'Welcome' news for colleges on homophobic bullying

19th August 2011 at 01:00
But one in six gay students is still experiencing harassment

Gay and lesbian students have rated colleges welcoming places to learn, five years after a survey found widespread reports of homophobic bullying in FE.

A new survey by the Skills Funding Agency of 450 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults studying in FE found that, on average, they rated colleges 7.5 out of 10 on a scale where 10 equated to "extremely welcoming".

In 2006, a report by the Centre for Excellence in Leadership found high rates of homophobic harassment and bullying among staff and students.

One student told the latest survey: "I have had a bad experience in the last few years, when a lecturer told anecdotes that were homophobic. I expected to stay at that college for a two-year course, but I was so uncomfortable. I moved to another college in the area and found it to be a totally different environment - excellent."

But the new survey still found that almost one in six gay students had been bullied because of their sexual orientation, and almost one in three transgender students had experienced harassment.

Half of these said other students were responsible, and the same proportion said they reported the incident.

The 2006 survey said that few students were willing to report homophobic bullying, and one in 10 respondents in the latest report also said they had no one to turn to if they were bullied, prompting the researchers to suggest implementing a mentoring system.

Only a third of students surveyed said they thought equality policies were implemented effectively.

But one in three respondents also said they had positive experiences at college due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

One male student said: "Further education is a lot more welcoming than the school and sixth-forms I went to. People come from a wide range of backgrounds. Big colleges are a lot more open than secondary schools can be."

Geoff Russell, chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, said: "As well as the clear moral and legal cases for banishing discrimination, homophobia and transphobia from the FE sector, there is a strong business case, too: learners are voting with their feet, based on both good and bad experiences.

"My own experience in growing up a generation ago and not feeling able to be open about being gay left a scar that to this day means I cannot talk about it in public unemotionally."

Vicki Baars, LGBT officer at the National Union of Students, said: "This research provides valuable evidence about experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adult learners in further education, an area which has been relatively under-researched."

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