The last bastion of prejudice

13th April 2012 at 01:00
There is only one openly gay secondary head in Britain, according to campaigners. David Marley asks why and uncovers a culture of fear that is forcing teachers to hide their sexuality

Liam Nolan (pictured) is a remarkable headteacher. As the man in charge of Perry Beeches school in Birmingham, he has transformed the inner-city secondary's fortunes and overseen a record improvement in GCSE results.

But Nolan is remarkable for another - and, in 2012, altogether more disturbing - reason: as far as both gay-rights charity Stonewall and the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) are aware, he is the only openly gay secondary headteacher in Britain.

While even some conservatives are championing equality on the issue of gay marriage, it appears that the distance travelled in tackling homophobia as it affects teachers is worryingly short.

The evidence suggests that there are deeply ingrained, systemic problems that are stopping gay teachers being open at school and putting themselves forward for the top jobs.

According to Nolan, who has worked extensively to combat the issue in recent years, homophobia is the last prejudice in the public sector that is yet to be tackled forcefully. More worryingly, both he and other campaigners say that schools are the worst offenders.

Nolan believes the two main factors preventing teachers from coming out are fear of the reaction from pupils, colleagues and parents; and the belief, still prevalent in much of society, that links homosexuality with paedophilia.

While there are heads - both gay and straight - who do not want their private lives to inform what they do at work, for many gay teachers the decision to hide their sexuality is driven by fear of the abuse they may receive should they come out.

Photo by Julian Anderson

You can read the full version of this article in the April 13 issue of TES.

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