Posted in bullying, education, Gender stereotypes, relationships, sex and relationship education, Uncategorized

‘It’s okay to be gay’

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.

This is what many of us grew up being told, but the reality of the matter is far different. What may seem like playful jibes and youthful banter can actually have a dark and damaging effect on the person at the receiving end.

Schools are hotspots for bullying, in particular for homophobic, transphobic and biphobic abuse; with 95 percent of pupils reporting that they hear the word ‘gay’ being used as an insult or with negative connotations.[1]

In this modern age, you would have thought that homophobic slurs died out with the dinosaurs and that it is only the people living in the past who share these views – but the truth is startling. In fact, in the three months following the Brexit vote, the number of homophobic attacks in the UK actually rose by 147 percent.[2] To say we are a modernised country living in the 21st century, the number of hate crimes which occur due to society’s attitude towards people who do not conform to gender norms is shockingly high.

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Always at the forefront of a battle, teachers are often tasked with the challenge of addressing homophobic bullying amongst young people, with the aim of reducing the number of gender-related hate crimes which occur in future years.

One man who has been a victim of homophobic abuse himself, and is now trying to tackle the problem amongst children, is openly gay primary school teacher, Kai Fison.

Growing up, Kai was like many young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people – confused, embarrassed and harassed, with no one to turn to. The Derbyshire-based Reception teacher explained that: “I was bullied severely at school, and for a long time I felt ashamed of who I was and that I was gay…these experiences impacted my relationships with friends. I wasn’t able to be honest with them and I felt like I had to hide who I was.

“I think if I had received support when I was younger and was shown that I had someone fighting for me, and showing me that I wasn’t alone or I wasn’t strange, things may have been different.”

Using his personal experiences with coming to terms with his sexuality, Kai can relate to what many youngsters may be going through and he uses this insight to help support pupils who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity.

“I feel that teachers being open and honest about their sexuality allows children to see that it’s okay to be gay…by having that open dialogue with children and allowing them to see that gay people are all around, and actually people that you may not suspect, is vital to their wellbeing.

“It allows LGBT pupils to have a voice and a person to turn to who may have been in a similar situation, and most importantly provides healthy role models.”

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Nonetheless, Kai further explained that many teachers are not able to act as positive role models for LGBT pupils as they are not appropriately equipped with knowledge regarding LGBT issues. This could be the reason that only 28 percent of pupils feel that homophobic language and abuse is dealt with well in their school, with as little as 13 percent saying that reporting homophobic bullying actually resulted in any actions being taken to prevent future incidents (LGBT Foundation, 2017).

Research undertaken by Stonewall, a leading organisation campaigning for the equality of LGBT people in Britain, supports this view – revealing that 80 percent of secondary school teachers have not received specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying.[3]

Kai added: “I think that teachers need to be able to deal with children who may be having a hard time coming to terms with their sexuality. They need to have an understanding of the types of feelings children may be going through.”

So, how are teachers expected to reduce instances of homophobic, transphobic and biphobic abuse and offer effective support for LGBT pupils if they do not fully understand the problem themselves?

Organisations such as the Proud Trust have been trying to improve this, through working with young people and schools to raise awareness of the LGBT community, in order to create a more accepting and open environment.

We spoke to the Strategic Director of the Proud Trust, Amelia Lee, who said: “The Proud Trust, along with colleagues at Schools OUT, are very much about working towards whole school approaches of LGBT inclusion, which prevent bullying and negative attitudes from taking root in schools.

“Based on the NatCen research into combating homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools, we have created, in partnership with DISC, Allsorts and The Kite Trust, a robust and comprehensive quality assurance scheme for schools to support their whole school approach. This is known as the Rainbow Flag Award.”

The Rainbow Flag Award provides schools with a process for measuring how well they are providing a safe and supportive environment for LGBT pupils, raising awareness of how a whole school approach can be taken.

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The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, coming up on the 17th May, provides schools with a perfect opportunity to implement a whole school approach and raise awareness of the kind of abuse that many members of the LGBT community experience on a day-to-day basis.

With 53 percent of young LGBT people saying they are not taught anything about LGBT issues at school (Stonewall, 2015), it is not really surprising that homophobic language is rife amongst young people. Therefore, the dedicated day on the 17th May can be utilised to ensure that pupils are aware that whatever sexuality or gender they identify with, it is acceptable; as well as reinforcing that judging someone and bullying them based on their sexuality or gender identity is not acceptable.

Kai explains that he is “constantly reinforcing the view that it is okay to be different” by challenging anything he hears that “promotes negative stereotypes about LGBT people or gender itself”, and he urges other teachers to do the same.

Talking of the importance of teaching children about not having to conform to gender norms, Kai said: “I feel that children are socialised into believing that being gay is wrong or unnatural. They should be given all the facts and then allowed to form an opinion based on that.

“I think in terms oNoHomoGlo3f bullying there should be a no tolerance policy – bullying of any kind is wrong and needs to be stopped. Children need to learn that being unkind to anyone for any reason is not right.”

The fact that 58 percent of pupils believe that their school is not a safe and welcoming place for LGBT pupils (LGBT Foundation, 2017) is a sad statistic in this day and age. It only highlights the current problem within schools and the importance of utilising the 17th May to not only raise awareness of LGBT issues, but to also ensure pupils are aware of the support available to them.

To help schools better understand the experiences of LGBT pupils and help them to provide effective support to pupils questioning their sexuality or gender identity, we have created a LGBT Policy which can be utilised in order to create an accepting and welcoming environment for young LGBT people.

[1] LGBT Foundation (2017) ‘Facts and figures’, <http://lgbt.foundation/About-us/media/facts-and-figures/> [Accessed: 19 April 2017]

[2] The Guardian (2016) ‘Homophobic attacks in UK rose 147% in three months after Brexit vote’, <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/08/homophobic-attacks-double-after-brexit-vote> [Accessed: 27 April 2017]

[3] Stonewall (2015) ‘Secondary schools’, <http://www.stonewall.org.uk/get-involved/education/secondary-schools> [Accessed: 2 May 2017]

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Posted in education, relationships

Sex and relationship ed: do we need to grow up?

According to a Commons Women and Equalities Committee report, sexual harassment and abuse of girls are too often accepted as part of daily life. The report has warned that some pupils, including those in primary school, are being exposed to hardcore pornography, and that the images they see are affecting their views of sex and relationships. Continue reading “Sex and relationship ed: do we need to grow up?”

Posted in relationships, Uncategorized

Racism isn’t reserved for the old anymore

On the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, just hours after it had been announced that the UK had voted in favour of leaving the European Union, 60 civil servants had gathered at the Treasury to listen to an important talk.

Westminster, still stunned by the UK’s decision to change the course of history, congregated to listen to Carol Dweck – a psychologist who has become famous for her ‘growth mindset’ theory.

The growth mindset theory is a general belief that one can improve oneself through effort. Continue reading “Racism isn’t reserved for the old anymore”

Posted in relationships, Uncategorized

Sexism in schools: A misrepresented issue

When Dr Mary Bousted, the General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, spoke out early this year about sexist bullying in school that prevents girls participating fully in the classroom, there were several issues that she failed to touch upon.

Dr Bousted stated that girls often feel they have to decide between being attractive or clever because of sexist name calling in schools, and that there are multiple pressures on girls to be thin, attractive and compliant, making bright girls feel unfeminine. Continue reading “Sexism in schools: A misrepresented issue”

Posted in curriculum, education, leadership, learning, opinion, policy, relationships, schools, teaching, training

Elly’s Guidance on LGBT Inclusion in School – Part 2

Following on from our last post, Elly now goes on to talk about exactly what Ofsted inspectors will be looking for in terms of LGBT discriminatory behaviour and policies during inspection.

It is essential that governing bodies take note of the following guidelines to ensure that their school or academy is in the best possible position to meet and exceed expectations the next time that Ofsted undertakes an inspection.

When assessing primary schools, inspectors will be looking to see whether:

  1. Pupils ever hear anyone use the word ‘gay’ when describing something or whether they have been told by teachers that using the word ‘gay’ to mean something is wrong, scary or unpleasant.
  2. Pupils ever get picked on by other children for not behaving like a ‘typical girl’ or a ‘typical boy’.
  3. Pupils have had any lessons about different families (single parent, living with grandparents, having step-parents, having two mums or two dads).
  4. Pupils think if there is someone born a girl who would rather be a boy, or born a boy who would like to be a girl, they would feel safe at school and be included.

When assessing secondary schools, inspectors might explore the above, but also ask whether:

  1. There is any homophobic bullying, anti-gay derogatory language or name calling in school or on social media sites.
  2. If a gay pupil was ‘out’ in school, that pupil would feel safe from bullying, they have learned about homophobic/transphobic bullying and ways to stop it happening in school.
  3. Pupils learn in school about different types of families, including whether anyone is, or would be, teased about having same-sex parents.
  4. There is any homophobic bullying or derogatory language about a pupil or teacher who thought of themselves as the opposite gender and whether they feel safe and free from bullying at school.

With senior leaders, and when looking at documentary evidence, inspectors might explore:

  1. Whether they are aware of any instances of homophobic or transphobic language in school, whether this is recorded and how it is acted upon, or whether there is any homophobic language used against staff.
  1. Whether the school’s bullying and safeguarding policies and equality objectives address gender identity and sexuality.

With governors inspectors might explore:

  1. How the school meets its statutory duty to prevent all forms of prejudice-based bullying, including homophobia and transphobia.
  2. Whether they are aware of any homophobic/transphobic bullying or language in school and whether incidents are followed up effectively,
  3. How they ensure that sexuality and gender equality are covered within the school’s behaviour guidelines and policies.

What’s next?

Every change must start from within.

Whether you are a school governor or a headteacher, the above criteria should emanate from staff and pupils through their own behaviour and actions i.e. making sure that everyone in our school communities refrains from using derogatory words and phrases that may cause offence amongst people that identify as LGBT.

You might also consider undertaking a comprehensive audit of the school’s policies, procedures, curriculum, environment and working practices to see how they measure up to the requirements. Steps should then be taken to bridge the gaps towards creating a fully inclusive school.

The approaches used in ‘Educate and Celebrate’ have been recognised by Ofsted as ‘best practice’ for taking a whole-school approach to tackling homophobic bullying and ingrained attitudes in the education sector.

The ‘Educate and Celebrate’ program is available to all schools, local authorities and workplaces to eradicate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in line with Ofsted criteria and the Equality Act 2010.

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For help, advice, consultation and training please contact elly@ellybarnes.com.

Posted in Alternative Provision, curriculum, education, Free School Meals, Funding, leadership, learning, opinion, policy, relationships, schools, SEND, teaching, Uncategorized

Working to reduce bullying and minimising negative consequences when it occurs – Part 2

On Monday, Dr. Bob Sproson, Director of Education at the Red Balloon Learning Centre, discussed how to identify children that are at risk of bullying and how a school might support them on site. Dr. Sproson now concludes this fantastic article by exploring how a school might support the most severely bullied children at alternative educational providers such as Red Balloon and how to access funding.

Alternative Provision:

It is rare that issues cannot be resolved ‘in situ’ and the student, therefore, continue to attend their school. In extremis, however, the trauma undergone by the student is such that continued attendance is genuinely impossible for her/him  (at least the fear generated by it is too great for her/him to contemplate). In some cases an agreed / arranged transfer to another school may provide an answer; occasionally the fear is simply ‘of school’, thus a transfer, or, as is often offered, attendance at on onsite unit, cannot be the solution – temporarily, school is not an option.

In such cases the student retains their right to full time education and an appropriate alternative provider should be sought.

Red Balloon is the only current provider offering high quality academic provision alongside a wellbeing programme that aims to re-build the student’s self image and provide them with the interpersonal skills and the positive self esteem necessary to re-access mainstream school.

Red Balloon offers this both through attendance at its ‘actual’ centres and through its online learning service (Red Balloon of the Air) – the latter is growing almost daily. Any contact regarding provision that can be made available should be made to local centres where appropriate:

or to the Red Balloon Central Office where a local centre is not accessible.

Funding advice:

Simply because of its size (appropriate alternative provision for this purpose needs to be very small and to offer bespoke curriculum opportunities), alternative provision is considerably more expensive per capita than mainstream schooling.

The intention of an alternative provider will always be to re-access mainstream provision; placement duration might vary between one and five terms. In terms of the longer term cost of ‘failure to provide’ (both in terms of cost to the state should the student never re-access education and become dependent upon the state, and in terms of potential compensation to be paid by the local authority or school for such failure), the short term cost is money very well invested. It remains the responsibility of all local authorities to ensure that all students access full time appropriate education.

Schools might access funding through:

  • Per capita allocation AWPU or core funding;
  • Pro rata allocation of other funding streams / grants provided to the school;
  • Pupil premium;
  • AP funding – in certain authorities las have devolved funding to individual schools or school clusters;
  • LACSEG – received by academies to enable them to fund provision that previously would have been funded through the LA;
  • Delegated SEN funding – all schools now receive some baseline funding for SEN students… students who self exclude following bullying have a temporary ‘special need’.

Returning to my initial notion of schools as communities. Martin Buber (Ich und Du – I and Thou, 1933) argued that once people are viewed as objects / statistics, then ‘empathy erosion’ and lack of care occur – does the drive to collect data and meet targets cast students as objects, thus de-humanising them from the school’s perspective?

Simon Baron-Cohen develops this view and argues that, “empathy occurs when we suspend our single minded focus of attention, and instead adopt a double minded focus of attention”. Another way of explaining Baron-Cohen’s notion is that any just or moral person or society must always embrace the view of ‘the other’ at the same time as their/its own. If students are taught to do this, it becomes almost inconceivable that they might bully others; if school staff can maintain this ‘double minded focus of attention’, they can work effectively with the bullies and the bullied.

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