Don't look away: bullying of LGBT pupils must be tackled

8th March 2013 at 00:00
Learn from schools that demonstrate good practice in handling prejudice and follow these teachers' lead

Marco Biagi MSP hosted a recent Scottish Parliament reception for LGBT Young People and Education. It celebrated LGBT History Month, an opportunity to promote equality and inclusion by raising awareness of the histories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The "month" parallels Black History Month, initiated in 1917 to ensure black Americans' place in their country's history.

Fergus McMillan, LGBT Scotland's chief executive, began by quoting an anonymous head, who said: "I don't think LGBT concerns are a big issue. We treat all young people the same." Treating everyone the same, when the needs of some are different, may indeed be the root of the problem.

LGBT young people suffer bullying in many schools: 69 per cent have experienced direct homophobic bullying; 60 per cent of those who experience homophobic bullying say witnessing teachers never intervene. Only half of gay pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong.

How Good Is Our School? includes quality indicators to support equality measures, but LGBT young people perceive few schools applying these. Policies seldom translate in practice and research shows that schools are perceived as among the least supportive institutions in which LGBT young people operate.

Mr Biagi explained what he thinks is necessary to improve this situation: "Every school needs to follow the examples of the best and take an active zero-tolerance attitude towards homophobia, which can manifest even just in the all-too-common use of the word 'gay'.

"In the Scottish Parliament we need to keep taking concrete steps - whether passing equal rights, funding anti-discrimination work or simply presenting an alternative built on hope - so that everyone's sons and daughters, nieces and nephews can grow up in a Scotland that is open-minded, inclusive and accepting."

Last year, the Scottish government and LGBT Youth Scotland published a toolkit for teachers, Dealing with Homophobia and Homophobic Bullying in Scottish Schools. It is a superb resource for curriculum development. Twelve Scottish secondaries and five primaries are part of the Stonewall Scotland's School Champions programme, tackling bullying and prejudice upfront. It's time for every school to utilise the toolkit and emulate the best practice in these exemplary schools.

Alex Wood, Former headteacher, works at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration.

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