Schools secretary Ed Balls in crackdown on gay bullying

Jessica Geen July 6, 2009
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Schools secretary Ed Balls is to issue fresh guidance on how to deal with homophobic bullying in schools.

His department issued guidance on how to tackle the issue two years ago but is soon to publish advice on sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying.

Writing on the Labour List website, he cited the epidemic of children using the word ‘gay’ as an insult.

He wrote: “Even casual use of homophobic language in schools – such as the worryingly prevalent use of the word “gay” as a derogatory term – can create an atmosphere that isolates young people and can be the forerunner for more serious forms of bullying.

“Homophobic bullying creates an ugly climate of intimidation and can make it harder for young people to come out. ‘Whether it’s directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual young people, our guidance makes clear that such bullying should be challenged.

“The guidance makes clear that Section 28 was repealed in 2003 and is no longer law, and that there are no legal barriers to teachers discussing issues around sexual orientation in the classroom. And it provides advice on a number of topics including: challenging the use of the word “gay” as a derogatory term; working with pupils who bully and providing support to those who are being bullied; how teachers should respond if a pupil comes out; and preventing homophobic abuse within schools by ensuring proper reporting systems are in place and creating a climate where lesbian, gay and bisexual adults and students feel safe.”

He added: “Growing up can be challenging enough for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Being bullied and discriminated against at school as well can make life miserable and sometimes fearful, too.”

Last week, two gay charities attacked the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) for rewording a teachers’ code of conduct after faith groups complained they would have to “promote” homosexuality.

A section of the code designed to tackle discrimination was changed from “promoting equality and diversity” to “demonstrating respect for equality and diversity”.

The changes were made after hundreds of objections from faith groups, who felt the code would require Christian teachers to “promote beliefs and lifestyles at odds with their faith”.

Nigel Tart of Schools Out and David Christmas of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association told that the “weak” decision of the GTC should be changed.

Schools Out co-chair Sue Sanders told “We welcome the guidance for teachers that can be passed on to young people. However, guidance alone is not enough. What we need is statutory, mandatory equalities training for all teachers. It needs to be in all teacher training programmes and it needs to be in every school’s INSET training schedule for all existing teachers.

“To have people working with our youth who have no time to reflect and learn about the equality and diversity issues of this most diverse country is appalling. The perpetrators and victims of hate crime are mainly our young people. It is in our schools that we need to send out clear messages that confound negative stereotypes and prejudice. It is in our schools that we need to educate our young people appropriately about all our citizens.”

She added: “We will be launching LGBT History Month 2010 on the 19th November 2009 at the British Museum to enable teachers and educators to demonstrate how they have celebrated LGBT History Month. This will enable more educational establishments to celebrate the diversity and accomplishments of the LGBT community; thus helping eliminate prejudice.”

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