliance (SSA) found:
“Children from age 4 are being taught that a man can become a woman and vice versa and that this transition can happen through a change of name and clothes. They are therefore being taught that clothing choice demonstrates not someone’s personality but their ‘real’ sex.”
SSA further note:
“There are no positive lesbian role models in the primary or SEND home learning packs.”
Over the past few years, a spate of trans lobby groups have slipped misleading toolkits into schools. Last September the Department for Education (DfE) took action by issuing updated guidelines stating: “Teachers should not suggest to a child that their non-compliance with gender stereotypes means that either their personality or their body is wrong and in need of changing.”
Interestingly, these new rules were introduced very shortly after the departure of Jonathon Slater from the role of Permanent Secretary at the DfE. In 2020 Slater received the Senior Champion of the Year award from Stonewall, and in 2018 when Slater was at the helm the DfE gave a grant of £233,673 to Stonewall. In interviews Slater referred to how the experience of having a “trans daughter” had informed his approach to diversity.
Tanya Carter, a spokesperson for SSA, advises schools not to sign up to the Stonewall scheme:
“Latest Department for Education guidance is very clear that schools should not use or promote groups with extreme views. Far from challenging homophobia in society, Stonewall are driving it; by reinforcing sexist stereotypes and dismantling the meaning of same-sex attraction.”
Of course, most over-worked head teachers will not have the time to scour through the guidance, and despite the mounting legal challenges Stonewall remain synonymous with ‘diversity and inclusion’ for those who haven’t been paying attention. At a time when school budgets are stretched to breaking point, Stonewall are set to cream off desperately needed funds for training of questionable quality. In the meantime, kids will still be bullied for who they are, and schools will be able to cover it up with a Stonewall seal of approval.