In her 4th year at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, BA (Hons) Education Studies (Primary) student, Lauren Thomson, received the prestigious George D Gray CBE Award for her dissertation on homophobic attitudes in the classroom. Set up by the General Teaching Council, the award recognises academic achievement in Initial Teacher Education that is directly relevant to professional standards and to teaching in Scotland. 

Now on her first year probation, working as a teacher at a school in Haddington, East Lothian, Lauren tells us about the inspiration behind her dissertation and the doors her research has opened up for her.  

Why did you choose to study at QMU and what interested you about your chosen course? 

I chose to study at QMU as I grew up in Tranent, East Lothian, and wanted to stay somewhere that was close to my hometown, but also had connections to Edinburgh.  

The campus is in a great location as its within close distance to a range of nearby primary schools, which as a budding teacher, was something that really interested me. I also wanted to be on a course that highlighted social justice and inclusion, but also worked with a range of educational professionals who could pass on their experiences to me.  

I grew up having amazing teachers at school who helped me develop my ideas about the world and helped me become the first in my family to go to University. Between the ages of four and eleven, you could probably find me playing ‘teachers’ with my teddies and taking the register so I had always known I wanted to work in education!  

What were your teaching placements like? 

"In my course we had primary school placements across multiple age stages. In these placements I had the experience of working with a Primary 1, Primary 4, and a Primary 6 class in a range of schools across Edinburgh. Two of these placements took place around the time that social distancing was being rolled out in schools, so it was very interesting to learn how to adapt a classroom in Covid-19 times! I was very fortunate to have great placement experiences in every school I worked in, with very supportive mentor teachers. We still keep in touch now!"

Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in applying for BA (Hons) Education Studies? 

My advice would be to familiarise yourself with current education news through speaking to any educators you know, looking at broad news sources and educational based news sources. This really helps with placements as you can get a sense of the current goings-on across the sector and in various schools. Also, keep up to date with any new policy or guidance used in schools as you never know when you might need it! 

How did you choose your dissertation topic and what was it like completing the research for it? 

I had originally chosen the topic after observing instances of homophobic attitudes in a primary classroom and finding a lack of research for this age range. Growing up, although it improved over the years, inclusive education and challenging homophobic attitudes were things I think my schools needed help improving.  

I titled my dissertation ‘How can teachers challenge homophobic attitudes in the classroom?’, looking at what it means to become a teacher in Scotland. 

It was incredibly interesting completing the research; being able to compare different countries’ positions on inclusive education gave me a great baseline and context to come to my conclusion.  

I found it easier to use key words and make use of the library service search engines to find sources as it was very daunting at first trying to find an applicable source quickly.  

Tell us how it felt winning the George D Gray CBE Award for your dissertation? 

I was nominated by one of my lecturers on the BA (Hons) Education Studies (Primary) course at QMU. It was then shortlisted and submitted to a panel of educational professionals who work for the General Teaching Council for Scotland in various capacities. I was notified that I had won the award on the very first day of teaching in my current role as a class teacher at Letham Mains Primary School - not a bad first day! 

My research will hopefully give educators a tool to reflect on their environment and self to plan for improvement within the classroom. My conclusion was holistic, but in short, provides educators with five pillars to reflect on; curriculum, confidence, identity, ethos and policy. It was written with the primary sector in mind (although I specifically wanted to include both primary and secondary) as there are less resources and research available due to years of misinformation surrounding ‘innocence’.  

My award has opened many doors for me in terms of opportunities in my career. In my current role, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to inclusive authors and illustrators, as well as get involved with an inclusive picture book programme set up by the local authorities, Stand Up to be Counted. I am currently in the process of publishing my dissertation as well as extending it in the form of a practitioner's enquiry with my current pupils. I am also very fortunate to have recently received an invitation to His Majesty the King’s Garden Party at Holyrood Palace in the summer. Overall, the best opportunity has been getting the message out there and being able to generate conversation towards homophobic attitudes in primary and secondary schools, giving educators the confidence to challenge them. 

What's your 'top tip' for making the most out of being a student? 

We're all in the same boat! Make use of every opportunity there is on campus and chat to the people around you; I didn’t meet some of the best people I know until 3rd and 4th year. 

What have you been doing since graduating QMU? 

"Since graduating, I worked at Edinburgh Zoo over the summer before starting teaching in a primary school full time for my probationary year. I teach a Primary 2/3 composite class and I'm loving every second!"

What would your advice be to students starting out? 

To be a sponge – soak up any and all advice, information and resources given to you. Keep a bank of anything you have the opportunity to see because you never know what pupils will be in front of you again later in your career.