LGBT education: Campaigners want mandatory duty for schools

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
The rainbow flag: While the work of some schools to tackle homophobic bullying has been praised, campaigners want to see a mandatory duty (Image: Adobe Stock)

With evidence of the extent of homophobia in Scotland’s schools and the lack of LGBT education, ministers are being urged to take action

LGBT campaigners, including MSPs and MPs, have stepped up efforts to ensure Scottish schools tackle homophobic bullying and make it mandatory to teach pupils about lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex issues.

In 2014, the government revised its Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) guidance to include LGBTI.

However, education minister John Swinney, who is also deputy first minister, has said it is up to the individual schools whether or not they cover these aspects in their classrooms – and most are not, according to researchers and campaigners.

MSPs, including Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson and Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, and the MP Mhairi Black, support a campaign for the teaching of LGBTI issues to be made mandatory amid widespread evidence of homophobic bullying and discrimination, by both pupils and teachers. Mental health problems, self-harm and, in the most extreme cases, suicide have followed among those teenagers affected.

A recent report by The Terence Higgins Trust, a charity that helps people affected by HIV and promotes sexual health, revealed that 95 per cent of young people they spoke to confirmed they did not have LGBTI education in school.
The trust spoke to around 1,000 people across the UK. Around 13 per cent of their respondents were from Scotland. Only two per cent rated the sexual health and relationship education they received as “excellent”, while 50 per cent rated it as “poor”.

Mr Swinney said the new guidance may “still be working its way through the system”.

“When it comes down to the wider understanding of LGBTI issues, we don’t have a curriculum which prescribes. We don’t have a curriculum where we say, oh we can just put that in,” he told the Sunday Herald.

“The Curriculum for Excellence is founded on the principle of teachers’ professionalism and teachers using their own judgement.” It is structured in such a fashion to equip young people to be responsible citizens, he added. “It has the facilities to embrace all of these messages.”

Asked if schools were compelled to teach the updated RSHP guidance, he said: “What I would accept is that guidance was put in place in 2014, so it may still be working its way through the education system.”

Tim Hopkins, director of Equality Network, a Scottish LGBT and human rights charity, said too many schools were failing to tackle homophobic bullying and provide a genuinely inclusive ethos for pupils and their families.

He added: “They need to do more to make pupils feel valued and recognised. At the moment there is not just a problem with bullying but also with invisibility, the sense that many young LGBT people are almost off the radar.

“A lot of teachers are even unsure of the law, even though Section 28 (which banned the ‘promotion’ of teaching around gay issues) was repealed more than 15 years ago,” Mr Hopkins said.

However, he added that some schools were on the right track and more teachers were gradually receiving training on LGBT issues.

“The best schools are those where everyone is recognised, so many will have, for example, an LGBT society and the school will publicise that for pupils.”

Last weekend, the annual Pride Glasgow festival centred around a call to stamp out discrimination in Scotland’s schools.

The theme backed the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign for a government commitment to mandatory teaching of LGBTI issues.

On the morning of the parade, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, recorded a message, saying: “I know the theme of this year’s event is inclusive education and that for the Scottish government is so important, making sure that education is a place where we challenge discrimination and allow everybody to flourish.”

Also, equalities secretary Angela Constance spoke at the Equality Network’s float, citing the event as an opportunity to show solidarity with the LGBTI community after the Florida atrocity. In June, 49 people were killed and dozens more injured in an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando.

However, Jordan Daly, co-founder of TIE, said the government was not doing enough: “Despite the rhetoric, the truth is that there is no requirement for schools to actually practise anything that has been outlined in the 2014 RSHP guidance and, without this key step, it is impossible to properly address the issues facing LGBTI learners.”

Leaving the delivery of such vital education to the discretion or judgement of individual institutions falls short, he said. “It only allows for particular parts of the guidance, namely LGBTI issues, to be dismissed by schools or faculty who do not think they should be discussed, regardless of what parents or pupils believe.”

Fergus McMillan, chief executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, said its work over the last 25 years showed that those who experienced discrimination and bullying at school were more likely to have poorer health and wellbeing, skip school and leave early.

“We don’t know what’s happening in every school but we are told regularly by LGBT young people from across Scotland that school needs to improve for them. I would certainly agree that more sharing of good practice needs to be done.”

Members of SNP Youth are also siding with the campaigners. A spokesperson said: “We need an education system that is a safe, equal and accepting environment for all of Scotland’s young people.”


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