Face equality in schools is essential for creating excellence in education

Why appearance matters in education

If you are involved in the education of children or young people you need to know about appearance and disfigurement.

Our culture’s relentless focus on appearance and the huge pressure on us all to look good affects us all at a deep level. Beauty, we are told, is in the eye of the beholder, but being conventionally “good-looking” can seem ‘naturally’ linked to happiness and success.

Words like beautiful and ugly are laden with values. Scars, facial asymmetry and skin conditions are often used as shorthand for bad moral character. Even people who think they do not discriminate find it hard to respond in the same way towards people whose appearance is disfigured as they do towards people whose appearance is not.

When a child or young person has a condition, injury, mark or scar, paralysis or illness that affects the way they look, teachers and school leaders with sound knowledge and expertise are the key to educational achievement.

In the Equality Act 2010, all kinds of unusual appearances are termed ‘severe disfigurement’, which is a protected characteristic that requires all UK schools to remove barriers and create a positive learning environment for all children.

When a child has a disfigurement, the barriers to fairness and achievement lie deep in our minds. These barriers have their roots in a series of enduring disfigurement myths. Language and images can be barriers too, or can be used to help overcome barriers.

In order to dismantle these barriers and open the way to excellence, all school staff need to check out their ideas and attitudes about appearance and disfigurement. Only then can all children and young people get what they need from school to do well in our ever more diverse and inclusive society.

To ensure achievement at school, a child whose unusual appearance makes them vulnerable to being seen as ‘different’, to staring and invasive questions, and to hostility or avoidance, may need extra support, especially when moving on to a different school, or when returning from a spell away in hospital.

Their classmates will need research-based lessons that deliver Face Equality by enabling everyone to feel more confident about appearance and unusual appearance.

As well as maximising achievement for all your pupils or students, these lesson ideas and other resources will help your school meet the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty.