‘Milestone’ plan could end postcode lottery for LGBT students

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
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With two in five LGBT pupils in Scottish schools never taught anything about LGBT issues, plans have been approved to offer a genuinely inclusive education. Sam Phipps reports

Campaigners and teachers have welcomed Scotland’s “milestone” plan to provide a genuinely inclusive and supportive education for all LGBTI pupils.

The proposals, approved by the Scottish government in November, are aimed at tackling the high levels of bullying, isolation and mental illness among thousands of LGBTI pupils and young people. The emphasis will be on training and resources, changes to the curriculum and improved recording and monitoring of incidents.

James Morton of campaign group Equality Network said conditions had improved for many young people in the last five years or so, but progress was patchy: “These changes should lead to really positive resources for schools so that all pupils feel included and engaged with the curriculum, and able to see a bright future for themselves, rather than feel at high risk of bullying.

“It will take a fair bit more time and effort but ultimately we want to make sure the picture is consistent across Scotland, not a postcode lottery.”

Full sweep

Education minister John Swinney announced last month that the SNP government had accepted all 33 recommendations in a report by the LGBTI Working Group.

Its members include LGBT Youth Scotland, the EIS, local authorities group Cosla, the Scottish Catholic Education Service, the TIE Campaign (Time for Inclusive Education), Education Scotland, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Key changes will be made to RSHPE lessons (relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, or PSE), where students will be taught about the range of sexual and gender identities in society, the lived reality and relationships of LGBTI people, the nature of bigotry they have faced and the history of social movements advocating equality.

This will be complemented by a range of measures to tackle homophobic bullying at a “whole school level”. New training and resources for teachers will also be made available.

There will also be a new regime of monitoring and school inspections to assess the impact of the new measures and consistency of implementation.

The demands represent huge progress for the Tie Campaign, whose petition to the Scottish Parliament was rejected in 2015 but who went on to create a nationwide consensus for the changes through teacher training, union solidarity, protests, lobbying and speaking with school students throughout Scotland.

Jordan Daly, co-founder of Tie, said three years of campaigning had paid off: “This means that all young people will learn about the LGBT community; their contributions to our society, the history of our equal rights movements, and the impact of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic prejudice and bullying,” he said.

Safer environment

Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, said: “We’re pleased to see proposals that will make sure every LGBT young person has an education that reflects and celebrates diversity.

“Our 2017 research shows that two in five LGBT pupils in Scottish schools are never taught anything about LGBT issues. These proposals pave the way for all young people to learn about lesbian, gay, bi and trans issues through age-appropriate lessons.”

In schools that do teach about LGBT issues, young people are more likely to feel welcomed, safe and accepted, he said.

“Schools that celebrate difference know this benefits the whole-school community, and signals to all pupils that they can be themselves.”

Megan Snedden, Stonewall Scotland’s campaigns, policy and research officer, said: “This is a milestone for the LGBT community.

“When I first came out back in 2012, LGBT people were taboo in my school, and when LGBT issues were spoken about, this was only done in a negative way. At that point, (the) announcement seemed a lifetime away. For me, the memory of high school is still all too raw, and I have carried these experiences with me in to my adult life.”

On her blog she cited improvements in recent years. Stonewall’s 2017 research, School Report Scotland, showed that since 2012, LGBT young people were less likely to be bullied for who they were and were more likely to be taught about LGBT issues.

“We know through our work with schools that there are many committed teachers across Scotland taking steps towards a more inclusive education for our young people. But we also know that in schools like mine, there is still progress to be made. Sadly, my experience is still all too familiar to many LGBT young people across Scotland.”

Question of resources

Stonewall found that half of LGBT young people – including seven in 10 trans young people – in Scotland were still bullied at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, Ms Snedden said.

“Alarmingly, one in four lesbian, gay and bi young people and two in five trans young people have tried to take their own life as a result.

“I know my school experience would have been significantly different had these proposals been in effect at the time. (This) announcement gives me hope for the next generation of LGBT young people in Scotland.”

Cara Spence, head of programmes at LGBT Youth Scotland, was delighted at the news but sounded a note of caution, saying it was too early to make “sweeping generalisations” about what the overhaul would mean in practice. “The reality is we won’t know until we see it in action over a long period.”

Martin Moonie, an English teacher at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, echoed her caveat. “We will need to see what quality of resources is put into it and how that is updated over time. If it is not renewed and refreshed regularly, then it could end up looking dated. So I do have certain reservations about how it will be implemented.

“But I wouldn’t want to be dismissive in any way. We’ve done something around racist abuse in many schools – that has slowly changed. At the moment there is homophobia and under-reporting of it, so these plans are potentially a great thing.”

  • Sam Phipps is a freelance education journalist.


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