Guest post by Victoria Edwards
Generating more energy than the blazing July sun, over 70 young people (age 13-18) streamed in to the Educating Agenda conference, in Cardiff University last week. They came to participate, share, reflect and build the event into a powerful and inspiring call to arms. Joining them in the building, and in purpose, were some of the teachers and heads of department who continue to give their time and support to young people speaking out in their schools and communities. Representatives from a range of charities and statutory organisations profiled the services they are able to offer young people across an array of colourful and engaging stalls, contributing to the carnival-esque feel of the event. This was not a typical conference, more of a celebration of the many achievements of all involved. It was also about bringing together these young people who are working tirelessly and bravely to show that, far from alone, they are part of a bigger movement with a shared collective aim: improving the provision of sex and relationships education for everyone. And so, it was also a strategic meeting, looking to the future, building onwards, with Agenda.
Reflecting on this amazing journey so far, which clearly inspired many of the performances we were to enjoy that day, Emma highlighted the many directions Agenda has moved in. Taking the resource across Wales, physically, digitally and emotionally. From the Welsh Assembly, to police and teacher training, and the Welsh Baccalaureate conference, across schools town and cities, it was clear much has been achieved. We saw how Agenda has become a living archive in motion, amplifying the creations and messages of all the young people involved in its creation, many of whom were gathered in the room. We saw Agenda gaining momentum through its appropriation and adaptation in each new encounter and forging onwards as a powerful vehicle for change, as we were about to see.
‘Children’s champion for Wales’, commissioner Sally Holland drew our attention to Agenda’s value as a human rights based approach, commending the work of everyone involved. The children’s commissioner applauded Wales’ brilliant young people who, using Agenda as a launch pad, are demanding, better sex and relationships education in powerful and creative ways. Cabinet secretary for Education Kirsty Williams echoed these sentiments describing Agenda as a platform for discussing complex issues, helping teachers to provide the sex and relationships education young people deserve.
Classrooms, the cabinet minister said, have to be free of intolerance and, she added, sex and relationships education must be inclusive, comprehensive and delivered by trained experts. The talk concluded with messages from primary school pupils, sent to Kirsty Williams via a fantastic Pride-inspired, rainbow piñata, calling for gender neutral toilets in schools, more teacher training, awareness raising and protests.
Two outstanding performances followed featuring pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Plasmawr and Mountain Ash comprehensive schools. Siriol Burford introduced these Agenda ambassadors, firstly Plasmawr performing a new drama production ‘Hidden’ that highlights the potentially unseen harm of homophobic bullying. A powerful representation of the insidious effects of ‘harmless banter’, exploring the impact of phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ from the perspective of a non-heterosexual pupil, overhearing them. #WAM (We Are More) maintained the high standard delivering their own dramatization of the kinds of everyday sexism they experience. Their rallying call ‘WAM: We Are More’ was the response to derogatory marks about skirt length, make up and body shaming. Mountain Ash students also shared a video of their activism and its path through their school and beyond, out in to communities in Cardiff, at the International Women’s day event and onwards to Paris for the European Children’s Rights summit!
Rhian Bowen-Davies, National Adviser for Violence against Women, other forms of Gender-Based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence emphasized the need to listen to young people in designing and delivering the necessary preventative work to advance gender equity and address all forms of gender-related and sexual violence via a whole school approach.
Young people from Tonypandy community college’s ‘Outlook’ group performed their drama exploring, among other things, sexting. Introducing them, their teacher emphasized that these young people had created the characters and the script themselves, without assistance. All of the powerful messages were their own and they made a strong case for the importance of inclusive and student-led sex and relationships education.
Tonyrefail comprehensive school students brought a musical flavour to close this first section of the day. Firstly, with backing from Mountain Ash Comprehensive school’s male voice choir, Charlie (age 13) performed her own song ‘Face to Face’, inspired by Agenda. It’s a beautiful song about respect, ambivalence and the challenges of growing up. With barely a moment to dab our moistening eyes Tonyrefail introduced the GCSE art project of one of their most talented students, Lauren. Set to the Macklemore track ‘Same Love’ a short film chronicled the impact of contemporary society on understandings of LGBTQI identities, from media representations to the uncertainty of the current political climate. Punctuated by the removal of rainbow coloured tissue paper from a skull inscribed with all of the intersecting identities that can sometimes become lost when we think of people only in terms of their sexualities. It was both sobering and uplifting to be invited to view these issues from this young person’s perspective, seeing what they see in the world around them. For real emotional impact when delivering your message, think creatively.
After a short break young people from Ysgol Gyfun Plasmawr led students from all of the schools through the Agenda starter activities (‘the runway of change’, ‘stop/start plates’ and ‘what jars you’), using them as a kicking off point for
developing a pledge of the top five key things that need to change in their schools.
These pledges were videoed, filtered through a ‘glitch app’ which distorts images to obscure participants identities. And these pledges were made to be gifted back to the schools the students originated from, glitch-activism in action. This industriousness filled the hall with conversations between schools about the strengths and weaknesses of their own current provision. Aptly, while this was going on, teachers and professionals were enjoying presentations in another part of the building. Emma shared details from the AGENDA case studies and accompanying Welsh Baccaluerate resources on Feminist Activism, Healthy Relationships; LGBT Rights; Selfie Culture; Digital Gaming and more. Inspiring feminist teacher Hanna Retallack made the journey from London to share about her experiences as a feminist teacher and facilitator of feminist groups, sharing ideas and strategies with professionals in Wales. The Spectrum Hafan Project also helped to outline positive moves and whole school approaches that all schools could make to get conversations started.
During the lunch break most of us migrated to the grounds to sit in the sun, continue conversations and share thoughts and reflections on the day so far. With sun soaked backs lulling us all gently towards inertia we made our way back indoors. The glitch pledges were screened at the front of the hall and the main themes of better staff training and listening to student voice came across clearly from all groups.
Minutes after, Jên Angharad (Voices in Art) was re-energising everyone and waking us all up, working with some of the thoughts and feelings of the day to create a series of movements. Capturing the spirit of the day Jen took her cues from the young people, moving with their feelings. For me, this was what the conference was about, it really was their day. A day that united the representatives from national charities, Government, academia, educators, county councils and youth groups, through the awe-inspiring enthusiasm, determination and creativity of the young people whom their work affects.
The talent, passion, commitment and strength of all the young people who came together on July 5th outshone the ferocity of the midsummer sun, they are our brightest stars. Captured in image, movement and song, here are some of the day’s best bits: https://vimeo.com/224546331