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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Labour plan to eradicate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender bullying in schools

Labour today published their plan to eradicate homophobic bullying in every classroom, playground and dinner hall in the country. The plan has the backing of the NUT, Stonewall, campaigner and actor, Charlie Condou as well as other leading rights campaigners. Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, announced the plan at Little Ilford School in London. Under the plan, Labour will:

  • Ensure that all new teachers are trained to tackle homophobic bullying;
  • Provide support for those teachers already in the system to receive training to tackle homophobic bullying;
  • Make age appropriate sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools;
  • Promote mental health services for young people living with the consequences of homophobic bullying;
  • Provide a national best practice ‘toolkit’ to equip schools with the resources to tackle Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic bullying.

The announcement follows a Taskforce set up by Mr Hunt to consult and make recommendations on new measures to tackle homophobic bullying in schools and beyond. Mr Hunt will make the announcement on a visit to Little Ilford School at the beginning of LGBT History Month.

Tristram Hunt said that schools have a duty to show a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to homophobic bullying: “The presence of homophobic bullying in our classrooms, playgrounds and dinner halls is deeply troubling, and it is very real. The use of homophobic language and other forms of homophobic bullying is damaging the life chances of so many young people. It has a daily effect that limits learning, and causes people long term damage. There is no place for it in our society – and never should it be ignored in our schools. Schools have a duty to show a zero tolerance approach to the use of homophobic language and bullying.”

Mr Hunt will say that only by introducing new measures, will we rid the shadow of Section 28 that has been cast over our schools: “The legacy of Section 28 – a most pernicious piece of legislation – casts a shadow over our education system, both for those that are new to the schools workforce and for those who worked in schools whilst it was in operation. That is why repealing Section 28 alone, is not enough. We need new training for new and long-standing teachers, and others in the school workforce. Strategies for education, dealing with both prevention and resolution. And we need to act urgently to prevent the plight of homophobic bullying that is damaging the lives and life chances of thousands of pupils.”

Charlie Condou, actor and campaigner, welcomes the announcement: “As a gay man, and as a parent, the tackling of homophobic bullying is obviously something that’s extremely important to me. School is where I want my kids to feel safe, to be nurtured and cared for when I’m not there. We’ve made so many advances for LGBT people over the last few years, but I truly believe that prejudice is learned behaviour and therefore we need to address LGBT issues at an early age. The word gay is still used as an insult in playgrounds across the country and the amount of young people still taking their own lives for being seen as different is quite distressing. I’m so glad that tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying will be a priority for the next Labour government, as always, leaders in the struggle for LGBT equality.”

Stonewall, a charity that works on a cross-party basis, welcomes the announcement. Hannah Kibirige, Senior Education Officer at Stonewall, said: “Homophobic bullying and language are endemic in Britain’s schools, with a devastating impact on young people’s health, wellbeing and attainment. Through our work with more than 12,000 schools across the country, we know that teacher training is vital to tackling the problem. We have seen progress under this and the previous Government, but more still needs to be done. We welcome this commitment and will be calling on future governments to ensure that every teacher is equipped to tackle homophobic bullying and that every young person can reach their full potential.”

The scale of the plight of homophobic bullying has been revealed in figures from Stonewall (published here today) that show of the current estimated 215,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in schools:

  • 52,000 will miss school in response to homophobic bullying;
  • 37,000 will change their future educational plans because of homophobic bullying;
  • The school work of 70,000 will suffer because of homophobic bullying.

The figures show that whilst some schools, like Little Ilford School, are tackling with homophobic bullying, for thousands of other young people, the discrimination that they face is not being dealt with effectively.

Commenting on the plans outlined by Tristram Hunt, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said: "Making all schools safe spaces for LGBT pupils and staff is a welcome announcement from Tristram Hunt MP. The NUT supports the campaign for age appropriate and inclusive sex and relationship education in every school, as this is one way, though not the only way, to reduce homophobia and transphobia through education. The NUT has a proud history of supporting teachers to promote LGBT equality in their schools. Many schools are already taking steps to address homophobic and transphobic bullying and it is important that any schools’ ‘toolkit’ seeks to share this existing good practice." 

Continuing Ms Blower said: Supporting LGBT pupils and staff through training and whole school awareness raising involves ensuring that the attitudes which generate homophobia and transphobia are eliminated across all areas of school life. Training on this issue needs to go beyond just teachers, however, to include all school staff both within and outside the classroom. At least 10 per cent of all pupils will identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual when they are teenagers or in their adult lives. The NUT believes that wherever they are educated all young people need to learn, see and hear positive messages about LGBT people and be exposed to a wide range of role models.
"Silence and invisibility about homophobic and transphobic bullying cannot continue". Christine Blower added.