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:

Supporting your pupils
Classroom resources
Youth Engagement in Scotland
Bullying resources

Information for teachers and education professionals

More than a million people in the UK have a visible difference – a mark, scar or condition that affects their appearance – including 86,000 children and young people of school age. Teachers and other education professionals have a key role to play in both supporting children and young people with a visible difference and creating an inclusive learning environment for all pupils. The tips below provide advice on a wide range of issues including: talking to pupils about visible difference; recognising and challenging implicit bias; supporting pupils who look different; and addressing appearance-related bullying.

It’s important for you as a teacher to be aware of your own implicit bias and reflect on your own feelings and ideas about appearance and disfigurement

  • Unconscious attitudes towards people who look different can lead to teachers having significantly lower expectations of pupils or being resigned to appearance-related bullying being inevitable.
  • Ensure you have the same high expectations for all pupils.

Challenge negative stereotypes of visible difference

  • Negative stereotypes of visible difference reinforce the myths that people who look different can’t have a happy life, require surgery to ‘fix’ their appearance, or are bad and scary people.

Use matter-of-fact, non-judgemental language

  • When talking about visible difference, it is important to use non-judgemental, matter-of-fact language. For example, ‘Amina has a cleft lip’, ‘James has a large birthmark on his face’ and ‘Fiona is a burns survivor’.
  • Avoid using phrases such as ‘burns victim’ or ‘terribly scarred’ as these are examples of sensationalist, judgemental language.
  • ‘Disfigurement’ is a term that is used in a legal context as it is enshrined in law in the Equality Act 2010. If there’s a need to talk about your pupil’s visible difference make sure you use the phase or description your pupil or their parents are happy with.

Make good use of images

  • People often associate visible difference with tragedy or see it as a sign of someone’s bad character.
  • It is important to challenge these ideas by ensuring that images you use in the classroom reflect a wide range of appearances and show people with a visible difference in a positive way.

Understand your responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)

  • Read our [Public Sector Equality Duty guide] for schools to ensure that your school is fulfilling its responsibilities specified by the PSED.

Never patronise

  • Face equality means equal expectations and equal respect, no compensatory special treatment because you feel sorry for someone that you teach.

Address appearance-related bullying

  • The important thing is to STOP the bullying. You don’t have to make children and young people be friends – and anyway, you can’t. But school staff can – and must – intervene every time someone in your school is harassed or bullied.
  • Read more about anti-bullying resources and information in our [Bullying Resources] section.

Never ask children and young people to get themselves into groups for a lesson or games activity

  • This can lead to patterns of exclusion developing, so you should always plan and organise the groups or teams yourself.
  • Working in groups provides important opportunities for children and young people to get to know each other better and to learn to communicate and cooperate with each other.

Equip children and young people with personal and social tools for the times when they feel vulnerable about the way they look

Talk to your pupils and students about visible difference to raise awareness and increase their knowledge and understanding.