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Stopping gay bullying

Earlier this year a lesbian teacher failed in her claim against school governors for failing to protect her from verbal abuse over a five-year period.

The House of Lords, while deploring pupils' behaviour, said the abuse did not constitute gender discrimination because a male teacher would have been treated in a similar way. And because pupils are not employees the teacher could not rely on sex discrimination legislation that treats acts done by employees as if done by the employer.

New regulations from December protect employees from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation but still only refer to the relationship between teacher and employer, not pupils. Heads and governing bodies will have a legal duty to protect staff against harassment, defined as unwanted conduct intended to violate a person's dignity or to create an offensive environment.

But heads will no doubt consider it to be a moral duty to protect gay staff from obnoxious pupils. In doing this, they can call on other criminal legislation - such as anti-social orders which can be made against anyone over the age of 10, to the ancient and still effective Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, which protects staff against serious psychiatric harm.

Heads should review policies and ensure that they are adequate to cover the new requirements.

If abuse continues, the police should be brought in. The teacher should also seek the help of hisher union without delay.

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