A safe place for all: putting an end to discrimination against LGBTQ+ pupils

23 June 2021

Content warning: mentions of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and mental health issues.

As part of Pride month, Action Tutoring Communications Assistant, Phyllida Jacobs, investigates the extent of homophobia and transphobia in schools and explores what can be done in the classroom to challenge these prejudices.

School should be a welcoming place where everyone feels included and respected. Yet for many LGBTQ+ pupils, this is not the case.

Research by Stonewall found that nearly half of LGBTQ+ pupils are bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, with one in ten trans pupils being subjected to death threats at school. LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, and more likely to miss school due to bullying. Although this research also shows that the problem has slowly improved over the last ten years, there is clearly much more work to be done. 

Schools can play an important role in challenging homophobic and transphobic views that pupils may have picked up elsewhere. Many teachers work hard to challenge these prejudices when they arise. However, too often school can be a breeding ground for intolerance.

The discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ pupils in schools today can be traced back to the controversial Section 28. Between 1988 and 2003 (2000 in Scotland), this law prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local councils. As a result, schools stopped teaching LGBTQ+ issues and often did nothing to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying. A generation of LGBTQ+ people were raised in a culture of silence, where their very existence was denied. After years of campaigning, Section 28 was repealed, but its effects can still be felt today. 

It is now mandatory for schools to teach LGBTQ+ content as part of PSHE, yet two in five pupils report never being taught about these issues. The Department of Education guidance leaves it up to schools to decide how and when the content should be taught, allowing many schools to minimise or ignore LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom. 

It’s clear that more needs to be done to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, but in March 2020, the Government Equalities Office withdrew funding from LGBTQ+ anti-bullying projects. This must be seen as a worrying step backwards in the fight for LGBTQ+ inclusion in our schools. 

The strain of lockdown combined with recent negative media attention on trans issues has only made life harder for LGBTQ+ pupils. If we are to create a culture in which all young people feel safe to be themselves, urgent action is needed. Without proper funding for projects specifically addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and clear guidance on teaching LGBTQ+ issues, the great progress that has already been made will flounder.

Learn all about Stonewall’s campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusive education and how you can show your support here.

Reading for Pleasure

9 April 2020

We wanted to share this interesting blog from one of our team on ‘Reading for Pleasure’ which was drafted before the crisis. Reading is not only important for your own well being, but it can also help with a child’s academic attainment. During this time when schools are closed, we encourage all pupils to read as much as possible. 

The importance of reading for pleasure

According to an OECD report in 2002, a child’s educational attainment can be more clearly predicted by whether they read for enjoyment than it can be by looking at their socio-economic background. This startling fact partly reflects that those from disadvantaged backgrounds will have more limited access to books, for many reasons including local library closures and lack of school funding. However, it also shows that a targeted intervention in this area can have a wide-reaching positive impact on a child’s future.

Reading ability doesn’t just impact attainment in English. A recent article in Tes referred to literacy as a “magic bullet” in education, pointing out that reading is essential for pupils to be able to understand the wider curriculum. The benefits of reading for pleasure go far beyond academic attainment. Research by The Reading Agency found that reading for enjoyment is linked to increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and overall improved wellbeing.

So how can we encourage pupils to read for pleasure, rather than regarding it as extra homework? 

One simple answer is to let them see you reading for fun. Children are easily influenced by what they see the adults in their lives doing, for better or for worse. Modelling reading for pleasure helps to create a positive mindset in which reading is seen as a leisure activity like watching TV or playing a video game, rather than as a chore.

Allowing children to freely choose their own reading material is also crucial. While pupils in a class will all be expected to read the same texts, they should be encouraged to pursue their own tastes and interests in their wider reading. This might include blog posts or articles about a topic that interests them, or less traditional formats like graphic novels. Anything that gets them reading should be encouraged, even if it’s not something you would choose to read yourself. 

Action Tutoring recognises the huge importance of reading for pleasure, so ‘free reading’ activities are built into our primary English workbooks. Tutors are encouraged to spend ten minutes at the start of each session reading with their pupils in a relaxed way, without testing their comprehension of the text.

The benefits of reading for pleasure aren’t limited to children. Not only does taking time for reading set a great example for pupils, it can also boost your own wellbeing. As concerns about coronavirus spread and many of us are starting to feel cooped up at home, there is no better time to lose yourself in a good book.

If you would like to encourage disadvantaged pupils to read more, you can join our community of inspiring volunteers. Your contribution is incredibly important in lowering the attainment gap and making sure all children are given the academic support they need to succeed in school.