SMALL changes are making a big difference for LGBT pupils who felt excluded by school life.

From introducing gender neutral toilets to ditching "girl" and "boy" in social dancing, Shawlands Academy is working to ensure all young people have a safe place to learn.

After setting up an LGBT+ group for pupils in September 2016, principal teacher of pastoral care Kirsty Rodger has spearheaded efforts to change the school ethos.

She said: "Pupils had approached me to say that they were not feeling fully included in school life.

"If someone comes to me with an issue saying they are not feeling included then I am going to look at ways to fix that."

Young people in the LGBT+ group spoke about particular issues with PE.

Theo Pieczka-Garner, 16, said: "We had a discussion early on in the group and the common theme was that people felt uncomfortable in PE.

"There was a stigma around changing rooms, a lot of people were feeling excluded by their peers and felt they couldn't discuss it with the teachers.

"Social dancing was gendered and for pupils who are trans that's upsetting and distressing."

Sandra Leitch, Principal Teacher of PE, was then brought on board. The department had found that LGBT pupils were dropping out of PE and Sandra wanted that to change.

She worked with LEAP Sports Scotland, an organisation working for the inclusion for LGBTI people in sport, to make changes in the department.

Social dancing is now about dancing with a friend and the words "boy" and "girl" are no longer used, replaced with "leader" and "follower".

Sandra said: "With the rest of the PE department we were unaware this was happening but there were a lot of comments, when we spoke to pupils, about how common the issues were.

"We worked with pupils to develop a manifesto to be displayed in areas of the PE department.

"It's now going to be used by LEAP Sports across Scotland so we feel we are pioneers of this."

The manifesto was printed with the support of a £500 grant from the school's Youth Bank.

Saxon Anderson of the Youth Bank said: "This was definitely a project we had never seen before and we were keen to get involved and help.

"For someone who is not part of the LGBTI community, there is definitely support for what's happening with PE changing rooms and in PE.

"Social dancing is much easier now for everyone, actually."

All staff have received training in LGBTI issues, which head teacher Ann Grant called a "significant" investment of time but one she believed was vital.

She added: "If the feeling was that the school is not inclusive then work needed to be done.

"This is about making sure we are living up to our values and making sure the needs of every child are being met."

The school has also introduced gender neutral spaces throughout the building, such as PE changing rooms, and five gender neutral toilets.

Kirsty said: "We have not made a song and dance about it. People know the toilets are there and if they need to use them then they do."

The school is looking to embed LGBT issues as part of the curriculum and there is now an LGBT section in the school library and on the school website.

Shawlands Academy's efforts have now been rewarded by an LGBT Silver Charter Award.

Firass Kassm, 15, is part of the LGBT group. He said: "Some people laugh about the changes. Others understand but just don't want anything to do with it."

Fellow group member Hunter Coles, 15, added: "We want equality for everyone.

"Bullying is not as bad as before but there is definitely still work to do."

Holly McCartney, 16, said: "For people who are openly gay and bisexual had found there was a bit of stigma.

"Ignorance was a part of it.

"When you are out you don't want to be seen as 'that gay kid'. That is just one, small part of you."

Kirsty added: "Ignorance and a lack of maturity are problems but I have been asking for pupil feedback as this has progressed and what I'm hearing is that pupils are much more comfortable in asking questions.

"Some still do silly things and say silly things but we are tackling that.

"You want pupils to be able to be confident in themselves and included in school, to be able to say 'We exist'."