Nick Clegg called on schools to be more effective in tackling homophobic bullying in a speech at the annual Stonewall Education For All conference today.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats urged schools to realise the “unique role” they play in tackling homophobia and called for better monitoring of homophobic incidents as schools are responsible for teaching values to children who had been failed by their parents.
“Most parents do their very best for their children and seek to infuse them with good values and respect for others,” said Mr Clegg.
“But that is not always the case. There are parents who are careless, neglectful or cruel.
“And who do not teach their children the kind of values that we, as a society, expect of one another. That will always be the case. And I make no apology for saying that schools have a role in addressing and counter-balancing parental failure.
“That applies to homophobia and to homophobic bullying. A parent may be racist. But our schools still teach that racism is wrong. And it is their acknowledged duty to tackle it where it is manifest.
“Equally, a parent may be homophobic. Why is it that our schools have a higher threshold for tolerating homophobia in the school environment?”
Mr Clegg commented on how homophobic bullying impacts on pupils lives and “eats away at the confidence of gay people.”
“Half of young lesbian and gay people feel unable to be themselves at school, and seven out of ten who have experienced homophobic bullying feel that this impacts directly on their academic performance.
“Gay pupils have higher levels of truancy, drop-out, mental health problems, panic attacks and eating disorders.
“Worst of all, one survey has shown that half of LGB adults who were bullied at school contemplated self-harm or suicide. And four in ten had attempted it at least once.”
Mr Clegg commented on statistics from The School Report survey, conducted by Stonewall last year.
It found that more than two-thirds of young LGBT pupils have experienced homophobic bullying and one-third say that an adult in their school is responsible for the bullying.
Mr Clegg said that there are some teachers who do not tackle homophobic bullying as they feel unsure about whether they should intervene. He blamed this on the “shameful legacy of the Conservatives’ Section 28.”
He called for better monitoring of homophobic incidents.
“The Government should be made to face up to the true extent of homophobia in schools,” he said. ~
“Schools’ performance in recognising and tackling homophobia should be an assessed criterion in OFSTED school inspections.
“We need to turn the spotlight on every school, and expose prejudice where it exists.
“Having supportive, trained teachers to turn to should not be a matter of the luck of the draw for gay pupils. It should be available to every one of them.”
Mr Clegg called for teachers to be re-trained and taught about the various issues that young LGBT pupils have to deal with at school and at home.
“I also want to make sure that teachers are trained to be aware of the issues that confront young gay and lesbian pupils. So that they are able to give those pupils the care and understanding that they need.
“Often young LGB people will not know whether they can trust family or friends to react well or be supportive. Sometimes they will tell those closest to them only to have their trust betrayed.
“Too many young people still find themselves on the street when they tell their parents that they are gay. So it’s vital, vital, that teachers understand those difficulties.
“That they know how to advise, reassure and support gay or questioning pupils who come to them seeking help. All too often they simply don’t.”
Mr Clegg spoke at Pride London on Saturday.
His comments today on homophobia in schools chime with those of Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), at a union LGBT conference last week.
Mr Barber said that LGBT equality being taught as part of the school curriculum was the only way to fight homophobia in schools.