Scotland's schools are making encouraging progress in embracing LGBTI inclusive education- but they must do better
If Scotland’s schools were marked on their performance in addressing LGBTI issues among their staff and young people, they would probably score a pass, but they certainly wouldn’t yet make the top grade.
Discrimination still exists, though there is a general consensus that things are getting better. The will and enthusiasm within Scottish education to deal with equality challenges – homophobia, bullying, feelings of loneliness and isolation, poor achievement and so on – is there.
The problem is that a culture cannot be altered overnight. Positive change has happened and continues to happen, but there is a recognition that this is a process rather than an event. Creating an education system which fully values LGBTI pupils and responds to their issues and concerns needs care, sensitivity, planning – and time.
No-one can seriously doubt that the backing for positive change is there from our politicians and government. The Scottish Parliament is the first in Europe to indicate support for LGBTI-inclusive education, with a majority of MSPs having signed up to a pledge to make this happen, as well as 12 MPs and two peers.
The pledge campaign has been organised by TIE (Time for Inclusive Education), a lobbying group which has spent the last two years lobbying for laws requiring schools to be proactive in tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia issues.
Things are better in terms of school engaging with the right organisations, but they're still in the minority
TIE also wants to see a teacher training programme free at the point of access that focuses on LGBTI matters, either via Continuing Professional Development or – in the case of student trainee teachers – through Initial Teacher Education.
Other proposed steps backed by TIE include LGBTI curriculum inclusion in individual subject areas; mandated inclusive Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education; accessible materials; recording of LGBTI bullying; and monitoring of school inclusivity performance and data.
A working group has been set up to make suggestions over the framework for future legislation and it is hoped this will conclude its report next year.
Jordan Daly, who is TIE’s co-founder, explains: “We want legislation compelling all schools to comply with LGBTI-inclusive education. There is no problem about the principle – the Scottish Government is working with us – but there are still a lot of things that need to be ironed out. We want to do it right.”
Jordan points out that, historically, the educational system in Scotland has not been conducive to supporting LGBTI learners until relatively recently. The infamous Section 28, which made it illegal for teachers to promote homosexuality in the classroom, was repealed 17 years ago, but he adds that no real effort has been made to fill the vacuum.
“Section 28 created a culture of silence through a fear of prosecution, and we are still living with the legacy of that. Things are better now in terms of schools engaging with the right organisations, but they’re still in the minority. The vast majority of them still just don’t think it’s an issue or know where to start.”
As I'm gay myself, I understood the issues the young people were telling me about, and I felt something had to happen
Another organisation which is deeply involved with campaigning for change is LGBT Youth Scotland, a national body working with schools and young people to overcome bullying, discrimination and bigotry and to create more inclusive learning environments.
A report published in 2012, which has recently been updated, revealed that nearly 70 per cent of all LGBT respondents had suffered from bullying in schools. In the case of transphobic bullying, this rose to nearly 77 per cent. A total of 45 per cent of those who replied said that homophobia, biphobia or transphobia was something that affected their education negatively, Some 10 per cent had left education as a result of this. More than 14 per cent of young people left education as a result of bullying, rising to over 42 per cent in the case of transphobia.
Cara Spence, who is LGBT Youth Scotland’s Senior Programmes and Influencing Manager, says that the report showed that while more young people were coming out, teachers lacked the confidence, skills and knowledge to be able to support them directly.
“We are inundated with requests and have trained 1,200 practicing teachers in the last year. It’s good that schools are asking for this, but it’s the ethos which we need to address rather than just responding by dealing with incidents.”
One of the organisation’s big successes has been its Charter programme, which is available to schools at bronze, silver and gold level and is designed to provide support and guidance.
The charter helps them with their policy, practice and legal obligations and helps to validate their antibullying policies, training and provision of information. So far, about 50 schools have signed up, including Stranraer Academy and Moffat Academy in Dumfries and Galloway; Currie Community High School in Edinburgh; Montrose Academy, Angus; Broxburn Academy, West Lothian; and Craigie High School in Dundee.
“We also have more LGBT and allies’ groups being set up in schools,” Cara continues. “That is giving pupils the access to support and allowing them to ask how they might help their schools become more inclusive.
“There are now more than 100 of these groups across Scotland and it’s a real sign of a changed culture. We can give guidance to schools on setting them up effectively.”
Good practice is happening, she says, and more young people are coming out, which is clearly encouraging. “The main challenge is consistency – the quality of provision varies from school to school. We believe that LGBT people should enjoy a good, inclusive learning environment regardless of individual institution or geography.
“Teachers who feel they could do with more support should get in contact with us. We have a range of resources for them including guidance documents and lesson plans, and we can talk them through completing the charter.”
One school which has completed this to bronze level – the first in Angus to do so – is the 850-pupil Montrose Academy. Maths teacher Ian Hardie has been involved in its inclusivity programme from the start and remains heavily committed.
“In order to get charter status, we had to do things like evaluating and updating our LGBTI policies to make them more explicit. We also had to conduct staff training to ensure that teachers were aware of issues such as using exclusive language and how to handle a situation,” he says.
“In addition, we have an allies’ group, a safe space run by teaching staff, including me. If the kids need advice, are being bullied or want someone to talk to, it acts as a forum.”
Links have been built with other schools across the region and there is a weekly meeting in Arbroath which is particularly helpful to pupils in more rural areas who may feel particularly isolated or alone in dealing with LGBTI issues.
The process of working towards charter status at Montrose Academy began when a group of pupils started work on an equality project and sought the help of LGBT Youth Scotland. “As I’m gay myself, I understood the issues the young people were telling me about, and I felt something had to happen.”
The school plans to work its way to gold level. “It has been an easy change for most members of the teaching and support staff. We’ve let people adapt and I think we’ve actually moved forward at a good speed. “We’ve done well, though we’ve not been overwhelmed. The young people are keen to take part and they somehow seem to have more life and energy as a result. They know we will support them and they are happy with that.”
The charter, Ian says, has been “brilliant” and the training received from LGBT Youth Scotland first class. “Every school will deal with things in a different way, but I’d certainly encourage them to take this route.”
BULLYING REPORT “WAKE-UP CALL” FOR SCOTLAND
Homophobia has eased slightly in Scotland’s schools, but it remains a major issue and many LGBT young people still face bullying, according to a new report.
Research by the charity Stonewall Scotland reveals that those aged between 11 to 19 living north of the border are more likely to receive homophobic abuse than their counterparts across the UK.
A total of 63 per cent say they hear homophobic slurs regularly or often in Scotland compared to just 50 per cent in the rest of Britain.
The study also found that 48 per cent of LGBT young people and 71 per cent of trans young people are being bullied for who they are.
Some 96 per cent of trans youngsters have deliberately harmed themselves. In the case of lesbian, gay and bi young people, the figure is 58 per cent.
More than two in five trans young people in Scotland (43 per cent) have attempted to take their own life, and one in four lesbian, gay and bi students who aren’t trans (24 per cent) have done the same.
The report also found that nearly 1 in 20 LGBT young people in Scotland are subjected to death threats.
Two in five are never taught anything about LGBT issues in school, with just one in five taught about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships.
Half of LGBT young people are still bullied for who they are
Colin Macfarlane, Stonewall Scotland’s Director, said: “Over the last five years we have worked with hundreds of schools to combat anti-LGBT bullying and create inclusive learning environments for all our young people.
“Our school years are one of the most formative periods of our lives, and we owe it to young LGBT people to ensure that they don’t face discrimination or bullying because of who they are, but are supported to flourish and achieve.”
He added: “While our new school report shows some modest improvements for LGBT pupils it quite clearly demonstrates how far we still have to go.
“Half of LGBT young people in Scotland are still bullied for who they are, affecting their wellbeing and their education. Worryingly, the majority of trans young people experience bullying, exclusion and poor mental health. They must not be left behind.
“This report needs to act as a wake-up call for schools, local authorities, government and politicians to ensure that all schools are equipped to support LGBT young people, and that teachers understand their needs.”
The study, which interviewed more than 400 LGBT young people in Scotland, was conducted in partnership with the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge.
It can be read in full at: