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SEND Focus: 'We need to ensure students can talk openly and are informed about sex'

Pupils with disabilities are more likely to experience homophobic and transphobic bullying – but new guidance offers hope

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Young people with SEND are often denied the space and opportunity to explore with support what gender, sex and sexuality mean to them. So recent guidance published by the Anti-Bullying Alliance and Education Action challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying should be universally welcomed. 

Worryingly, it reveals an increased risk of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying for pupils with SEND, including unwanted touch in school, the community and at home. The research that informed these guidelines features the views of young people with SEND. These young people identify the issues that concern them and they advise schools on the solutions. It is a ground-up solution to be applauded. 

Unfortunately the research also shows that those pupils brave enough to raise the problem in school can find that they are not believed or encounter surprise that people can be both disabled and gay. The history of disability demonstrates how disabled people have been positioned by those who regulate them as outside of gender, sex and sexuality. It is easy to understand how this happens. These can be difficult topics to talk about and so it can feel easier to ignore them. But this can then deny young disabled people the opportunity to develop a sexual self. Disabled people are often subject to a regimen of constant observation and care. There is no finding a private spot to masturbate, grabbing a sneaky kiss behind the bike sheds or chatting about sex with your friends.  

The guidance includes the following advice:

1. Make sure all disabled young people have access to sex and relationships education (SRE) and PSHE and are not removed from lessons for other types of support.

2. Take the issue seriously: include information about and positive images of LGBT+ people in SRE.

3. Make sure disabled young people are shown where they can access other sources of information, advice and support for LGBT+ young people.

4. Enable pupils to hear about the issues from young LGBT+ people themselves

Young people have spoken and we need to listen. Let’s pay attention to these guidelines and get gender, sex and sexuality on the agenda for pupils with SEND.

Nick Hodge (pictured) is professor of inclusive practice at the Autism Centre, Sheffield Hallam University. He tweets at @Goodchap62

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