Lesbian 'endured years of pupil harassment

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
A lesbian teacher who gave up her marathon battle for compensation over abuse from pupils in October has said the government report on homophobia is overdue.

Former science teacher Shirley Pearce, 57, pictured right, said she was forced into early retirement in 1996 through ill-health after being subjected to five years of harassment by pupils at Mayfield school, Portsmouth. She claimed the school failed to tackle the abuse.

After losing her case in two employment tribunals, the Court of Appeal and last June the House of Lords, Ms Pearce was due to mount a personal injury claim against Hampshire council at Winchester crown court in October.

Ms Pearce told The TES: "I ran out of steam. I just could not cope with the emotional distress of having to go through it all again."

Pupils called Ms Pearce a "nasty dyke" and "lezzie shit" and put an open tin of cat food in her coat pocket.

Ms Pearce said: "All I can say about this government report is, at last! I don't think a racial harassment complaint would have been treated in the same way as mine.

"Hopefully, this report will bring theissue of homophobia out into the open, so it can be treated as seriously as racial harassment."

Tony Green, head of religious education at Chichester high school for boys, is off school with stress after suffering homophobic abuse from pupils.

He said: "I went to senior management about it - I was doing the correct things - but I was either not taken seriously or at worst nothing was done."

John Child, who has been acting head since September, denied this: "We did treat what Mr Green was saying very seriously. We would take it as seriously as any comment made by the youngsters - fatty or whatever.

"I'm not troubled by a member of staff's persuasion in that way, but I would not want them to put one viewpoint across at the cost of another."

A teacher in an East Sussex comprehensive, who did not wish to be named, was promoted to head of RE in his third year of teaching. He said: "In my first year at the school I was the victim of some fairly graphic homophobic graffiti on a whiteboard from some Year 9 boys. The head dealt with the offenders and they were excluded, with photos of the graffiti sent to parents."

A 35-year-old head of ICT at a central London school, who did not wish to be named, said that the location of his school was probably why his sexuality was not an issue among pupils.

He said: "As far as I am aware my sexuality is not an issue with the kids.

If they bring it up I just say, 'What's that got to do with spreadsheets?'

"I think it is to do with the location of the school. There is a lot more cultural diversity here so the kids are more accepting of other people in general."

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