Vegan education: How to help vegan students thrive at school
September term marks the start of a new school year, and whether your child is returning to primary or secondary school, or starting their first year in reception, knowing how to support a vegan student can be a challenging experience. From finding out whether there are vegan student meals on the school menu and sourcing vegan-friendly uniforms, to braving an uncomfortable conversation with a teacher if speciesism is normalised in a classroom setting - it can be hard to know where to start.
To make the transition a little easier, here’s our guide to making vegan-inclusive education for parents/guardians and students a positive prospect to look forward to and enjoy together.
Student rights at school
In the UK, vegans are protected under human rights and equality law, meaning that schools are obligated under the Equality Act 2010 to avoid any discrimination on the grounds of veganism. The Vegan Society has a great range of free resources for parents/guardians, students and schools, providing supportive and inclusive settings for vegan learners. Their team has a support line should you need any additional assistance, and a helpful letter template that can be edited to your requirements and sent to schools/teachers etc. They also provide free vegan-friendly teaching and catering resources for schools and teachers.
Getting ready for school
The most important aspect of school life for any student, is to ensure they feel supported and safe in their learning environment. Before the new term begins, talking through any concerns, and having a plan in place for how to deal with any potentially uncomfortable situations that may arise, is a good place to start. As a parent or guardian, allow your child to express themselves openly so you understand how they feel as a vegan learner. If you are a student yourself, airing any anxieties you may have will make it easier for the school to support your learning experience, and confiding in friends and family may help too.
When sourcing vegan-friendly clothing and footwear, many school uniforms are vegan-friendly and usually made from a mix of cotton, polyester and viscose. Mainstream supermarkets such as Asda’s Back to School range is (mostly) vegan-friendly and great if you’re on a budget too. If the school has a strict uniform policy that is not vegan-inclusive (i.e., leather shoes/wool jumper etc) they have a responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to provide a vegan-friendly, accessible and affordable alternative. This vegan materials list is helpful to better understand which materials are/aren’t derived from animals.
In the classroom
For classroom essentials and stationery, most items are vegan-friendly, from pens and pencils, to rulers, erasers, and pencil cases, but items such as glue and other art and craft supplies may need to be checked first. A widely available vegan-friendly glue brand is Elmers, which can be bought online or in stores such as Asda and The Range.
The current curriculum in schools can be challenging for vegan learners, whether it’s feeling comfortable to voice a different opinion to a teacher in front of peers, or refraining from taking part in an activity, such as dissection or science experiments that use ingredients derived from animals. It is important that the school is made aware that a student is vegan, so that they are able to provide alternative options to partake in.
The Vegan Society has a helpful selection of letter templates to help with approaching schools when requesting vegan-inclusive education, and this downloadable Vegan Education Booklet is useful too. You can also add a school to the Vegan Inclusive Education database; they will send a generic letter alerting the Headteacher that vegan students are in attendance at their facility, and how the school can best support them.
A recent survey by Vegan Inclusive Education concluded that 73% of vegan pupils are teased for their beliefs, with 42% having experienced bullying, sometimes including physical harm. With less than 40% of vegan children feeling safe in school, putting adequate safeguarding procedures in place is vital. Having a support network for vegan learners so that they don’t feel ostracised or alone will help them feel safe.
Changes in your child's behaviour may signify a sign of bullying, listen and provide reassurance, and calmly contact the school to speak with the Headteacher. It may be beneficial to seek advice from anti-bullying charities such as the Anti-Bullying Alliance, Act Against Bullying and the National Bullying Helpline for additional support.
School excursions are a great opportunity to learn outside the classroom and have fun with classmates. Whilst many school trips are not always vegan-friendly, that doesn’t mean that vegan students need to miss out.
There are many educational activities available to schools that help students of all ages reconnect with nature and animals, from a local hiking trip in a Wildlife Trust nature reserve to organic gardening classes, writing for nature workshops, or tree planting initiatives with your local council.
Research local animal sanctuaries in your area and enquire whether they accept school visits, if they do, suggest this to the school instead of the farm/zoo/aquarium trip they had planned, and try to have an open conversation with the school organisers about the reasons why. More often than not, approaching the subject calmly, and openly, can lead to a positive outcome for all involved - including animals too!