Raise the rainbow flag in support of all students

3rd June 2016 at 00:00
Schools need to create an inclusive environment for every pupil by ensuring the curriculum contains positive representations of LGBTI people, history and events

It’s been 15 years since the repeal of Section 28 in Scottish schools. This was legislation which prohibited local authorities from promoting homosexuality or spending money on educational materials and projects perceived to promote a gay lifestyle. It may be history now, but across the country students are still facing homophobic and transphobic bullying in their learning communities.

As a pupil living under Section 28, I struggled to come to terms with who I was, but since my first day of teaching in 2005, I have been authentic to who I am. I make no secret of being gay: that is, I don’t enter a classroom and say “I’m Mr Campbell and I’m gay” – but if asked, I am proud to say that I am.

Curriculum for Excellence has some detailed experiences and outcomes in the health and wellbeing curriculum regarding inclusive education. However, it has become apparent to me that it is a lottery – depending on the individual school, local authority or teacher – as to how, or even if, these issues are taught.

The five major political parties all stated in their manifestos for last month’s election that they wanted to address LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) education in schools. What is more, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Labour wanted to work with the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) Campaign to support LGBTI learners in our schools. But why, after more than a decade of “acceptance” in our schools, is this crucial area of education only now being addressed?

Action is needed

Recent research shows that a staggering 75 per cent of primary and 44 per cent of secondary staff either explicitly are not allowed, or aren’t sure if they are allowed to teach about LGBTI issues in their school (bit.ly/ScotLGBTI).

The report, by Stonewall Scotland, makes fascinating reading, and we need to remember that the statistics it contains are having real, long-term effects on young people in our schools. Action is needed, and needed now.

The bullying of LGBTI learners is common in schools, and bullying because of sexual orientation results in increased depression, anxiety in later life, truanting and an almost six-fold increased risk for suicide attempts.

This isn’t right or fair. It’s time we move away from thinking that when we discuss LGBTI education in our schools we are referring to sexual education – it has nothing to do with sex education. It’s about giving learners in our classroom the space to be their authentic selves and know that they are not alone.

They need to know that they are part of a vibrant and rich community that has members in every part of the country and in every profession. We need to “normalise” LGBTI history and culture in our curriculum in order to fully have an inclusive education system, and this includes the faith schools. Religion can be a hot topic when discussing LGBTI issues. All students and staff are entitled to their religious viewpoints, but those viewpoints may not intrude on the rights of others. It’s about respecting the young person in front of us – regardless of our personal beliefs.

So how do we do this? Teachers need to have the confidence to approach issue-based learning beyond their own subject areas. As someone who has taught across secondary and further education, I’ve been amazed that during my time in FE, I had to complete mandatory equality and diversity training every year, yet in secondary schools I’ve never had to complete any training in that field at all.

Headteachers need to lead on this. They need to let their teachers know that they will support them if they are using a curriculum that includes LGBTI-related topics.

My current headteacher displayed forward-thinking leadership: she encouraged me to develop equality and diversity training for all staff in the school. The impact was evident as teachers got to grips with the 2010 Equality Act and gained confidence in addressing issues that arose in their classrooms.

Equality training is needed across the country, including training on LGBTI issues. School policies also need to acknowledge the LGBTI community.

These are among the core aims of the TIE Campaign, established by Jordan Daly, a University of Glasgow sociology student, and Liam Stevenson, a long-haul driver, just after the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. I came on board later to help with the education aspect of the campaign.

The campaign’s ultimate aim is for LGBTI inclusion to be built into all schools’ curricula and pastoral care resources, with the HM Inspectorate of Education reviewing whether individual institutions are creating an LGBTI-inclusive environment. The campaign has been supported by some well-known names, including actor Emma Thompson, who said: “Any young person indulging in homophobic bullying is a teenage dinosaur who should just go and sit coughing over a sherry in an old white men’s club. It’s not cool, it’s not intelligent and it’s not attractive.”

It has been encouraging to see that political parties want to work with the campaign, and I’ll be watching with interest to see how this develops in the new Parliament. Schools across Scotland are already doing some amazing work in this field. We are seeing an embrace of the rainbow flag, but sadly it’s a postcode lottery, dependent on school leadership.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked us to judge her on her record in education. All eyes are now focused on what this Parliament will do to have a school curriculum that includes positive representations of LGBTI people, history and events that can be a source of resilience for LGBTI students.

We are a proud nation of equality, but let’s make an inclusive curriculum that gives a greater sense of connectedness for everyone who walks the school corridors.

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