We cannot say with any certainty how many students fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella: nationally, we know that a minimum of 2% of people identify as non-heterosexual and 1% identify as transgender – but with a further 4% either unsure or refusing to answer, the statistics could be considerably higher. Young people are also more likely than adults to question their sexuality and gender. However, it is a statistical certainty that you will have LGBTQIA+ students in your classes: approximately one student in every other class, or enough per average secondary school to form an entire class.
We also cannot dismiss students who are affected through friends and family members being LGBTQIA+ or the vast array of school staff, trainees, visitors and parents who are impacted by LGBTQIA+ issues.
One of my colleagues used to make ‘gay’ jokes all the time – things like telling other teachers to ‘keep your backs to the wall’ or question if I should be allowed to take boys’ PE classes. It was just seen as ‘a bit of banter’ if I tried to bring it up.
-Kevin*, Secondary PE teacher
Furthermore, an LGBTQIA+ inclusive approach demonstrates to all staff and students a message of acceptance and inclusion, destigmatising LGBTQIA+ issues and empowering all students with the awareness and skills to call out bigotry where they see it.
The Stonewall School Reports
The Stonewall School Report clearly shows that homophobic bullying has a very real impact on students’ well-being, attainment and aspirations.
- More than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools.
- Secondary school teachers say that homophobic bullying is the second most frequent form of bullying (happening ‘very often’ or ‘often’) after bullying because of weight and three times more prevalent than bullying due to religion or ethnicity.
- Almost all (99 per cent) LGB students hear phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school.
- More than half (53 per cent) of LGB pupils experience verbal homophobic bullying, almost a quarter (23 per cent) experience cyberbullying and one in six (16 per cent) LGB pupils experience physical abuse. Six per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils are subjected to death threats.
- More than half (54 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people don’t feel there is an adult at school who they can talk to about their sexuality. One in four (25 per cent) don’t have an adult to talk to at school, home or elsewhere.
- One in three (32 per cent) LGB pupils who experience homophobic bullying change their plans for future education because of it.
- Nearly one in four (23 per cent) lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have tried to take their own life at some point. In comparison, Samaritans says seven per cent of all young people in general ever attempt to take their own life.
- More than half (56 per cent) of LGB young people deliberately harm themselves, which can include cutting or burning themselves. NSPCC estimates that between 1 in 15 and 1 in 10 young people in general deliberately harm themselves.
- More than half (53 per cent) of gay young people are never taught anything about lesbian, gay and bisexual issues at school.
- Three in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying say that teachers who witness the bullying never intervene. Only ten per cent of gay pupils report that teachers challenge homophobic language every time they hear it.
- Nine in ten teachers and non-teaching staff at secondary and primary schools have never received any specific training on how to prevent and respond to homophobic bullying.
- More than a quarter of secondary school staff (28 per cent) would not feel confident in supporting a pupil who decided to come out to them as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Two in five would not feel confident in providing pupils with information, advice and guidance on LGB issues.
There are currently no studies of great substance that focus specifically on the impact on transgender students. However, trans people as a whole are disproportionately also likely to identify as non-heterosexual - with only 21% identifying as heterosexual – and so are more likely to be affected by the aforementioned issues than their cisgender counterparts,
Gendered Intelligence have conducted a survey into bullying of trans young people in education.
Results show that:
- Transgender students and their families suffer from a general lack of support.
- There is a lack of general understanding of trans issues by teachers, heads and health professionals in schools, and staff lack confidence in tackling bullying and harassment amongst peers.
- There is a lack of trans inclusion in anti-bullying policy making, and recording of instances of transphobic bullying tends to be amalgamated with other, non-trans-specific instances of bullying.
As part of their school inspections, Ofsted are now investigating if schools effectively tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying, as well as if students are taught about LGB issues.
Exploring the school’s actions to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying:
1. Inspectors should make sure that questions are age-appropriate and asked in the right context.
2. With primary pupils inspectors might explore whether:
- pupils ever hear anyone use the word ‘gay’ when describing something, or whether they have been told by teachers that using the word ‘gay’, to mean something is rubbish, is wrong, scary or unpleasant and why it is wrong
- pupils ever get picked on by other children for not behaving like a ‘typical girl’ or a ‘typical boy’
- pupils have had any lessons about different types of families (single parent, living with grandparents, having step-parents, having two mums or two dads)
- pupils think if there is someone born a girl who would rather be a boy, or born a boy who would like to be a girl, they would feel safe at school and be included.
3. With secondary pupils inspectors might explore the above, and whether:
- there is any homophobic bullying, anti-gay derogatory language or name calling in school or on social media sites
- if a gay pupil was ‘out’ in school, that pupil would feel safe from bullying
- they have learned about homophobic/transphobic bullying and ways to stop it happening in school
- they learn in school about different types of families – whether anyone is, or would be, teased about having same-sex parents.
- there is any homophobic bullying or derogatory language about staff
- someone – pupil or teacher – who thought of themselves as the opposite gender, feels safe and free from bullying at school
4. With senior leaders, and when looking at documentary evidence, inspectors might explore:
- whether they are aware of any instances of homophobic or transphobic language in school, whether this is recorded and how it is acted upon
- whether there is any homophobic language used against staff
Equalities Act 2010
Both sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010, and, in the case of education provisions, states that all students are entitled to the same access of education:
The responsible body of such a school must not discriminate against a pupil -
(a) in the way it provides education for the pupil;
(b) in the way it affords the pupil access to a benefit, facility or service;
(c) by not providing education for the pupil;
(d) by not affording the pupil access to a benefit, facility or service;
(e) by excluding the pupil from the school;
(f) by subjecting the pupil to any other detriment.
Under the guidance of the Equalities Act:
1.10 It is unlawful to discriminate because of the sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender reassignment of another person with whom the pupil is associated. So, for example, a school must not discriminate by refusing to admit a pupil because one or more of their parents/guardians is a gay man, a lesbian or a trans person.
1.11 It is also unlawful to discriminate because of a characteristic which you think a person has, even if you are mistaken. So a teacher who consistently picks on a pupil for being gay will be discriminating because of sexual orientation whether or not the pupil is in fact gay.
2.7 Certain exceptions allow faith schools to conduct themselves in a way which is compatible with their religious ethos. However, the Equalities Act does not permit discrimination in relation to other protected characteristics: for example, a school with a religious character would be acting unlawfully if it refused to admit a child because they or their parents are gay.
*All names have been changed