A conference in Ireland heard yesterday that many gay and lesbian teachers do not come out for fear that schools would be able to discriminate legally.

The country’s equality laws allow schools to make judgements about whether the personal lives of a teacher might clash with the “ethos” of the institution.

The annual conference of the Irish National Teachers Organisation heard other evidence about the extent of routine bulling and intimidation educators face from pupils and parents.

Delegate Kieran Griffin called for sexual orientation to be taught as part of the curriculum and a “new approach” the reality of gay lifestyles.

Teachers were worried that the section of the Equality Act that allows schools to discriminate against teachers ran contrary to the idea that they should be evaluated on the basis of their teaching only.

Mr Griffin attacked the secrecy around gay teachers, and asked why such teachers would not be allowed to bring their partners with them on school trips.

Other teachers bemoaned the use of the word “gay” as a term of playground abuse.

On the wider issue of teacher harassment, delegates called for tougher action on parents who bully teachers.