Teachers and education professionals can help children face disfigurement with confidence

Information for teachers and education professionals

More than a million people in the UK have a disfiguring condition, injury, illness, mark or paralysis. This includes many thousands of children who all too often face the challenge, especially at school, of other people’s stares, comments, questions, ostracism and bullying. In school, good interventions are essential, both to support the child whose appearance is unusual, and to manage reactions in ways that are positive for everyone. Well-informed support for the child who looks noticeable to minimise their own appearance concerns along with expert and effective interventions when required, all help to ensure wellbeing and achievement at school.

In our image-obsessed society appearance concerns extend far beyond those individuals whose appearance is unusual or disfigured. And in our increasingly diverse and inclusive society everyone needs to know how to get along well with people who may appear unlike themselves. Everyone gains from excellent learning opportunities around appearance and difference.

Education professionals play a vital role in ensuring that everyone is able to be comfortable with themselves and with each other, and that children and young people with disfigurements are fully included and receive effective support. Changing Faces offers expert advice, resources and training to enable teachers and other educational professionals to understand and respond inclusively to these challenges. Together we can ensure that all children and young people succeed both academically and socially regardless of their appearance.

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.

For more about research and practice when a pupil is vulnerable to being seen as different please refer to our Academic Reference Sheet – Education. You can also contact info@changingfaces.org.uk, or call 0345 450 0275.