Actor Sir Ian McKellen has urged gay people to take direct action against homophobic bullying in schools.
"We need to infiltrate parents' associations and governors' boards, and be constantly battling with head teachers about what the hell they think they're doing," he told the annual conference of the gay campaign group Stonewall this week.
The conference was discussing a London Institute of Education survey commissioned by Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust, which found that more than 80 per cent of schools admitted some homophobic verbal bullying while just over a quarter reported assaults on pupils believed to be gay.
Christine Blower, president of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This research is astonishing. It shows that there are teachers all over the country who aren't responding to homophobic abuse the way they ought. This is something you must deal with firmly".
Ms Blower called for urgent action to persuade schools and education authorities to include sexuality in their equal opportunities policies. She said the union was implementing a 10-point action plan which included urging schools to amend their policies and ensuring gay relationships were covered in health education.
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that bullying led to low self-esteem, which could make it more difficult for the victim to insist upon safe sex. "We are very concerned that bullying can leave young gay or bisexual men ill-equipped to avoid HIV infection."
Angela Mason, executive director of Stonewall, called for the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prevents local authorities from promoting homosexuality.
"It's absolutely essential to break the cycle of prejudice being passed from generation to generation." There was an urgent need for new guidelines from the Department of Education, she added.
Ms Blower said that the NUT was to publish a new guidance for lesbians and gays in schools which would offer unequivocal support to teachers who came out to pupils. She added that the NUT had received "cast iron" legal advice that it was not unlawful to talk about sexual orientation in the classroom.
FE Focus, page 35