NEW guidance on preventing the bullying of LGBT pupils will help Church of England schools “to offer the Christian message of love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
In a foreword to the guidance, which cites hate crimes as evidence that pupils are leaving education “with attitudes that lead to illegal behaviour”, Archbishop Welby writes: “All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic [HBT] bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide. . .
“We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem. Church of England schools offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value.”
Published on Monday, the guidance — Valuing All God’s Children: Guidance for Church of England schools on challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying — is an update to that issued in 2014 (News, 16 May, 2014).
It says that “the context of education and the socio-political world in which we educate pupils to live and work has changed”. It says that, for many children and young people today, “LGBT rights are a non-issue”, and notes an increase both in the number of children and young people being referred to gender identity services and in children wishing to identify as other than their gender at birth.
“If any school is not educating pupils to understand the rights of all people to live freely within their sexual orientation or gender identity without discrimination they would be failing in their duty to prepare their pupils to live in modern Britain,” it says.
This year’s Stonewall School Report found a decrease in homophobic bullying, but also suggested that LGBT pupils attending faith schools were less likely to report that their school said that such bullying was wrong. “We need to ask questions within our Church schools to ensure that we are not turning a blind-eye to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia,” the guidance warns, noting that “many LGBT pupils do not feel supported at school”.
Instances of young people committing suicide because of bullying are cited, alongside Stonewall statistics suggesting that “84 per cent of trans young people and 61 per cent of lesbian, gay, and bi young people have self-harmed”, and that “45 per cent of trans young people and 22 per cent of lesbian, gay, and bi young people who aren’t trans have attempted to take their own life”.
The guidance also refers to instances of violence against LGBT young people, including the murder of Michael Causer from Liverpool, and a 2013 Stonewall survey on hate crime suggesting that 50 per cent of perpetrators were under 25. “This indicates that pupils are leaving education with attitudes that lead to illegal behaviour,” the guidance says.
The twelve recommendations include a suggestion that “in collective worship the importance of inclusivity and dignity and respect for all should be explored”, and that relationships and sex education should take LGBT people into account.
It acknowledges that within a school there may be “many different views” on gender and sexuality, and describes it as a “sensitive topic”. The existence of these views should be “acknowledged” in the Secondary Personal, Social, Health and Economic/RE curriculum, “and pupils should be equipped to handle discussion well in this area”. Teachers should consider hosting “a space where different views can be aired and honoured”.
It also states that school leaders should “present a clear message that HBT bullying will not be tolerated and that there can be no justification for this negative behaviour based on the Christian faith or the Bible”.
Guidance specifically for primary schools states that it would not be “appropriate” to “focus on any aspect of differing sexual practices”, warning that this would “serve to counter a primary school’s responsibility to safeguard the latency of childhood”. It says that pupils should be “equipped to accept difference of all varieties and be supported to accept their own gender identity or sexual orientation and that of others”.
It goes on to suggest that “play should be a hallmark of creative exploration. Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the firefighter’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self-imagining.
“Children should be afforded freedom from the expectation of permanence.They are in a ‘trying on’ stage of life, and not yet adult and so no labels need to be fixed.This should inform the language teachers use when they comment, praise or give instructions. It may be best to avoid labels and assumptions which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today’s play preferences.”
A section for secondary schools builds on this theme, suggesting that “young adults need to be offered the freedom that was afforded to the child in nursery of the metaphorical dressing up box of trying on identities without assumption or judgement”.
The guidance draws on several pieces of relevant legislation and regulation, noting that an “inflexible uniform policy that creates a particular difficulty for trans pupils” could fall foul of the Equality Act.
It notes that a 2015 YouGov poll found that 49 per cent of 18-24 year respondents regarded themselves as “other than 100 per cent heterosexual”.
“More than ever, pupils at this time in their lives need to be in a safe environment where exploring their identity can be done in safety without fear of ridicule and in a climate of truth, love and acceptance,” it concludes.