Report: The Schools OUT conference 2012 (part two)
The second in a two-part report of the 2012 Schools OUT conference, Educating OUT Prejudice through the LGBT Lens. Read part one here.
An inspector calls – at last
An especially encouraging note is the involvement of Ofsted for the first time in a SchoolsOUT conference, Janet Palmer, the National Adviser for Personal Social and Health Education on the curriculum explained how the Ofsted inspectorate is changing, and how it has responded to the Equality Act in their new framework, called a whole-school Section 5 Assessment that went into force in January 2012.
Ofsted, for the first time, will rigorously grade schools according to their record on tackling homophobia and transphobia and on creating an inclusive, accepting environment for LGBT people, who are at lasted listed in the framework guidance. LGBT issues are evaluated in the grade descriptors for behaviour and safety, to ensure action by the school. Inspectors will evaluate pupils’ behaviour towards and respect for other young people and adults including bullying and harassment. The new Assessment specifically spells out the types of bullying that can occur, such as cyber-bullying, and prejudiced-based bullying related to various minority groups.
The guidance lists a host of actions required to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying and includes the views of pupils. New pupil-teacher-parent questionnaires specifically mention homophobic bullying.
To achieve outstanding achievement, schools must prove that all groups of pupils feel safe at all times. The hidden nature of homophobic bullying, requires a sophisticated, sensitive approach to questioning pupils, to find out what’s really happening. It is so difficult for a young person to admit they are being bullied, because doing may come with the added burden of coming out.
Palmer added: “Once the bullying has occurred, it’s too late. To prevent it in the first place, we have to measure and seek improvements in all areas of school: the ethos, curriculum, management and leadership styles, even the displays among others.”
Schools will receive unsatisfactory grades overall if a significant minority of pupils show lack of respect and intolerance, even if it is directed towards just one minority group, and if pupils have little confidence in the schools’ ability to deal with bullying successfully.
Sadly, examples of poor practice are all too prevalent. On inspection tours, Palmer might ask groups of children if it was okay for a pupil to be out and gay. Suspicions are raised when she is told that there ‘none at this school’ or confronted with evasive silence.
A school is also judged by whether its pupils understand the impact of bullying on others and whether they actively challenge all forms of bullying. Outstanding grades go to schools where all children do so. A key indicator is the pupils’ attitudes towards prejudiced language. For instance, a school might clamp down on the term ‘gay’ as an insult, but if pupils cannot say why it’s wrong to utter the word, school has failed to promote understanding. It is not sustainable just having one or two teachers fighting for equality while others remain ambivalent.
Creating the safe environment depends fundamentally on empowering the teachers with the confidence and skills to discus sensitive and controversial issues. But teachers must be adequately trained if they are to tackle these issues head-on, and here lies the problem. The subject-specific training has not been available to teachers because PHSE is a non-statutory subject in the first place. However, ministers are in the middle of a thorough review of the curriculum. A white paper claims the new SRE curriculum will be informed by organisations such as Stonewall. “It will be a big step forward to have SRE that actually meets the needs of LGBT young people, and we are at the early stages of this,” added Palmer.
Palmer says that many schools are in breach of the Equalities Act because they omit to mention homophobia and transphobia in their policies. Bullying including prejudice based language is not consistently or effectively tackled.
Though she warns change won’t happen overnight and some inspectors will miss cases of homophobia and transphobia, many inspiring case studies and reports are coming though. Ofsted has launched a good practice website, with case studies of role-model schools including one of Stoke Newington.
Palmer sums up with a checklist to determine how well a school is tackling bullying. The starting point is acknowledgement of the problem. St. George’s boarding school in Harpenden earned praise for its efforts after its head and governors were motivated by their Christian duty to promote inclusion.
Promoting a positive social environment, in which different types of families are reflected. Traditional mothers’ and fathers’ day cards are bad examples!
Addressing staff training needs means TA, admin and supervisors too.
Age-appropriate information and support, must be there for families as well as children. Notice boards must provide support information for youth groups for young people who are not confident to ask for help.
Bringing in outside expertise and role models, for consultation or presentations is key as well. Former pupils who are LGBT, or their parents might give talks about the issues they face.
Furthermore, it is imperative never to make assumptions: most schools are very hetero-normative places to be. Palmer singled out a school that proudly announced it had started debating whether gay parents should be able to have children. Palmer’s reaction: if you had a class of mixed race children, would you be discussing whether it is OK for their children to exist, and for their families to be called legitimate? This can be devastating for a child to be subjected to such a debate. They are assuming that every child in front of them is heterosexual and from a traditional nuclear family.
This initiative by Ofsted will almost certainly put it at loggerheads with the Department of Education and hard-line religious lobby groups. Michael Gove has already ruled out making sex and relationship education compulsory, or ending parents’ right to withdraw. And what will it make of the country’s largest provider of schools, the Church of England? Now, it mussed be stressed, there are many faith schools that are doing an outstanding job in creating an accepting environment for LGBT people. But some aren’t, and the C of E hierarchy sees no problem in teaching the view that homosexuality ‘falls short of the ideal’ and that all pupils in its care should have the opportunity to examine the ‘full range of views, including Christian views’ before they reach their own considered opinion. This is cruel lunacy: there are some extreme views that children should be protected from. The Department for Education, for instance, specifically prevents schools teaching the ‘full range of views’ on Evolution, because evidence overwhelmingly says it happened, contrary to what some religious lobbyists and school academy trustees believe. For that matter, would we consider exposing black children to the BNP’s views on race relations? The overwhelming evidence says it is cruel and dangerous to intimidate LGBT pupils with ideas that their very nature is wrong. Let’s stop the double standards.
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It was particularly disappointing to hear Emma Reid, head of LGBT Equality in a panel at the LGBT History Month launch last November say that schools “can teach the Pope has a particular view on sexuality, but it cannot go on to say that you are wrong,” as if this made any difference. The Pope’s ‘particular view on sexuality’ of course, is that LGBT people are disordered and are called to live in life-long loveless celibacy. Janet will have face determined opposition, and she will need all the support she can get.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT reiterated the dire lack of training for teachers on this issue. “It’s perfectly clear that there isn’t proper initial teacher training, either through all of the subjects or just in a general sense. We are concerned in the change in initial teacher trainign to the idea of teaching schools. If you are in one of the schools that has fantastically good practice, that’s great. But there will be schools that become teaching schools and get outstanding in Ofsted, but miss some of the things we want them to do, like LGBT or disability needs.”
The NUT is launching a toolkit for use in schools, so they can understand what the equality duty is about. At Easter the NUT will launch a project with five primary schools on gender stereotyping in schools with literacy co-ordinators. “It’s an issue for everybody. Our primary schools need to have the resources, tools and skills to talk about this. Otherwise, gender stereotypes will run riot and we will have bullying.
Blower stated that sexual minorities are not visible enough within the union. Out of over 300,000 members, just 1500 members who identify as LGB and 114 as trans.
Blower said: “Their contact with the union may not be a safe place to tell us that information, or maybe there is a lack of confidence of being out at school. At an LGBT caucus at the last AGM, only one third of delegates admitted to being out. If it doesn’t feel safe for a teacher, it won’t be for the child there either. It shows the enormity of the task ahead of us.”
“We are not happy about the curriculum review. We don’t think there is enough emphasis on equality generally, we don’t think there is enough emphasis on how you can teach about the whole range of things that happen in our society, and how you make sure everyone is visible through the curriculum.”
A delegate offering diversity training to schools in a West Yorkshire LEA commented: “I was reassured to hear the Ofsted representative speak on LGBT issues. It’s been my feeling that the current government has been focusing on attainment and results at the expense of PSHE. So it has been difficult for people like me to get our resources into schools who don’t see the connection between the need for all pupils to feel safe and higher attainment.
We have had to become a traded resource and we are having to see services to schools that we formerly offered freely. SO far, schools are demanding English, maths and science consultants, while those of us in inclusion are increasingly regarded as unnecessary, especially by the Academies. But Ofsted are out there looking at what they are doing, so that gives me optimism.”