Church schools urged to stamp out anti-gay bullying

16 May 2014

CHRIS COX / LAMBETH PALACE

Q&A: Archbishop Welby discusses how to tackle bullying with prefects from Trinity School, Lewisham

Q&A: Archbishop Welby discusses how to tackle bullying with prefects from Trinity School, Lewisham

CHURCH OF ENGLAND schools must adopt a "zero-tolerance approach" to homophobic bullying, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday.

Launching new guidance - Valuing All God's Children: Guidance for Church of England schools on challenging homophobic bullying - the Archbishop acknowledged the "complexity of combating homophobic bullying while still teaching the traditional Anglican view of marriage".

Writing in the i newspaper, he suggested that schools become "a space where different views can be shared and honoured. The point is that there is room for everyone in the tent, but there is no room for behaviours which cause harm to others."

The guidance was launched at Trinity, a Church of England secondary school in Lewisham, south London. It calls on schools to tackle "the derogatory use of the word 'gay'" and states that pupils who come out must be given "appropriate care and unequivocal support".

During his visit, the Archbishop discussed bullying with prefects at the school, who explained how it was tackled by pupils and staff.

A 15-year-old pupil, Ruby Tarrant, described being bullied "horribly" after coming out in Year Eight.

"It was really hard for me to tell anyone, because it was such a sensitive issue," she said. She later described being pushed down stairs and told to change in the showers rather than with the other girls.

She said, however, that "the school has come a long way, and has changed." After confiding in a teacher, she was given a mentor "who really helped me a lot with my confidence". Assemblies and workshops have since been held to tackle homophobic bullying.

"One of the most important things is to talk openly," she said.

The Archbishop wanted to know how pupils handled the fact that people disagreed on issues such as sexuality.

"When I came out, a lot of people said 'You will go to hell,' and things like that," Miss Tarrant said. "Of course you should be able to express your belief, but you have to make sure you are not offending anyone." She then spoke about one of her friends, who had helped her to set up the Hate Homophobia in Schools Campaign."He believes that homosexuality is wrong, but he disagrees more with homophobia because it is not about the person being gay but about the fact that a person, regardless of sexuality, is being victimised."

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After a round-table discussion, the Archbishop was asked whether the Church had contributed to homophobia through its teaching on relationships. "No sense of something being right or wrong justifies another wrong," he said. "So there is never a point at which - because you say a particular form of behaviour . . . is wrong - that that justifies you saying that it is OK to bully someone."

When asked why homophobic bullying was important to him, he replied: "seeing it happen, and being appalled by that". He said that he had seen it at his own school.

The plan to produce the guidance was formulated last year. In July, the Archbishop told the General Synod:

"The majority of the population . . . sometimes look at us, and see what they don't like. With nearly a million children educated in our schools, we not only must demonstrate a profound commitment to stamp out such stereotyping and bullying, but we must also take action" (News, 5 July).

In October, a survey completed by 48 church schools suggested that about 30 per cent did not have guidance on tackling homophobic bullying. A 2012 report by Stonewall suggested that, while half of lesbian, gay, and bisexual pupils reported that their schools said that homophobic bullying was wrong, this fell to 37 per cent in faith schools.

The new guidance was compiled by Katy Staples, schools adviser in the diocese of Bristol, with the help of other diocesan advisers. On Monday, the head of education at Stonewall, Luke Tryl, said: "This is a hugely welcome step forward by the Church. . . We look forward to working with church schools to help them implement the new guidance."

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, said: "Many in church schools will welcome this unambiguous guidance that will show all children are valued equally."

The chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Revd Sharon Ferguson, said: "The document talks about the acceptance of difference but it's very difficult to feel accepted when those around you believe you fall short of the ideal."

PINK NEWS was this week celebrating being the first gay publication to secure an interview with an Archbishop of Canterbury, writes Madeleine Davies.

Asked for a message for the LGBT community, Archbishop Welby said: "As you know, I have said, and got a fair amount of flak for it within parts of the Church, we have to accept, and quite rightly, that the same-sex marriage Act is law, and that it's right and proper, it's the law of the land, and that's great."

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He told Ben Cohen, the publisher of pinknews.co.uk, that homophobic language "shocks me and appals me and deeply depresses me. . . The Church has to learn from its past and to turn away from often using [homophobic] language in ways of expressing itself, which in the past have clearly put itself in that frame. I don't think we can deny that; history is too clear."

When asked whether he understood how gay clergy might feel about the Church's opposition to their marrying, he said: "I do understand. It's a really difficult and troubling situation."

On Wednesday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, praised the Archbishop for tackling homophobia. "I have great respect for his honesty," Mr Clegg told Pink News. "Justin Welby is right to denounce homophobia, be it here in the UK, or in other parts of the world."

He added: "Love is equal in the eyes of British law, but that right was hard won. We have to fight even harder for universal human rights, including LGBT freedoms, globally."

GUIDANCE FROM THE EDUCATION DIVISION

THE new guidance from the Archbishops' Council Education Division is comprehensive: 70 pages, which include sample anti-bullying policies and ten specific recommendations for primary and secondary schools.

The stated aim is "to protect pupils in Church of England schools from having their self-worth diminished and their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied because of their perceived/actual sexual orientation".

It reads: "At the heart of Christian distinctiveness in schools is an upholding of the worth of each person: all are Imago Dei - made in the image of God - and are loved unconditionally by God." It notes "tragic instances" of young people's taking their own lives because of homophobic bullying.

The guidance notes that, for many young people, homosexuality "is a non-issue, just a matter of fact".

There is a detailed exploration of the "complexity of combatting homophobic bullying whilst explaining traditional Anglican teachings about the sanctity of marriage and same-sex relationships".

The guidance refers three times to the "official Church of England teaching about the human sexual act . . . an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship and that homosexual acts fall short of this ideal".

It acknowledges: "Within the Anglican Communion there exists a wide spectrum of beliefs about this," and that it will be "a sensitive topic" in a school community.

It also says that it is "important to communicate clearly to pupils and families that holding traditional faith perspectives on sexuality is not counter to the school's aims and ethos, but that expressing hatred, negativity and hostility to another is unacceptable".

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The Ten Recommendations

1. Schools should ensure that their Christian ethos statement emphasises an inclusivity that welcomes all, and reveres and respects all members of the diverse community as individuals who are known and loved by God.

2. All school staff should be trained to recognise and understand how to challenge all types of bullying, including homophobic language and behaviour. They should also be trained to offer pastoral support in the context of the issues surrounding sexual identity and homophobic bullying.

3. Schools should ensure that their behaviour policies include clear expectations that homophobic behaviour and language will not be tolerated and that there can be no justification for this negative behaviour based on the Christian faith or the Bible.

4. In Collective Worship, themes and values that play a part in challenging bullying in all forms should be explored.

5. Opportunities should be offered for pupils to explore why some people seek to bully and that bullying can take the formof homophobic bullying. Strategies of how to protect yourselfand others from bullying should be taught, and pupils should be confident that if they report bullying it will be taken seriously.

6. Systems for monitoring and analysing incidents of bullying should include homophobic bullying as a category and the school should regularly review the effectiveness of its curriculum, strategies and ethos in this regard.

7. Governors should take responsibility for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of anti-bullying strategies and ensure that regular reports about bullying and wellbeing are part of the cycle of governors' meetings. On all governing bodies there will be a nominated lead governor on safety and behaviour which will include bullying.

8. Within the secondary phase sexual orientation is included as an aspect of Sex and Relationships Education, ensuring that the official Church of England view is taught clearly alongside other viewpoints held by Anglicans, other Christians, and different faith perspectives and world-views.

9. Anti-bullying procedures and outcomes should be included as a performance indicator of a Church school that is distinctive and effective and included in the SIAMS framework for inspection.

10. Diocesan Boards of Education and Diocesan Multi-Academy Trusts should monitor incidents of bullying in their schools and develop systems to monitor schools' strategies for inclusion and bullying, supporting effective implementation.

Read the guidance in full here

 

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