It has been fifteen years since the repeal of Section 28 in our Scottish schools, and across the country students are still facing homophobic and transphobic bullying in their learning communities.
Time for Inclusive Education (TIE), a campaign created by Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson, heads into the Scottish Parliament later this month to give evidence and to discuss their petition calling for statutory teaching of LGBTI+ issues and topics in the school curriculum. As a teacher and fellow campaigner for LGBTI+ rights in Education, I will be joining them during their visit to parliament and have come on board with the campaign to discuss the issues that we currently face in Scottish Education.
The new Curriculum for Excellence has detailed experiences and outcomes in the Health and Wellbeing curriculum regarding inclusive education – however, it has become apparent to me that this is a lottery depending on the school, local authority or teacher as to how or even if these issues are being taught.
Recent research has shown that a staggering 75% of primary and 44% of secondary teachers have stated that they either aren’t allowed to or aren’t sure if they are allowed to teach about LGBTI+ issues in their school. The Stonewall Scotland School Report makes fascinating reading – however, we need to remember that the statistics within the report are real and having long term effects on young people in our schools. Action is needed and it is needed now.
I took some time to find out what is actually happening around the country in relation to schools supporting LGBTI+ education. It is important to remember how schools work, and the profession has been under constant scrutiny in recent years – in terms of workload and change. I’m really passionate about equality and diversity in our classrooms and I was honoured to be recognised for my work in this area by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
We have a responsibility to the young people in front of us, regardless of our beliefs or opinions, to ensure that they feel safe, secure and can be authentic to who they are. It’s important that our teachers have the confidence to tackle LGBTI+ issues in the classroom.
So what is happening around the country? TIE have worked closely with Vale of Leven Academy’s LGBTI+ group which is based in West Dunbartonshire, and Jordan and Liam have visited the school to see how their group works as a possible model to take into other schools. Over in Edinburgh there is an LGBT Inclusion Alliance which features a group of secondary schools in the region. The groups based at George Heriots High School, Boroughmuir High School, Craigmount High School, Trinity Academy and Leith Academy have worked hard within their school community to improve the lives of their LGBTI+ members. All of the young people involved have displayed a great deal of courage, determination and drive to set up these Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) groups.
Over in Falkirk at Braes High School, students have also worked together with staff to create an equalities group. One student said Our group brings people together.’ Another student stated ‘It let me know that pupils and teachers are there for me and they will be 100% supportive and non-judgemental’. The teacher supporting the group, Janine White, said ‘Some kids feel really confused about who they are in terms of their sexuality and gender identities and this group allows them to explore, in a safe environment, with people who are knowledgeable and willing to help them’.
Down in Dumfries and Galloway, I was pleased to hear that the only faith school in the region, St Joseph’s College, is currently working towards their Bronze LGBT Youth Charter award. The Schools charter is a programme to support and guide schools and Education Authorities on their journey towards LGBTI+ equality and inclusion. Rowan Stewart, a teacher from St Joseph’s College said ‘I think it’s important to achieve the charter as I feel that LGBTI+ bullying is an issue not only amongst pupils but also staff. Anything that will make the school a more inclusive society is more than welcome.’
Back over in the West there is some exciting work happening in Glasgow with Bannerman High School setting up an equality group, and looking at a range of inclusive campaigns to work on. Knightswood Secondary School has an LGBTI+ curriculum in their Junior phase and Bellahouston Academy and Hollybrook Academy have already achieved their LGBT Charter Mark from LGBT Youth.
In North Ayrshire, students at Ardrossan Academy meet each week for their LGBTQ Group and as we go up North I am pleased to hear that Montrose Academy has now set up a GSA group too. The Highlands Council education authority has completed a study regarding the extent and impact of homophobic bullying in schools. The findings made for depressing reading, however the suggestions for the next steps asked the council to commit to reducing the incidence and impact of homophobic bullying in their schools, as well as seeking engagement with staff groups to explore these issues for teachers and other staff, and any barriers to tackling homophobic bullying as well as addressing it as a specific issue.
These are brilliant examples of how our schools can and should be an inclusive community to learn in. The task now, however, is to ask why this is not happening in every school, including faith schools, across the country.
John Naples-Campbell is a drama teacher and theatre director. He was presented with the first GTCS Professional Recognition Award for Equality and Diversity on account of his work on raising awareness of LGBTI issues.