No outsiders in your school [interview]

Andrew Moffat

Andrew Moffat has been teaching for 23 years and is currently AHT at a large Primary in Birmingham. He is author of ‘No Outsiders in our school: Teaching the Equality Act in primary schools’ and a new book. ‘Reclaiming radical ideas in schools: preparing young children for life in modern Britain’ which uses the No Outsiders model to work with parents and focus on countering radicalisation. In 2017 he was awarded MBE for services to equality and diversity in education.

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Images courtesy of interviewee. Images courtesy of interviewee.

Andrew Moffat is a well-known and respected figure in education. This passionate assistant headteacher made headlines after resigning from a school following a backlash against his sexual orientation and “some of the resource books being used in literacy lessons”. Since then, Andrew has continued to inspire educators as a school leader, founder of Equalities Primary, a speaker and author (No Outsiders In Our School: Teaching The Equality Act In Primary Schools is available from Routledge now).

When we got in touch to discuss this interview, we stressed that "though equality is a speciality of yours, our readers will want to know about all your areas of expertise". You've been incredibly candid about how your experiences as a gay man in education have fuelled your vital "No Outsiders" mission - do you ever worry about your non-equality-centric work as a school leader being pushed aside?

I have spent most of my career working in supporting behaviour, and that is what I spend the majority of my time doing in school today. I have an MA in Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, and “I always say that midday supervisors have one of the hardest jobs in the school.”I have managed both a behaviour resource base and a nurture group in past schools, so I would say that is the area of my expertise. In my school now, we have a fantastic Pastoral Care team of two learning mentors, a Senco and a PE coach (the PE coach isn’t officially in the Pastoral Care team, but we’ve sort of adopted him - or perhaps he’s adopted us!), and we run interventions for children and parents, as well as whole-school initiatives to support behaviour and wellbeing.

Before I joined the team at Parkfield, the headteacher knew me through my behaviour work, and we had met a couple of times to share practice and support. The role I applied for at Parkfield was AHT for Pastoral Care, and that’s the role I continue to hold. We are encouraged to develop our roles and expertise, and I’ve been very fortunate to have the support to develop my equality role through No Outsiders, but it very much comes second to my pastoral care role in school.

You've held this position of assistant headteacher at Birmingham’s Parkfield Community School since 2014. How's that going? What opportunities and challenges have arisen?

I feel I landed on my feet finding Parkfield School; it was exactly the right school for me at the right time. The headteacher, Hazel Pulley, was brave taking me on following the disaster I caused in my last school, but she did it, and I shall be forever grateful! Parkfield is a vibrant place, and I enjoy being part of a large school; there are always challenges, but it’s a great team and we are very supportive of each other.

No Outsiders has created huge opportunity for me and for the school. We run a No Outsiders training day in school once every half-term, which is fantastic because people get to see the school in action and talk to children. I always say as we tour the school, “any child you see, ask them to tell you about No Outsiders”. That’s incredibly powerful, as it demonstrates how well the ethos is embedded. It’s only failed once in eight training days; we happened to bump into a child having a bad day and he replied “No idea” with a shrug of the shoulders. I suppose it shows that we’re real!

As head of Year 5, I’m involved with their planning and pupil progress, and I cover classes across the school for management time. I also manage 30 midday supervisors; I always say that they have one of the hardest jobs in the school. As a school we have recently become part of a MAT, so there are opportunities and challenges to be found working with new schools, but it’s great to be able to work with schools in different areas of the city and join up practice.

What is your advice to school leaders looking to bring together school community and religious education?

It’s all about mutual respect and dialogue, plus relational trust. I was very excited when I saw Parkfield had a job going that I could apply for. I actually had an interview lined up at another school the other side of the city the week after, which paid considerably more and would have been a step up for my career. The job at Parkfield was not a promotion, and the first thing Hazel asked me when I met her was, “Why do you want to come here when it’s a sideways move for you?” But it was about the area for me; I specifically wanted to work in a school where there was a strong probability that I would face challenges to my LGBT equality work, so that I could learn from mistakes made in the past and find a way to get it right.

We did face challenges, but I was confident that we would make it work. My advice is to show your parents you are listening to worries while remaining clear and steadfast in your school’s equality ethos, backed up with policy and governor support. Hold parent meetings, but make them small so that you can engage in real dialogue and discussion without it becoming a Jerry Springer show. I explain all this in my No Outsiders book; Hazel used to talk about “preparing your path”, which is absolutely crucial.

You're tremendously active in the education community - how do you manage all this while balancing a school leader workload?

Well, I don’t have a class and I’ve managed to develop my role in school so that I can do both. I’m lucky to be part of a wonderful team, and we have clear roles and responsibilities in the day-to-day running of the school.

I enjoy all the equality work I do. I have no plans to go freelance and work full time as a ‘No Outsiders’ trainer because I like being a teacher in a school, and I’d miss it were I to leave. I also think working at the chalkface gives me credibility when I speak at conferences, and I adapt my work all the time, writing new lesson plans and assemblies and trying them out at Parkfield.

I wonder if it’s because I choose to keep No Outsiders as a ‘hobby’ - something I work on outside of school hours, that I don’t rely on to pay my mortgage - that I still love working on it. I do, on average, “I go on Twitter every morning while eating porridge.”one or two conferences or training sessions a week, and they pay my school for cover so I just draw my regular teacher salary and don’t have to worry about money coming in for the next month. I get most of my No Outsiders work via word of mouth, which is great for me. It means I can concentrate on my school role while No Outsiders ticks along by itself. I go on Twitter every morning while eating porridge, I do an assembly picture blog once a week on a Saturday morning, and I write new lesson plans when I find a new book I like, but I don’t do much else, and I certainly don’t feel any pressure from No Outsiders.

Tell us about the people and organisations who have helped you get where you are today. Name names!

Hazel Pulley is absolutely the first person I would highlight. Hazel saved my career! She enabled No Outsiders to work at Parkfield; it was a combination of my ideas and her relational trust with the community that got us through.

Nigel Read was headteacher at a school where I ran a nurture group for about seven years. I was four years into my career and was a bit lost, trying to establish my vision for how to do EBD (emotional and behavioural difficulties) effectively, and he pointed me towards nurture. Later on, he encouraged me to develop work on emotional literacy, which was the first time I started using picture books to teach specific behavioural skills. He was also head when I came out to children for the first time, in 2006. I didn’t know of any other Primary teacher who was out to kids back then, and it was scary, but he encouraged me and I’ve managed to come out in every school I’ve taught in since (with varying successes...).

The original No Outsiders team; I didn’t invent No Outsiders, I nicked it from a group of 13 schools I was part of from 2006-2008, which was set up to research how to teach LGBT equality in Primary schools. “I didn’t know of any other Primary teacher who was out to kids back then.”At the time this was an innovative and groundbreaking project, and we got a lot of criticism from publications such as the Daily Mail. From that project I wrote my first resource on challenging homophobia, based on picture books (2007), and I still use two of the plans from that resource in my No Outsiders scheme today. The project closed in 2008, and in 2014 I asked the members if they would give me their blessing to use the name for my new scheme of work, with the understanding that I would widen the focus from just LGBT equality to all equalities and link to the Equality Act 2010. The original team still meet up for a reunion every couple of years; they are an inspiring bunch.

Letterbox Library have been absolutely wonderful in the past year, providing book packs for schools. They also let me know if a book in my resource is going out of print, and make suggestions for replacements so I can write new lesson plans. The book packs that they send to schools include replacement books and new plans - this way, no one has missing lessons. This is fantastic for me, as it keeps me up-to-date and I don’t have to worry about schools missing books.

What are your plans for the next year?

I’ll be staying at Parkfield, being part of the team that keeps it strong and successful as a school. I recently started a PhD on the role of schools in promoting community cohesion, so I’ll be doing lots of reading and dropping long words into conversation! I’ll also be doing lots of No Outsiders training, and at some point I’d like to make a new short film on the No Outsiders parent workshops we’ve started doing in school.

Finally I want to be better at Maths, and really get to grips with using the bar model.

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