Colin MacFarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, talks to KaleidoScot and calls upon a concerted action to tackle LGBTI bullying in schools following a report published by his organisation that reveals how teachers feel unable to act to prevent it.
A new YouGov polling released on Monday by Stonewall Scotland shows that teachers are still failing to tackle homophobic bullying in Scotland’s schools.
The Teachers’ Report 2014 reveals that nine in ten primary school staff (89 per cent) and more than four in five secondary school staff (83 per cent) have not received any specific training on now to tackle homophobic bullying.
KaleidoScot: Tell us more about the poll you’ve published on Monday.
CM: Stonewall Scotland commissioned a YouGov a poll of teachers across the whole of the UK regarding their experience of tackling homophobic bullying, and the results published on Monday were the specific findings of Scottish teachers’ opinions.
The report make pressing reading: only 16 percent of Primary School teachers in Scotland have been trained to tacked LGBT bullying while 88 percent of Secondary School teachers report it in their schools and a third of teachers hear homophobic language from other school staff.
Clearly the legacy of Section 28 and 2A has cast a long shadow over our schools; 15 years after its repeal, a staggering 75 percent of Primary School teachers and 44 of Secondary School teachers were not sure if they were allowed to talk about LGBT issues in school.
KaleidoScot: What kind of impact does it have on LGBT youth, friends, family and teachers?
CM: The impact is huge.
According to our School Report published in 2012, 99% of students heard some form of homophobic language in their school, like you are “so gay”, or that’s “a gay thing to do” in a clearly negative manner which constitutes verbal violence.
This kind of language is the weapon of choice by young people to say to another that something is wrong with them or that they are rubbish.
And it can have a devastating impact: over a quarter of young people surveyed have a tendency to commit suicide, and over 50 percent self harm and over 70 percent said they considered dropping out of school.
And it has a real long term damaging effect on young people, their friends, families and teachers.
CM: Teachers also clearly are telling this to us, over 90% of them, say they understand they have a duty to tackle homophobic bullying in school.
But the real crux, wherein lays the problem, is that teachers feel they cannot talk about these issues, because they don’t think they are allowed.
Teachers also said that they don’t feel confident enough to talk about LGBT issues in schools.
What was also very clear from their responses is that they expressed the need for training, and want to feel confident to tackle LGBT bullying in the same way they already feel confident to tackle racism, or bullying focused on disability or gender.
In other words teachers are saying, we don’t feel confident talking about LGBT issues and we want to.
We have been listening to these demands and needs and have launched this year the “train the trainer” programme as an answer to specific teachers needs regarding LGBT bullying.
It enables us to go into schools to directly train teachers with the skills and resources that empower them to build up the confidence that they need and then they can go back to their schools and train other teachers.
The trained teachers become schools champions, with whom we work with to help them devise their schools’ policies and strategies and we are there to guide them through that process whenever they need us.
So what teachers are saying is that they need clear leadership within the school, guidance from Scottish Government and Local Authorities about what they can talk about regarding LGBT issues, and they need that explicit guidance and permission what they should be doing in the class room.
Local government, Scottish Government, schools, parents and other agencies like Education Scotland, all need to clearly state that teachers should and must tackle LGBT bullying and need support to do it.
KaleidoScot: So what can the Scottish Government specifically do?
CM: The Scottish government should have their anti-bullying guidance to explicitly state that schools must tackle LGBT bullying.
If you look at the guidance of Wales, for example, it’s about 34 pages long, and that’s just the specific section regarding LGBT bullying.
The current guidance of the Scottish government, however, looks at bullying as a whole, but doesn’t address specifically LGBT issues.
This means the issues gets somehow lost and translates to what teachers are saying: that they are far more confident to speak of and tackle bullying regarding race, gender and disability but not LGBT issues.
Therefore the Scottish Government needs to explicitly communicate its national policy and guidance in tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and ensure that all this material is accessible online.
It needs to be supporting LGBT people in Local Authorities schools and partner organisations.
Beyond this the government must take clear leadership on this issue and statements from all MSPs that LGBT bullying in our schools is unacceptable, that when people hear of it, they should call it out and not be bystanders.
We would like to see a consistent national approach to record and monitor LGBT bullying in schools.
We would like to work with local authorities, schools and other organisations to make sure this is implemented.
Teachers want guidance from government and local authorities and it must be backed up by showing leadership from the top.
We’ve got to clear that dark cloud of section 28 that hangs over our schools and the Scottish government must make this clear with explicit statements, and back it up with guidance and policies.
KaleidoScot: What kind of involvement can other organisations play in tacking LGBT bullying?
The EIS teaching union has a critical role to play to ensure that every teacher is supported and promoted when tackling LGBT bullying.
Education Scotland, the main inspection body, should assess all schools efforts to tackle LGBT bullying, in the curriculum including policies and monitoring staff practices.
They also need to communicate to schools the importance of tackling LGBT bullying and make the inception process far more specific to that end.
If you look, for example, at OFSTED in England, their inspection is very clear and specific on LGBT issues.
A similar strategy here in Scotland will make schools focus much more specifically on these issues
Local authorities need to communicate and ensure that policies and guidance regarding LGBT bullying are communicated to all schools.
Success and poor performance must be monitored by ensuring all school staff are supported in reporting incidents of LGBT bullying.
And this including providing guidance, recording and monitoring incidents and then challenging schools that fail to report LGBT bullying.
What we have at the moment is a real discrepancy between schools reporting and monitoring LGBT bullying and others not doing this at all.
What is really interesting is that we observed during our train the trainer sessions that almost all participating teachers said there was no reporting mechanism to tackle LGBT bullying, there is no specific guidance and that they don’t know if they should or can intervene or act.
We’ve got to change that so we can build a system picture about how big the scale of the problem is and what we could do to tackle it. All that we do is evidence based in Stonewall Scotland and we need to have this replicated on a national scale.
LGBT Youth Scotland is doing excellent youth work and outreach that tackles specifically such issues and we need to work closely together.
The feeling of teachers, that they can’t tackle LGBT bullying, is clear message for all civic society in Scotland and oganisations across the board to come together and tackle the issue.
This need is so that a young person going to school today or tomorrow doesn’t fear or suffer because of who they are.
That’s got to change and we have to tackle it all together.