Education secretary Michael Gove has said that the government will work with gay and anti-bullying charities to tackle homophobia in schools.

A white paper on education released yesterday said that homophobic bullying was on the rise and schools must take it seriously.

It said two-thirds of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils are bullied because of their sexuality, while straight students are often subjected to anti-gay abuse too.

The white paper added: “Schools should take incidents of prejudice-based bullying especially seriously. It is important that they educate children about the differences between different groups of people and create a culture of respect and understanding.”

It cited a Christian school in Hertfordshire, St George’s Church of England school, which claims to have seen “near elimination of overt homophobia” through staff training on how to tackle the issue.

The document says that the government will “reduce unnecessary prescription and bureaucracy” and ensure that headteachers “feel empowered to do what they think is right”.

Mr Gove said yesterday that “political leaders and all of society” must tackle the “growing prejudice” of anti-gay harassment in schools.

Responding to a question from out gay Tory MP Iain Stewart, he said: “Homophobic bullying is on the rise in our schools, and homophobic terms are increasingly used towards gay students and straight students in a way that seeks to undermine the tolerance that we have built up over the past 15 years.

“We therefore need to work with organisations such as Stonewall and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, and to shine the light on schools such as St George’s Church of England school, which has done a fantastic job in tackling homophobic bullying.

“This requires work not only by school leaders but by political leaders and all of society to tackle a growing prejudice that is scarring our tolerant society.”

A Stonewall spokesman told PinkNews.co.uk: “We’re delighted that, after some years of discussion, both the nature of different families and homophobic bullying feature in the white paper.

“This is a hugely important step forward. We’ll continue to work with ministers, Ofsted and others until all schools are tackling the prejudice-based bullying which still blights the lives of too many young people.”

Last year, prime minister David Cameron apologised for his party’s previous support of Section 28, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools.