Schools shun needs of non-heterosexual pupils, study claims

26th March 2010 at 00:00
Mainstream ethos ignores lesbian, gay and bisexual issues, says inclusion research

The Scottish school system makes it "compulsory" to be heterosexual, research into the inclusion of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) students has found.

Teachers felt threatened by the prospect of discussing different sexualities and tended to avoid it, found Dumfries and Galloway educational psychologist Elizabeth McIntyre, following a number of surveys and interviews with heads and teachers.

This fear led to teachers treating all pupils alike, which meant they failed to respond to the needs of LGB students, she argues in a research article in the journal Educational Psychology in Practice.

"Teachers think that by treating pupils equally, as they see it, that equates with equality of opportunity," she told The TESS. "In fact, they are treating pupils as though they are heterosexual."

Heads told her they saw no need to mention LGB pupils explicitly in their policy guidelines. Teachers were not used to discussing sexuality and felt uneasy doing so, she found.

Feelings of anxiety were most apparent among male primary teachers, she said in her article, "Teacher discourse on lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in Scottish schools".

One admitted he ignored his pupils' use of the word "gay" when they meant something or someone was "rubbish" and failed to deal with homophobic bullying.

He said: "A male teacher with 10-year-olds talking about homosexuality? I couldn't take the risk."

A drama and special needs teacher, who described himself as "a feminine kind of man", said homophobic jokes were run-of-the-mill among staff. "There is a male macho culture, which includes women . whenever homosexuality is mentioned in male staffrooms, it's backs-to-the-wall time. I don't know if they really mean it," he said.

Ms McIntyre, whose son "came out" when he was 18, has been prompted by her research findings to call for Scottish teachers to be made more aware of the damaging effects of homophobic bullying; to have more opportunities to gain knowledge and discuss and challenge their understanding of the needs of LGB pupils; and to be more aware of the role they play in silencing LGB young people.

She also identified an important role for educational psychologists, saying they have "a duty and responsibility to work with schools to provide a healthy, safe and nurturing environment suitable for all young people to learn and develop".

Last year, a toolkit on challenging homophobia was launched by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Youth Scotland.

www.ltscotland.org.ukhomophobic bullyingtoolkit

Emma Seith, emma.seith@tes.co.uk

TAM BAILLIE'S BLETHER

Scotland's children's tsar plans to spend much of 2010 "blethering" to young people about their main concerns.

The marathon conversation began this week when Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, met teachers, directors of education, youth workers and children's organisations in Edinburgh to launch A Right Blether, a Scotland-wide consultation with children and young people.

A national vote is planned for November - to mark the 21st anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - when youngsters will be asked to identify five issues from a list of 20 for the commissioner to focus on for the next four years.

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