The head of the Catholic Education Service has denied that educational institutions run by the church do not tackle homophobic bullying.

Oona Stannard, chief executive of the service, was responding to criticism from one of the UK’s major teaching unions.

At a conference in Birmingham at the weekend, Chris Keats, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolteachers and Union of Women Teachers, said church-run schools had not implemented government guidance.

Ministers have urged all schools to develop a policy on homophobic bullying. Ms Keats told the conference:

“The Catholic Church is abdicating its responsibility to look after the health and well-being of youngsters,” she said, according to christiantoday.com

“Their resistance to homophobic bullying policies fails to understand that young children, regardless of their sexuality, can be victims of homophobic bullying.

“They fail to see that it destroys children’s education and wider life chances.”

Ms Keats said that a fifth of pupils reported that they had been subject to homophobic bullying, regardless of their actual sexual orientation.

Ms Stannard said that Roman Catholic-run schools found all bullying intolerable, but did not specifically mention homophobia:

“What really matters is that schools should have anti-bullying policies which make absolutely clear to all concerned that any form of bullying is intolerable.

“Ms Keats should feel confident that the policies, pastoral care and other activities of a Catholic school do all that is possible to ensure that no young person is the target of a bully.”

A Roman Catholic Archbishop recently told a committee of MPs that having specific policies for homophobic bullying would create more paperwork.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols said that focusing on gay bullying would lead other “interest groups” to demand equal attention.