A minority within a minority: SEND & LGBT+

Written by: Anna Feuchtwang | Published:
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive, National Children’s Bureau

The prejudice facing SEND students who are LGBT+ can be severe, says Anna Feuchtwang

Being a disabled child or having SEN can make school life difficult. But these difficulties can be significantly amplified for those children who also identify as LGBT+ (where the + denotes other gender or sexual identities such as intersex and asexual).

For this minority within a minority school can be a lonely and alienating experience – as one young person put it: “People think you can be disabled or LGBT but not both.” Simply being themselves can attract incredulity, prejudice or bullying.

More than half of children who identify as LGBT+ have been bullied because of their gender or sexuality. For SEND children there is an even greater risk. A UK survey of LGBT+ young people found that 66 per cent of SEND young people had experienced homophobic bullying compared to 55 per cent across the sample as a whole.

But what can schools do? To mark LGBT History Month this February, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) and Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH) has produced a set of dos and don’ts for staff and governors. Based on their work, here are my own four pieces of advice.

Challenge prejudice and celebrate difference

If we genuinely want to make a change then we need to tackle prejudice whenever and however it arises. Unfortunately the casual use of homophobic and disablist language is still commonplace in schools and wider society and it must be challenged. One pupil told the ABA: “It happens both ways. Whether you are gay or not, they say ‘you’re so gay’ ... then you hear people saying to gay people ‘you’re so retarded’.”

But schools should go even further and make it clear that the diversity of their pupils is cherished and that every child, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, faith, disability or SEN has the opportunity to thrive in the school environment.

Getting the curriculum and school policies right

PSHE should support pupils to have the knowledge, skills and attributes to recognise bullying and prejudice in all its forms, and encourage children to speak up to staff if they see it. Similarly, while every school should have an anti-bullying policy, this should specifically mention the added vulnerabilities of SEND and LGBT+ pupils. Finally, many of the young people that the ABA spoke to have complained that the sex and relationships education they received simply didn’t acknowledge LGBT+ or SEND young people, adding to feelings of marginalisation and exclusion.

A whole-school approach

Discrimination is everyone’s business and in a digital age bullying doesn’t stop at the school gates. It is important schools are loud and proud about taking a zero-tolerance approach. This means communicating your anti-bullying policy to parents and carers and the wider community and making sure that everyone knows you take a strong position on bullying, whether it takes place within school or online. It also includes giving all pupils in the school access to good quality sex and relationships education.

Listen

Staff should be alert to the attitudes and behaviours in their school community. Any student should feel supported to speak out and that theirs is a “listening school” where they can be sure their grievances are responded to. Pupils themselves can be part of the solution to discrimination, prejudice and bullying, and can be encouraged to set up their own support groups, which can feed into the school’s anti-bullying strategy.

Of course many teachers will have adopted these approaches, but others still resist change. Acknowledging the dual discrimination, bullying and marginalisation experienced by SEND children who identify as LGBT+ is the first step.

  • Anna Feuchtwang is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk

Further information

The ABA/EACH resources for schools are available from http://bit.ly/1oluKMP


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