If you are just starting to learn about and explore lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the issues that may arise within a primary classroom or just want to extend your knowledge further, there are hundreds of questions that you may have. This section contains just a few of the myths and misconceptions that are frequently overlooked or unknown and may help in encouraging a comfortable and diverse classroom.
Primary schools do not have to tackle LGBT issues.
Whilst primary schools are not currently required by law to explicitly cover LGBT issues within their teaching all schools are subject to the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty which stipulates that sex and sexual orientation are both protected characteristics. This means that there is a legal obligation to ensure that pupils are protected from discrimination relating to gender and sexual orientation and to address all forms of bullying, regardless of pupils’ age. Furthermore, the National Curriculum states that teachers are also governed by the equal opportunities legislation which includes sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment and by the Teachers’ Standards which demand teachers show tolerance, safeguard pupils and do not undermine British values. In addition, OFSTED inspections also involve assessment of the inclusivity of a school as well as exploring schools’ action to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying.
- OFSTED inspection briefing for exploring schools’ action to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying
- The Equality Act (2010)
- Public Sector Equality Duty guidance
LGBT issues are only relevant in secondary schools.
Whilst sex and relationships education is not mandatory until Key Stage 3 in schools teaching the National Curriculum, there is much evidence to suggest that LGBT issues are still relevant to primary aged children. As well as the possibility of primary-aged pupils identifying as LGBT, experiencing confusion over their identity, gender or feelings and using, hearing or being targeted with homophobic or transphobic language, there are also other aspects of LGBT education which are highly relevant to primary-aged pupils. For example, LGBT education also relates to the support and inclusion of LGBT parents, friends or family members and to recognising diversity and promoting tolerance in students. Both Department for Education and Stonewall research (see the links below) have identified that homophobic and transphobic language, behaviour and attitudes are evident in primary schools, thus suggesting that the discussion and tackling of LGBT issues is relevant in the primary school in terms of diversity and tolerance, if not in relation to Sex Education.
- Department for Education “Preventing and tackling bullying”
- Stonewall “The Teachers Report” – teachers’ perspectives on homophobic bullying in primary and secondary schools
- Stonewall “Different Families” – the experiences of children from LGB families
- Stonewall “Different Families Same Love” resources
- No Outsiders project - a research project which uses diverse children’s books to support LGBT equality, depict a range of families and tackle prejudice in the primary school.
Teachers are not allowed to discuss LGBT issues in school as this may be seen to promote LGBT lifestyles.
Much of the confusion around this idea appears to have stemmed from Section 28, a clause from the Local Government Act of 1998. Section 28 stated that councils were not allowed to support teaching which worked to “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” which led to confusion over the legal position of teachers and led to the development of the UK charity Stonewall. However, the article was officially removed from law on Thursday 18th September 2003 and never applied to individual schools or teachers, only to Local Authorities. All maintained schools are required by OFSTED to support inclusivity and diversity as well as to tackle bullying of any form, meaning that discussion of LGBT issues is highly likely in primary schools with the purpose being to support equality, generate understanding, value diversity and promote tolerance, not to promote, pressure or encourage children to follow any particular lifestyle. Such discussion may serve to present children with accurate and age-appropriate information about the world around them and the people they may meet, in the same way as would be done with any other subject/topic.
“If a school treats bullying which relates to a protected ground less seriously than other forms of bullying – for example dismissing complaints of homophobic bullying or failing to protect a transgender pupil against bullying by classmates – then it may be guilty of unlawful discrimination.” (Department for Education, 2014 – The Equality Act 2010 and schools)
- Section 28 and Stonewall
- The history and repeal of Section 28
- The Equality Act 2010 and schools - Departmental advice for school leaders, school staff, governing bodies and local authorities
Church schools do not have to tackle LGBT issues.
There are a wide variety of opinions that individuals tend to believe about faith schools, however it is important to consider that all schools have a duty to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying, including homophobic and transphobic bullying. The issues that arise within non-faith schools also happen in faith schools and will often need to be addressed in a similar way. It may prove difficult to do so with such a range of different faiths and backgrounds but the topic should not be avoided all together. A failure to acknowledge any issue within the classroom can have a negative impact on pupils, so it is important not to single out LGBT issues as this may in itself be a form of discrimination. It is important to remember that faith schools are bound by the Equality Act 2010, the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Teachers’ Standards in the same way as non-faith schools, with the same legal requirements for equality, inclusivity and the tackling of bullying. The most important factor in reducing homophobic and transphobic bullying is to acknowledge that it can and does occur in any school, including faith schools. Just like non-faith schools, many resources have been provided about LGBT in order to aid the teaching of any concerns that children have regarding the matter. In addition, it is also important to remember that, whilst some people of faith present anti-gay views, not all people and communities of faith share these views, as explored by Stonewall (see below), with many faith groups working to promote tolerance and respect.
- Guidance for Tackling Homophobia in Church of England Schools
- Tackling Homophobia in a Catholic Primary school article http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/05/15/primary-school-asks-stonewall-to-train-staff-to-handle-bullying/
- Stonewall “Working with Faith Communities”
- Stonewall “Love Thy Neighbour: What people of faith really think about homosexuality”
Primary school children are too young to be aware of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Similar to the teaching of sex education, some believe that children do not know/ understand about sexual relationships at such an early age. However, even from a young age children have a sense of self identity which can be a very confusing time for LGBT children if not dealt with appropriately. Furthermore, it is important to consider the role of “orientation” as well as “sex” within the term “sexual orientation,” with many LGBT people reporting that they were aware that they were different from their heterosexual peers long before they became aware of sexuality or adult relationships in the same way that many trans people expressed issues with their own identity before becoming aware of the concept of transition. Furthermore, research shows (see the links below) that some LGBT youth have already experienced same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria before the age of 10 (primary school age). As such, acceptance of pupils’ feelings and the development of a safe platform to discuss and explore their identities without being labelled or pressured in any direction plays an enormous role in allowing children to feel comfortable and safe in their own environment and supports the preparation of both LGBT and non-LGBT students for 21st century Britain, a highly diverse community. In addition, children, even of a young age, cannot be excluded from the internet and media in which LGBT issues are often topical and may prompt questions or confusing feelings from students. As such it becomes important to allow children to discuss these issues in a safe environment where questions can be asked and discussed at an age-appropriate level and in a situation where everyone is treated with dignity and respect so that pupils feel supported as they develop and explore their own individual identities, whoever they may be. If such issues are ignored then children who are still developing an understanding of who they are or those who do not understand the value of diversity may become isolated, feel misunderstood or alone, develop intolerance for others or may look for information and answers from biased, inaccurate or loaded sources which are much less trustworthy or age-appropriate.
- BBC iplayer (My Life: I am Leo) – A children’s television programme about a 13 year old transsexual boy who discusses his experiences of knowing he was transsexual from a very young age. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/cbbc/episode/b04q1295/my-life-series-6-1-i-am-leo
- A blog post entitled “Transgender children time to stop ignoring them” which provides an interesting insight to the issues faced by parents of transgender children. There are also links to helpful organisations at the end of the post. http://blueblairite.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/transgender-children-time-to-stop.html?showComment=1347659162500
- GIRE - the Gender Identity Research and Education Society focuses on issues of atypical gender identity development http://www.gires.org.uk/index.php
- The development of Sexual Orientation (US website).