Tackling homophobic bullying in schools - with street dance

11th February 2011 at 00:00
A film that has been distributed to schools by a gay rights organisation is transforming attitudes

"My first day at school and I was worried about the kids calling me names."

Countless pupils can identify with such feelings. But this is not a child anticipating trouble; it's a teacher.

"Loris" is the lead adult character in FIT, a DVD film for secondary schools, which tackles the tricky subject of homophobia and homophobic bullying.

Dance teacher Loris has been brought in to deal with a group of challenging teenagers at a London sixth-form college who don't "fit" in. He is Afro-Caribbean, in his fifties, has "dreads" - and wears a bright pink leotard with tracksuit bottoms.

Although FIT proves you can't always tell a book by its cover, the new teacher is indeed gay, and openly so. But he has got "attitude" and a great sense of humour, as an exchange with one of the students shows:

"Are you gay, Sir?" asks a sneering youth.

"Yes, I am," replies Loris, "but I'm very open-minded, so I really don't care if you're not."

Produced by Stonewall, the UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender charity, FIT started life as a play which toured secondary schools north and south of the border in 2007-08. The response from audiences showed that both young people and teachers wanted to talk about gay issues in the classroom but a lack of appropriate materials made it difficult.

Free copies of the feature-length film adaptation, which comes with an information and discussion booklet, were sent to every secondary school in the UK. Workshops for teachers on how to use it are being run by Stonewall Scotland, which hosted a big-screen showing for schools at the Glasgow Film Theatre last term.

Guidance teacher Margaret Catterall, who is responsible for personal and social education (PSE) in S4 at Prestwick Academy in South Ayrshire, attended one of the FIT workshops.

"There are six guidance teachers at the school and when the DVD came in, we had a look at it and agreed that, not only was it the best film we had ever seen about homophobic bullying, it was the best anti-bullying film we had ever seen, because it covers so many different aspects and types of bullying," she says.

"We showed it to the S4s in June to gauge their reaction and, although a few of the boys said "I don't want to watch this" when they heard what it was about, the reaction at the end was overwhelmingly positive, because it's very professional and upbeat, and their attitudes were stretched."

Prestwick Academy has now embedded FIT in the PSE programme under the equality and diversity agenda.

The film, which features "street"-style music and dance, plus lots of slangy dialogue (but no swearing or sex), has been edited episodically. So in S3, pupils were shown just the first introductory episode where they met "Loris" and the six main teenage characters. In S4, the whole film was being shown over three lessons, each dealing with two of the six teenagers, some of whom were bullied for looking and acting "gay" (but aren't), others whom everyone - including their parents and friends - assumes are "straight". But are they?

"Not all class teachers will be comfortable dealing with the subject, so the FIT sessions are delivered by guidance staff," says Ms Catterall.

At Denny High in Falkirk, the FIT programme is being delivered to all S3 pupils from this term under "Rights and Tolerance" in the PSE curriculum.

"We're showing the film over a six-week period, focusing on one character at time," says Robert Patterson, head of social studies.

"All form teachers in our school deliver PSE, so there will be 14 staff members delivering the FIT resource to pupils."

www.stonewallscotland.org.ukfit

scoted@tes.co.uk.

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