I have discussed with a number of you recently how we in DfES are reviewing action underway to tackle homophobia in schools. I am very grateful for the information and insights you have given me during these discussions. I thought it might be helpful now to provide a brief update of progress and to highlight some particular developments.
The overall approach we are taking is to position action to tackle homophobia in schools as an integral part of wider strategies to secure the safety and welfare of pupils, improve standards of attainment and attendance, and promote equality and diversity in the school workforce. In this context, we are clear that homophobia needs to be recognised explicitly and where necessary addressed as a specific issue.
We are looking to develop a concerted approach across the main strands of anti-bullying, teaching and learning the curriculum, and addressing workforce discrimination. This recognises that tackling homophobia is a whole school issue, and that each of these strands can contribute to a broader change in the underlying culture.
Recent action is highlighted below.
Tackling homophobic bullying in the context of the wider anti-bullying campaign.
The importance of recording instances of homophobic bullying was highlighted in advice on behaviour and attendance issued to all secondary and middle schools last Autumn.
We have now completed a series of nine regional anti-bullying conferences. These were attended by several thousand headteachers and senior school and LEA staff. The conferences have included workshops, exhibitions, presentations and discussions on recognising, tackling and preventing homophobic bullying. The contributions from Sue Sanders of School's Out and workshops led by the Health Development Agency and EACH have been well received. Now that the series has been completed, we will take stock and consider the next steps. Colleagues who have offered workshops and semi-plenary presentations at the conferences are being invited to an occasion with the Minister on 15 July to celebrate the success of the conferences as events and to look at next steps in anti-bullying work as a whole.
Detailed materials and training are currently being prepared to support secondary schools that have identified bullying as a key issue. The training and materials will include a clear focus on responding to and addressing homophobic bullying. A similar approach is being piloted for primary schools.
Further support and advice is available for 13 -19 year olds from the Connexions Service, which in January issued a guidance document to its Personal Advisers providing Information and Guidance on Engaging Young Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People.
Improving teaching and learning around issues of prejudice, discrimination and sexuality, particularly the context of the PSHE curriculum.
Training is being offered this year to up to 3000 teachers who cover personal, social and health education. This includes a module on the teaching of sex and relationships which includes personal identity, gender roles, sexuality, and sexual orientation. Initial interest in this training is high.
We have supported the National Children's Bureau in issuing practical guidance for schools on HIV/Aids. This sets out strategies and ideas for lessons across all four key stages, and includes addressing assumptions about sexual orientation; discussing and challenging racism, sexism, homophobia and other types of prejudice. LEAs particularly like the new clarity for primary and the breadth of the opportunities it offers across the curriculum. Some LEAs are going to use it for training.
Work is on-going to finalise the "Stand Up for Us" guidance booklet for schools being produced under the aegis of the National Healthy Schools Standard.
Publicising schools' responsibilities under the new employment legislation outlawing discrimination
We have included a summary of the recent legislation banning discrimination, harassment or victimisation of staff on grounds of sexual orientation, together with links to the ACAS web guidance for employers, in our May Newsletter to governors in all 23,000 schools in England. We are also updating the internet version of the Governors' Guide to the Law.
The legislation and related issues will also be highlighted in the June/July edition of Teachers Magazine which goes to all schools and direct to the homes of a large proportion of the 420,000 teachers in England. The feature will look at the implications for schools and the thousands of lesbian, gay and bisexual staff working in them. We are very grateful for the support given by many of your organisations in helping the journalist to compile this feature (a copy of the text to be published is attached). Copies of Teachers Magazine, with separate editions for primary and secondary schools, will be available for the wider LGB community on the DTI's Women and Equality Unit stall at the Pride event in London next month.
Initial guidance has also been made available by the local authority employers' organisation and we will continue to work with them closely.
Improving our evidence base
We commissioned the Thomas Coram Research Unit to undertake a desk study of available evidence of the extent and impact of homophobia in schools, and the effectiveness of measures to tackle it. We are grateful for contributions to this exercise from your various organisations. The researchers have now provided us with an early draft report which we hope will be ready to share more widely in July.
Communications and partnership working
In addition to the specifics mentioned above, we have recently added a new section on tackling homophobia in schools to the TeacherNet website which is available in all schools and receives many thousands of visits each month. This locates homophobic bullying as part of anti-bullying work, and thus part of the Department's drive to tackle all forms of bullying. It emphasises the importance of covering issues of sexual orientation in the wider curriculum around relationships. And it sets out clearly the provisions of the workforce legislation which came into force in December.
Guidance on the implications of the repeal of Section 28 has been drawn up and will be available to schools from a range of sources, and publicised in the Spectrum magazine which is sent to all schools.
Ministers from DfES and other Departments are using a range of opportunities to address the issue of homophobia in speeches, for example:
o Ivan Lewis has been speaking at all the Anti-Bullying Conferences
o Patricia Hewitt addressed the Stonewall Conference "Enduring Discrimination in Sexual Orientation in Employment" in March - and highlighted the attention now being given to tackling homophobia in schools as well as the workplace
o Stephen Twigg spoke at the launch in January of the Connexions Guidance to Personal Advisers on Engaging Young Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People. He will also be addressing a conference on tackling homophobic bullying in Haringey in July and an "After Section 28" national conference in Lincoln in October.
We intend to meet with the various school workforce unions and the General Teaching Council to discuss how we can work together more effectively with them on this issue.
We also want to meet again with your organisations to review the Thomas Coram work and discuss next steps.
I hope you find this a helpful update.
Deputy Director, School Workforce Unit