A junior education minister defended the government’s new guidance on homophobic bullying at last weekend’s Schools OUT conference.

Kevin Brennan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, told an audience of around 100 who packed into London’s Drill Hall that the new guidance was a major step forward.

“While we cannot force a positive attitude through law or through a policy, however robust, you have to have an environment, and schools must promote an environment, based on respect,” he said.

“Teachers must be encouraged to teach social and emotional literacy among pupils, so they can better relate to their peers and respect people and respect difference and manage conflict.

“This kind of approach can have a huge impact in reducing bullying of all kinds.

“We will continue to drive our reforms to ensure that in any school, children can enjoy making the most of their talents without fear of bullying or prejudice.”

Mr Brennan was challenged about faith schools, both in terms of children and staff.

He stressed that while church doctrine may allow the teaching of the faith’s beliefs about homosexuality, no school had the right to harass or mistreat gay pupils.

“The tenets of those faiths teach that all sex outside marriage is unacceptable,” he said.

“What is not acceptable, which was something that came under discussion when were trying to develop homophobic guidance, is any idea that that should be broadly tolerated across the curriculum.”

Another delegate raised the lack of protection for trans people, while others raised the problems of sexism and homophobia in the staff room and the need for recording of homophobic bullying.

Schools OUT works towards equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in education.

It unveiled a new resource for LGBT young people and their family and friends at the conference as well as celebrating the launch of LGBT History Month 2008.

The Schools OUT ‘Student Toolkit’ takes the form of an interactive website covering five areas: climate of fear; abusive or offensive language; segregation, invisibility and lack of support; subject choices and safer sex.

The Toolkit offers information and model responses to young LGBT people and those questioning their identity.

It draws on legislation, guidance and research, and provides details of help lines, local groups and an anonymous email service.