COMMENT: Schools must clamp down on homophobic bullying

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Kevin Brennan

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families.

Today is a watershed moment for education, as we unveil new guidance that will give schools detailed practical advice on how to deal with homophobic bullying for the first time.

This is something teachers have frequently called for and will help schools get to grips with an issue that has blighted too many young people’s lives.

Every pupil in our schools, indeed every person, has the right to be protected from bullying.

The guidance, which will be available for all schools, was created in conjunction with Stonewall and Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH).

They have used their experience to develop a range of resources to help teachers respond to cases of homophobic bullying and build a more inclusive, welcoming and respectful culture in schools.

As recent research makes clear, homophobic bullying is prevalent, with two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils saying they have experienced direct bullying.

It is therefore an issue we need all schools to take immediate and effective action to stop.

It’s vital that teachers develop the confidence and expertise to deal sensitively with both the victims and perpetrators of homophobic bullying.

We know many young people feel uncomfortable about reporting this kind of bullying for fear of being “outed,” so teachers need to approach the issue with great care and understanding.

Equally, it is often the case that the person doing the bullying needs education as well as punishment.

We know that teaching young people about inclusiveness, tolerance and respect helps to promote understanding and stop bullying.

This guidance gives a range of suggestions for how schools may use lessons to explore these issues in responsible, age sensitive ways.

Schools have a clear, legal duty to establish measures to prevent all forms of bullying, including homophobic bullying.

As well as supporting schools in meeting their duties, the guidance that we are publishing today sends a clear message that failure to tackle homophobic bullying is not an option.

But schools can only do so much. We must also address a wider culture within society that condones casual homophobia.

There was a time when casual racism was a staple of TV entertainment and on the football terraces.

Casual homophobic slurs in our popular culture must become equally outdated.

It is sickening, for instance, that some prominent entertainers still think they can get away with making revolting homophobic slurs.

This mentality has no place in our airwaves or in our society.

This is not a matter of political correctness.

What young people see on TV or read in the papers gets repeated a thousand-fold in the playground.

Casual homophobic language often isolates and upsets many pupils – whether gay or not – leaving them exposed to other forms of bullying down the line.

So while this new advice will give schools the skills and knowledge to tackle homophobic bullying at grass roots, we must all take steps to make sure homophobic attitudes become as abhorrent as racism in the popular consciousness.

Kevin Brennan is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families.

To view the government guidance on homophobic bullying click here.