Navigating the Complexities of Inclusion and Protective Characteristics in Education Thursday, 16 November 2023


Welcome back to another engaging discussion on the NEC Podcast. In this episode, Esther Chesterman, CEO of NEC and Samreen Shah discuss the sensitive yet crucial topic: Protective Characteristics for Learners in Schools.

They began with an honest admission of their nervousness, reflecting the importance and complexity of this conversation. To listen to the episode, you can use the player above or download it from our Podbean page.

Key Discussion Points:

Esther and Samreen revisited the Education Quality Act 2010, which lists nine protected characteristics. This list, influenced by the World Health Organisation and UNESCO, encompasses
age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Their experience in education over two decades has shown how societal changes have shifted the focus on these characteristics.

They pondered whether the 2010 list still suffices in 2023, considering the dynamic nature of societal issues and educational needs. A notable current challenge is sex education. With limited guidance, schools are navigating this sensitive area while incorporating protected characteristics as per Ofsted’s requirements.

A focal point of the discussion is the challenge schools face in educating students about these characteristics. There’s an emphasis on moving beyond a tick-box approach mandated by inspection
frameworks like Ofsted, to genuinely embedding these values within the school culture. They highlight that true inclusion should be felt in the school’s language and ethos, not just as a compliance measure.

They expressed concerns that fulfilling Ofsted’s framework can sometimes reduce to a box-ticking exercise, rather than genuinely valuing and understanding the importance of these characteristics for a student’s well-being. The emphasis should be on creating a school culture where young people feel genuinely protected. This involves more than just meeting regulatory requirements; it’s about integrating these principles throughout a student’s educational journey.

The notion of identity-based bullying is introduced, reflecting how societal changes, amplified by events like lock-downs, have made these issues more prominent. The National Bullying Helpline and the Anti-Bullying Alliance play significant roles in supporting schools to foster a protective and inclusive environment. They note that bullying is particularly risky for pupils with special education needs, disabled pupils, LGBTQ+ students, and those from ethnic or religious minorities, aligning closely with the protected characteristics.

They recognised the duty of schools to adapt to rapidly changing societal views, such as those surrounding transgender issues, and the importance of educating both students and families.
The conversation then shifts to how the understanding and support for various protected characteristics have evolved, especially considering new societal understandings and challenges. The
discussion underscores the importance of not only educating students but also supporting families in navigating these complex topics.

The podcast episode highlights that while many schools and individuals are working diligently to ensure every child feels safe, there is still a need for systemic change. The concept of “child on child” abuse is discussed, emphasising the need for clear processes for reporting, investigating, and resolving such incidents, under a zero-tolerance policy.

With Anti-Bullying Week (13th-17th November 23), they explored the Anti-Bullying Alliance’s five statements, emphasising the creation of a supportive and inclusive school culture. They emphasise
the importance of student voice in shaping this culture and suggest practical ways to foster an environment where every student feels valued and heard.

In conclusion, this conversation underscored the significance of not only recognising but actively supporting and protecting various characteristics in the educational setting. It’s about more than
adherence to regulations; it’s about creating an environment where every student feels safe, valued, and heard. As educators, our challenge is to continuously adapt and respond to these needs,
ensuring that our schools are places of inclusive growth and learning for all.

Next Steps:

We invite listeners to share their thoughts and experiences regarding inclusive practices and protective characteristics in their educational environments. Your insights are invaluable as we continue to navigate these complex, yet essential, aspects of education together.

Thank you for joining us in this thought-provoking discussion. Stay tuned for our next episode, where we will further explore the role of education in shaping a more inclusive and understanding society.

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