Move to tackle homophobic bullying

8th April 2005 at 01:00
Homophobic bullying among children as young as nine plays a major role in how boys become boys, according to research by Cardiff university academic Dr Emma Renold.

Primary-age boys use the words "gay" and "girl" as interchangeable insults to help to establish their own masculinity, she found.

Dr Renold will discuss her findings in Llandudno tomorrow at a conference organised by the gay rights group Stonewall Cymru to launch Education for All, a campaign against homophobic bullying in schools. The keynote speaker, education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson, is expected to focus on the need for effective anti-bullying policies in schools.

According to Stonewall, a survey of 300 secondary schools in England and Wales conducted in 2003 found that 82 per cent of teachers were aware of verbal incidents of homophobic bullying. While almost all schools had anti-bullying policies, only 6 per cent referred to homophobic bullying.

Dr Renold said young boys seldom know what gay means, "but know it's something wrong", and use homophobic abuse in two ways - "to prop up fragile heterosexuality and (as) a strategy of masculinity".

Her studies, based on two years of classroom research, found that teachers rarely saw the use of words such as "gay", "girl" and "sissy" as abusive, because it was often done through humour.

"Teachers themselves use these comments - they have to start with themselves," said Dr Renold, who also recognised that many teachers felt inadequately trained and unprepared to deal with homophobia.

She said progress had been made in tackling homophobic bullying, particularly since the repeal of Section 28, the law banning the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. But research gaps remain: "We don't know how many schools have altered their bullying policy," she said.

A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly government said Jane Davidson would reiterate her call for schools to send her copies of their anti-bullying policies. The Government wants to assess how schools are tackling the issue and single out examples of best practice to be published later this year.

She is also expected to draw on the Government's sex and relationship education guidance from 2002 to discuss how schools should be developing lessons and working with parents.

Sylvia Jones, co-chair of Stonewall Cymru, acknowledged the Government's "unprecedented policy commitment to tackling bullying" and its support for lesbian, gay and bisexual young people.

But she added: "There remains a gap between policy and practice. We are convinced that homophobic bullying remains one of the most difficult forms of bullying for pupils, students, teachers and educationists to tackle."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today