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Diverse community

10/6/16: This week our Head of Sixth Form, Ian McClary, shares his thoughts on diversity and inclusivity and the importance of being accepted as yourself and of accepting others for who they are

What does it feel like to be included? To be able, honestly and openly, to be yourself and know that you will be welcomed, encouraged, supported and cared for because of that which makes you individual, distinctive or different? The answer is, it feels absolutely amazing - knowing that you are accepted because you are you and not because you are some edited version of yourself; that your perspective, experience, knowledge and skills are valued and can contribute towards the life and growth of the community of which you are a part, for as long as you are a part of it. It is just this kind of attitude that Bryanston seeks to foster.

Society at large may raise an eyebrow at the claim of a school like ours that we consider ourselves to be diverse, viewed, as we often are, as an ivory tower filled with the perfumed elite. Nothing could be further from the truth, either in reality or how we see ourselves. We tend to take for granted and consider normal the range of nationalities, backgrounds, interests, experiences and views to be found at Bryanston. But what is more important and what really makes us diverse, I think, are the ways, as a community, in which we genuinely value the individual. Whether a pupil or a member of staff, one doesn’t feel the pressure to fit in and conform; rather there is a willingness to move the furniture around to make sure no one bumps into it.

And so, when the school conducted its first LGBT survey last term to explore and learn more about this aspect of the human condition at Bryanston, it came as no surprise that it was received with warmth and thoughtfulness. Not only was it a census of a kind to show our LGBT pupils and staff that they are included and valued, but it also served to prompt our whole community to think about how well we treat LGBT people. Do they feel welcomed, valued and able to be themselves? While there are areas of school life we need to continue to think about, by comparison with the national picture of young people and teachers in schools nationally, the results were extremely encouraging. Incidences of homophobia at Bryanston are extremely low and there is a genuine acceptance and inclusion of LGBT identity and expression as a normal part of life’s rich tapestry. Questions were raised, naturally, about why this area merited particular focus when surely it is just an accepted and integrated aspect of society nowadays. An admirable assumption to make, but we wanted to make sure it was borne out by the experience of pupils and staff, as indeed it largely was.

Of course there are other areas surrounding equality and diversity which merit further scrutiny as we ask ourselves how inclusive a community we really are. These can take place in a variety of ways, most recently the development of a pupil-led Equality Society which has responded to the impulse to reflect, as any healthy community should, upon the various needs and perspectives of its members.

What has always struck me since I came to Bryanston five years ago and as I prepare to say goodbye to the first group of pupils that I have seen through the school, is that Bryanston is an unusual school for the way it embraces flexibility and change, both in the way it thinks and the way it operates. It is open to new ideas, reminding me of the Quaker idea of being open to new light, from whatever source it may come. This culture of openness and enquiry is a real strength, as well as an enjoyable one in which to participate, and it makes for an inclusive school which embraces diversity for the enrichment it inevitably brings.