Educate & Celebrate – smashing heteronormativity in the classroom

Educate and Celebrate

This is Elly Barnes, CEO of the LGBT organisation Educate & Celebrate, in her own words:

“we’re trying to smash heteronormativity … not everyone identifies as heterosexual or as male or female and there are many people that identify outside of that model” (May 2017)

“we make sure that all schools are adhering to their statutory duty around the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation…. schools need to know there is legal framework around this” (January 2019)

“the bottom line is just to completely smash heteronormativity, that’s what we want to do so our kids can grow up and be who they are” (April 2017)

“I want to give you all permission to go away and smash all of these negative boundaries… I’m going to get you to make a pledge about what you are going to do to further this fight and this struggle” (February 2020)

Dr Elly Barnes MBE, cannot be accused of stealth tactics. Her public statements are clear; there’s a fight taking place now in our schools to make them LGBT+Friendly, and smashing heteronormativity is the number one tactic in that struggle. Her confidence and panache are synonymous with the charity. Her style is bright and bold like her clothes and hair colours. She is Educate & Celebrate. And it is right to put that in the singular, for it’s mostly a one-woman show. Despite all the talk about her team, most of those named as office holders with Educate & Celebrate turn out to have other full-time jobs. It’s rare to see anyone else speaking for the charity.

Dr Barnes, according to the Educate & Celebrate website, began her LGBT work in 2005 while working at a London secondary school. By 2010 she had designated the school as a Diversity Training Centre offering resources and training for teachers. Educate & Celebrate achieved charitable status in 2014. An anti-HBT bullying project funded by the Department for Education followed in 2015 for which she was awarded the MBE. The University of Aberdeen gave her an honorary degree the following year. It’s a familiar ‘little acorn’ narrative.

But on examination the timeline isn’t quite so straightforward. Dr Barnes was closely connected for many years with another small LGBT charity, Schools Out, founded in 1974 as a campaigning group and run by its long-time figurehead Sue Sanders. At the outset, Schools Out was an important and necessary support network for gay and lesbian teachers and campaigned vigorously against Section 28.  Schools Out also set up and now runs UK LGBT History Month.

In 2014 both Schools Out and Educate & Celebrate became charities. Until that year Educate & Celebrate was often talked about as the training arm of Schools Out [1]. And to further complicate the simple narrative of the rise of Dr Barnes as going from classroom teacher to charity boss, there’s evidence that Schools Out itself was close to the far left Socialist Workers Party (SWP). [2] The SWP connection continued into Educate & Celebrate’s first year as a separate charity when the chair of the trustees was Anna Gluckstein of the SWP. Elly Barnes herself has shared platforms with the SWP [3], and as recently as 2015 was writing to the SWP paper, Socialist Worker [4].

Does any of this matter? Probably not. The main purpose of this blog is to examine what Educate & Celebrate says and does today. But it goes some way to explain the style of some of the sloganeering language of Dr Barnes such as ‘Smash Heteronormativity’. And when it comes to going into schools, giving training and advice, openness and honesty are always the best option.

Educate & Celebrate operates from an address in north London, shared with an LGBT helpline. It’s not clear how much of their work actually takes place there. People who are listed as having, or having had, roles with Educate & Celebrate but in fact have, or had at the time, full-time jobs elsewhere include CJ Atkinson (E&C Head of Communications 2015-16), Kita Ikoku (E&C Business and Development Manager), Claire Patterson (E&C North East Regional Manager), Anna Carlile (E&C Research Lead), Julie Bremner (E&C Head of Media and also a trustee) and Zitta Lomax (E&C Head of Operations).

Shortly after becoming a charity Educate & Celebrate was awarded £214,048 from the Department for Education and Government Equalities Office in April 2015 [5] “to train staff in 60 schools, giving them confidence and strategies to address HBT language and bullying and promote inclusiveness throughout the school environment and the curriculum”.

Birmingham City Council, Durham County Council and education departments in the Channel Islands have provided financial support and used Educate & Celebrate training and resources. More recently money has come in from Children in Need.

What can schools expect if they sign up with Educate & Celebrate? Firstly they’ll have to run it past the school’s finance secretary. Membership costs £50, access to their PRIDE Youth Network costs £200. For £1,750 your school could join the PRIDE in Inclusion Award Programme which will buy, among other things, online and face-to-face support for a year, two continuing professional development (CPD) days, a staff meeting organised by an Educate & Celebrate trainer, a book collection, poster and other merchandise. Or schools could buy in just the CPD training, the price is negotiable, where staff will “develop a deeper understanding of sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, why it is necessary to include these protected characteristics in our curriculum…”

Online whole staff training will cost £400. A day’s Pride workshop for children will cost £500. Everyone attending Educate & Celebrate training, school staff and children, will be taught about ‘gender identity’ a belief that has no proof and can only be explained by resorting to gender stereotypes. They will also be taught a legal falsehood as neither ‘gender’ nor ‘gender identity’ are protected characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act. Like many LGBT organisations operating in the educational field, E&C play fast and loose with the law, substituting gender for the correct term, sex, and gender identity for the correct term, gender reassignment.

This conflation of sex and gender and misreading of the Equality Act pervades all of Educate & Celebrate’s activities and publications. In January 2017, a former employee of Educate & Celebrate published a book titled Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity? The author, CJ Atkinson, was Head of Communications at Educate & Celebrate from March 2015 to June 2016 according to LinkedIn. (During the same period CJ was also a freelance brand specialist, worked full-time as head of Brand Marketing for a London pub, and was full-time Executive Assistant to a “prominent London businesswoman”. Truly, a Stakhanovite work ethic). The book was distributed by Educate & Celebrate and sent to 120 of its “best practice” schools. [6] The book itself has a glowing tribute from Elly Barnes on the back calling it “A definite go-to guide for all schools”.

Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity? is, according to the author, for children aged 7 up. It tells the story of Kit, a twelve-year-old girl who is being medically transitioned to live as a boy. She tells the reader that when she was born “the doctors told my mum and dad that they had a baby girl, and so for the first few years of my life that’s how my parents raised me.”

All the familiar ‘trans child’ tropes follow. “I didn’t like playing with dolls…hated having long hair”. By the age of three she was telling her parents she was a boy. The rest of Kit’s tale is one of feeling a bit sad but having understanding parents and teachers. She was whisked off to a clinic and prescribed hormone blockers. The school went  above and beyond to help Kit. “My head teacher also invited a trainer into the school to talk about gender identity and to give some workshops..”

Kit explains how YouTube videos have helped, all the familiar trans activist boxes are ticked, pronouns, toilets, changing rooms. She explains homosexuality, bi-sexuality, cisgender, gender expression, gender euphoria to her audience of children. But the wooden prose and dull line drawings will do little to engage or appeal to a child of any age. This is probably a blessing as the book contains so many inaccuracies. Some are more jaw-droppingly offensive than others. Here is Kit on intersex conditions:

“I have a different gender identity than I was assigned at birth. Another name for this is called being transgender, like the feeling as though you were born in the wrong body, or like the body you have doesn’t match how you feel in your head. This can happen to people who were assigned female at birth, male at birth, or those who are intersex. Some people are born with body chemistry that isn’t “typical” for a boy or a girl. This happens with about one in every 2000 people that are born and this is called being intersex. Some intersex people identify as transgender, and some don’t”.

Kit gets medical facts equally wrong. “Medical transition for people my age is usually hormone blockers. These stop me going through female puberty and then stop my body developing in ways that make me unhappy. When I’m 18, I’ll be allowed to go onto hormone replacement therapy – this means that I’ll start to develop facial hair, and my body will go through boy puberty.” [7] And inevitably 12-year-old Kit tells readers “I know my body better than anyone else does”.

The law goes through the same fact distortion machine. Writing about the 9 protected characteristics Kit says, “Being transgender comes under gender reassignment, and it means if you are trans then nobody can stop you getting a job…” Being trans according to the book’s glossary can mean being “transgender, transsexual, both male and female, neither male nor female, androgynous, a third gender, someone whose (sic) has a gender identity that there is not currently a word for.” Pity the poor children of any age, even the good readers, trying to make sense of this farrago of nonsense.

Publication of this book came just 6 months after CJ Atkinson stopped working officially for Educate & Celebrate, and while acting as an ambassador for the organisation. Endorsing this book doesn’t auger well for Elly Barnes’ own jointly authored book with Anna Carlile of Goldsmiths University.

How To Transform Your School Into An LGBT+ Friendly Place: a practical guide for nursery, primary and secondary teachers was published in 2018 and is widely promoted on the Educate & Celebrate website. Anna Carlile is research lead for Educate & Celebrate according to their website, presumably in a voluntary role as her full-time job is at Goldsmiths’ Department of Educational Studies. Carlile was also listed as an Educate & Celebrate trainer in 2019, an external evaluator for their research, publishing two reports listed on the website and, with some input from her daughter, the author of a report into E&C’s Pride Youth Network.

It’s worth looking at this research in more detail as the Barnes and Carlile co-authored book makes references to “our research”.

In 2016 Anna Carlile wrote the Final External Evaluation Report of the project for which E&C were awarded £214,048 of government money, to go into 60 schools over a year to deliver anti HBT bullying training and to update school policies. The report itself was funded by the DfE/GEO. The 49-page report makes no mention of any conflict of interest between Anna Carlile and E&C. It’s possible they hadn’t started working together in 2016; Elly Barnes did however do an MA in education at Goldsmiths between 2012 and 2014.

The research [8] is flawed in many ways. Carlile admits that when she went into some schools as the evaluator the volunteer E&C coordinators (often teaching assistants) would see her as part of the E&C team and not an independent evaluator. 12 out of the 60 schools in the project were chosen for the evaluation. All were supposed to have been visited both before the year-long training and after to see if the training reduced HBT bullying.

However, Anna Carlile was only able to visit 8 of the original 12 schools at the end, meaning the baseline and the exit surveys were not comparable. Despite this the E&C project was deemed a success. Other anomalies were that some of the school children recruited for the focus groups were already in E&C’s own Pride Youth Networks, and some schools were motivated to achieve Gold in E&C’s own award scheme. Some schools had also had previous engagement with Educate & Celebrate. [9]

The quality of the research can be assessed against the glossary accompanying the report. All LGBT publications have to have such glossaries because their language is not shared by the general public, is contentious and often just made up. This glossary shows that Anna Carlile misrepresents the 2010 Equality Act; there is no such protected characteristic as “gender identity” as she claims and yet again gender has been substituted for sex. The term female “is a term assigned to people who identity as female” and boys are “children and young people who identify as male”.  These definitions would win top prize in any meaningless tautology contest.

The report is peppered with references to the Equality Act 2010 so it is concerning that Anna Carlile misrepresents the law throughout. One of the objectives of the project was to work with the 60 schools to update the school policies in line with the Act. Any school that did so on the advice of E&C should revisit these policies as it is likely they are in breach of the law. “Gender and identity” are not protected characteristics as Anna Carlile claims in the introduction.

Despite the many problems with this report it went on to have another life. The data collected by Anna Carlile was used by the social research body, NatCen, who were commissioned by DfE/GEO to evaluate anti-HBT bullying programmes. It seems that Carlile’s data which included a follow-up on only 8 of 60 schools was deemed trustworthy. That much larger NatCen survey bandies around the term ‘gender identity’ and concluded unsurprisingly that more teacher training is needed. [10] Other data providers for NatCen were Stonewall and Diversity Role Models.  Nancy Kelley, though not involved in the 2016 report, has just left her job as deputy CEO at NatCen to be the new CEO of Stonewall. It’s a small world.

In the introduction to Elly Barnes and Anna Carlile’s 2018 book, How To Transform Your School Into An LGBT+ Friendly Place, the NatCen report is offered as validation of E&C’s approach to dealing with HBT bullying. The book spells the sort of training that Educate & Celebrate and all other LGBT organisations want in our schools. It takes the real problem of homophobic bullying and wraps it in the LGBT flag and argues for a whole school approach to the issue. In doing so it misrepresents the law, invents nonsensical language, and undermines the rights of girls to privacy and respect. Like all such guides this book never breaks free of its own internal illogic. It says teachers should reject gender as a system of stereotypes at the same time as claiming gender is the factor that determines a child transitioning to another gender.

Advising on policies the book takes a year zero approach to some issues. On registration forms for instance in place of mother’s name and father’s name why not use “Parent 1 and Parent 2? Or even caregiver 1,2, and 3?” (p39). And of course “children or students instead of girls and boys” (p43). The nursery is advised to put up a sign welcoming “parents who breastfeed” (p45). The erasure of the link between women and giving birth begins early.

Sample policies are spelt out in great detail. An eight-page primary school anti-bullying policy, given as a good example, talks of different forms of harassment “against someone because of their culture or identity, their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability. This can be directed towards someone with these characteristics: for example, where a student has gay parents, or a sibling with a disability” (p50).  The sample policy for secondary schools repeats the same incorrect information about the Equality Act, substituting ‘gender’ for the correct wording ‘sex’, and ‘gender identity’ for gender reassignment. These substitutions appear throughout the book. Schools basing their anti-bullying or equalities policies on this guide will be not be following the law but imposing a contested belief system.

Like many such guides How To Transform Your School Into An LGBT+ Friendly Place repeatedly undermines teachers by telling them they need more training to understand the ‘new’ language of ‘gender’. So if a child tells a teacher “…they don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth – don’t panic! Very simply, believe them..” Basic safeguarding goes out of the window as teachers are told they can “make a decision as to where best to access further support” and are reminded that this can be done “without parental support”. If this happens at primary school Barnes and Carlile recommend a “day of lessons on gender identity” (pp118-119). Like many of the trans-inclusive guides they say, wrongly, that the trans-identified child should be able to use the toilets and changing rooms of their choice. [11]

Language is bent to accommodate the non-binary. A table on How to use preferred pronouns suggests this gender-neutral sentence using the reflexive form: “Ey laughs at emself”. Teachers “emselves” must learn new definitions for “gender non-conforming identities” such as “intersex, non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer”. This is yet more misinformation as intersex is not an identity, but a complex and varied set of disorders of sexual development.

The chapter on the “LGBT+ inclusive” curriculum starts by setting out the ethos which is to “smash heteronormativity” and create the “land of social justice”. Social justice sounds nice but it’s a simplistic slogan and the authors never explain what it means; social justice in a democracy will always be a balance between competing ideas and rights. It’s also arguable whether this should be the purpose of the school curriculum.

Barnes and Carlile start the chapter on the curriculum with nursery children, arguing as if it were a novel idea that girls and boys should play with any toy they like. “Children of all genders…use a variety of small-world resources to relive their own experiences” (p75). The story of the two male penguins in a zoo, And Tango Makes Three, who hatch an egg together, makes one of its many appearances as a recommended book.   

For more detail on LGBT+ curriculum resources for primary and secondary schools the book signposts readers to its online resources. Some can only be accessed by becoming a supporter of Educate & Celebrate. Of the free lesson plans, there are examples from most subject areas. For instance, Key Stage 1 children, those aged 5-7, will read And Tango Makes Three again, this time as geography. From the book, they’ll learn about habitats, compasses, zoos and natural history. This leads on to learning about survival needs in animals and humans and inevitably Tango, the penguin chick. Children will be asked “Did Tango have all his needs met? Who did this? Did it matter that they were both male?”.

For English, KS2 children aged 7-11 will read Are you a boy or are you a girl? by Sarah Savage and Fox Fisher, two transactivists. It is never revealed if the child character Tiny is a boy or a girl; Tiny withholds this information throughout the story. The only character demanding to know the answer is an unpleasant bully called Buster. Key vocabulary is “gender, gender stereotyping, gender identity, gender neutral”. Children will be expected to go through mental contortions trying to understand gender identity (good) without resorting to gender stereotypes (bad).

But as this is an English lesson they will be expected to read and write about the book, to create their own “gender neutral character”, to learn gender-neutral pronouns “They, Zie and Mx”. The underlying assumption is that sex is not important and no one has a right to know your sex. This is a safeguarding failure of huge proportions. All children should know the sex of adults around them. Teaching them they that they shouldn’t ask for fear of being like bully “Buster” is dangerous.

It’s hard to understand how teachers are taken in by this belief system which turns biology on its head. But it isn’t only teachers, academics too have accepted the gender trumps sex narrative. In 2016 Elly Barnes was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Aberdeen. Her acceptance speech can be seen on this YouTube clip [12] in which she treated the largely academic audience to her pedagogic style.

At one point she led them in a rendition of It’s a Penguin’s Life, an Educate & Celebrate song for children based on And Tango Makes Three. Anyone sceptical about her assertion that the two penguins, Roy and Silo, were “crazy in love” was assured “there’s lots of research about same sex relationships in the animal kingdom”. (There is indeed and it is not for the squeamish).

However, Dr Elly Barnes MBE, teller of penguin love stories, has not deserted the struggle; she is still in the battle to “smash heteronormativity”. On 8th March 2020 she was part of a noisy protest outside a meeting organised by Labour Women’s Pledge. Alongside Labour Party members and trade unionists on the platform was Selina Todd, the renowned Oxford feminist historian who had recently been de-platformed by trans activists.

In a statement the organisers said the “rally on Monday night was picketed by around 60 aggressive protestors who intimidated attendees as they arrived, taking pictures and obstructing the entrance; most took part in loud and abusive chanting; many were masked or had scarves over their faces; some threw smoke bombs and lit flares. This was not a peaceful protest. It was designed to create fear and panic.”

The meeting took place close to the ruins of Grenfell Tower. Elly Barnes is pictured [13] smiling beside women carrying banners including the nonsensical “Some Men Have Vulvas, Get Over It”. The suspicion that Elly Barnes prefers slogans to facts is borne out by a video on the Evening Standard website. [14] In the video she says

“what we need to do is to smash heteronormativity and to realise that not everyone is born male or female or heterosexual…the latest statistics according to the ONS are 12%, almost 12% are identifying as LGBT+ but I dare add that is only on paper, so in reality that is going to be a lot more people…I was talking to someone just last week who said they have lost four jobs in a row because they have been outed as a gay teacher and I was really sad and very shocked that that was still happening in 2017”.

On the LGBT figures the ONS statistics tell a very different story:

ONS sexual orientation stats

Dr Barnes’ shocked reaction to the story of the gay teacher is also bizarre. She should have told him that, if this was the case, he would have a good case for unfair dismissal. The Equality Act 2010 would protect him under the protected characteristic of sexual orientation. But Dr Barnes has demonstrated time and again that she doesn’t understand the Act. Schools who’ve been trained by Educate & Celebrate should take note.

 


[1] https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/07/12/lesbian-music-teacher-highly-commended-in-national-teaching-awards/

http://www.schools-out.org.uk/contactus.htm

[2] http://socialistreview.org.uk/388/time-celebrate-lgbt-history

[3]https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/19262/London+meeting+to+fight+homophobia

https://www.swp.org.uk/press/lgbt-asylum-seekers-are-welcome-here

[4] https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/39811/Letters

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/awards-announced-from-2-million-homophobic-bullying-fund

[6] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4020872/Stop-calling-boys-girls-Advisers-paid-200k-help-train-teachers-claim-using-sex-specific-classrooms-unfair-transgenders.html

[7] Cross-sex hormones can start at 16. It is not possible for a biological girl to go through “boy” puberty. There is no evidence that puberty blockers are reversible as this book claims. Puberty blockers are an experimental treatment.

[8] https://usercontent.one/wp/www.educateandcelebrate.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/ECFinal-report-24-June-16ACarlile.pdf

[9] A 2018 Anna Carlile evaluation report into an E&C project in faith based schools mentions the same prior engagement issue   https://usercontent.one/wp/www.educateandcelebrate.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/EC_Faith_Schools_Report_FINAL-.pdf p9

[10] NatCen’s CEO, Guy Goodwin recently emailed all his staff recommending they don’t sign a letter that argued for a clear question on the census about sex. He said it might upset some of their colleagues.

[11] To date at least 12 local authorities in England have had to withdraw similar advice as it is likely to be found unlawful.

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv3dZxBu7Us Dr Barnes’ speech starts at 4’25

[13] https://divamag.co.uk/2020/03/11/views-we-are-stronger-together/

[14] https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/pride-in-london-meet-the-activist-changing-attitudes-to-lgbt-people-one-school-at-a-time-a3580281.html

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