Does the DfEE SRE Guidance 2000 meet the Equality Duty 2011?

Thirteen years ago the 2000 the government published the Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) guidance (DfEE 2000).  In 2013 the government restated that this SRE guidance document was still in force when it published the outcomes of the PSHE review (Truss, 2013). The table below outlines the key areas where sexuality is referred to within that document, a brief analysis of key words for the document the underpinning legal framework to SRE.    This document preceded the repeal of Section 28 and hence several times throughout the document “It is not about promotion of sexual orientation- this would be inappropriate teaching” is mentioned (Highlighted in Red in the table below).

What does “promotion of sexual orientation” even mean? Not about promoting one identity over another? The inference that many teachers would take from this is you shouldn’t talk about different sexual identities, but perhaps you could interpret it as you should not promote heterosexuality as superior to other sexual identities? Is this really appropriate for a guidance document that teachers and schools are expected to pay due regard too in 2013? I think not!

Since 2011 Public Bodies including DfE are required to comply with the new equality duty which places an obligation on public authorities to positively promote equality, not merely to avoid discrimination on protected characteristics including sexual orientation.  Does the statement “it is not about promotion of sexual orientation- that would be inappropriate teaching” repeated throughout the document mean they are clearly not meeting their legal duties in 2013 by expecting teachers and schools to follow this guidance? I’m not a lawyer- what do you think?

 The DfEE (2000) Sex and Relationships Guidance Document. Key aspects relating to Sexuality and challenging homophobia.
Key aspects of the text  Page 5 of SRE Guidance“What is sex and relationship education? It is lifelong learning about physical, moral and emotional development. It is about the understanding of the importance of marriage for family life, stable and loving relationships, respect, love and care. It is also about the teaching of sex, sexuality, and sexual health. It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity – this would be inappropriate teaching.”        
Page 11 of SRE GuidanceRelationships “Within the context of talking about relationships, children should be taught about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children. The Government recognises that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage. Therefore, children should learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society. Teaching in this area needs to be sensitive so as not to stigmatise children on the basis of their home circumstances.”
Page 12 & 13 of SRE Guidance“Sexual identity and sexual orientation It is up to schools to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation.


Sexual orientation and what is taught in schools is an area of concern for some parents. Schools that liaise closely with parents when developing their sex and relationship education policy and programme should be able to reassure parents of the content of the programme and the context in which it will be presented.


Schools need to be able to deal with homophobic bullying. Guidance issued by the Department (Social Inclusion: Pupil Support Circular 10/99) dealt with the unacceptability of and emotional distress and harm caused by bullying in whatever form – be it racial, as a result of a pupil’s appearance, related to sexual orientation or for any other reason.”

(N.B this has now been superceded by Education and Inspections Act 2006 and Equalities act 2010)

Page 19 of SRE GuidanceSRE within PSHE in Primary Schools Expects pupils to

“developing good relationships and respecting differences between people.”


Page 20 of SRE GuidanceSRE within PSHE In Secondary Schools Expects pupils to:

“be aware of their sexuality and understand human sexuality”

Page 25 of SRE Guidance

Parents need support in:

  • “answering questions about growing up, having babies, feeling attraction, sexuality, sex, contraception, relationships and sexual health.”
Page 27 of SRE Guidance

Youth Workers:

 “It is inappropriate for youth workers, as with any professional, to promote sexual orientation. They will be expected to respect this guidance when dealing with school age children. Individual views should not affect the independent advice given to the young person concerned.”

Page 27 of SRE Guidance

Peer Education:

“Particular life experiences of the educators can help young people understand how sex and relationships can affect people positively and negatively. Examples


  • young teenage mothers talking about their experiences of having a child and offering advice and support to their peers;
  • young Asian women talking about their experience of learning about sex and relationships at home and from the wider community including school;
  • young people talking about their experience of living with HIV; and
  • young people who are physically disabled talking to other young people with a disability.”

Note the complete omission of people who are LGBT as possible educators.

Page 31 of SRE Guidance


The section on confidentiality at the end of the document  does not clarify that a young persons developing sexual orientation is NOT a child protection issue. I know of cases of LGB students engaged in consensual sexual relationships both over the age of consent have been referred to child protection leads which should not have been.

Analysis of the use of key terms Overview of key terms used

Homophobia appears 0 times in the document.

Sexuality appears 9 times in the document

Sexual Orientation 7 times in the document

Heterosexual, Homosexual, Straight, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgender do not appear at all as terms in the document.

Prejudice appears twice in the document

Equality or Discrimination do not appear as terms in the document.

Bullying appears three times in the document, one of those mentions being “homophobic bullying”

Underpinning Legislation to this document(adapted from FPA,2011 and SEF, 2011) Legal framework for SRE

Legislation relating to sex and relationships education (SRE) are contained within the Education Act (1996) and the Learning and Skills Act (2000).

The Education Act 1996 consolidated all previous legislation, and key points related to SRE are:

  • It is compulsory for all maintained schools to teach some parts of sex education i.e. the

biological aspects of puberty, reproduction and the spread of viruses. These topics are

statutory parts of the National Curriculum Science which must be taught to all pupils of

primary and secondary age.

  • Secondary schools are required to provide an SRE programme which includes (as a minimum) information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.
  • Other elements of personal, social and health education (PSHE), including SRE, are non-statutory.
  • All schools must provide, and make available for inspection, an up-to-date policy describing the content and organisation of SRE outside of national curriculum science. This is the school governors’ responsibility.
  • Primary schools should have a policy statement that describes the SRE provided or gives a statement of the decision not to provide SRE.

The Learning and Skills Act 2000 requires that:

  • young people learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and bringing up children.
  • young people are protected from teaching and materials which are inappropriate, having regard to the age and the religious and cultural background of the pupils concerned.
  • school governing bodies have regard for the SRE guidance.
  • parents have the right to withdraw their child from all or part of SRE provided outside national curriculum science.

* N.B. Schools are also legally required to comply with the new Equality Duty. The Act also makes it unlawful for the responsible body of a school to discriminate against, harass or victimise a pupil or potential pupil in relation to admissions, the way it provides education for pupils, provision of pupil access to any benefit, facility or service, or by excluding a pupil or subjecting them to any other detriment. In England and Wales the Act applies to all maintained and independent schools, including Academies and Free Schools, and maintained and non-maintained special schools. (SEF, 2011)

 The Equality Act 2010 covers the way the curriculum is delivered, as schools and other education providers must ensure that issues are taught in a way that does not subject pupils to discrimination. It is also a legal requirement for schools to teach a balanced view of any political issue. Schools must ensure equal opportunities in the education they provide, so it would not be lawful for schools to provide SRE only for girls or only for boys. An example of good practice given in guidance for education providers on the Equality Act (EHRC,2010)  is that PSHE education should cover  equality and diversity based subjects including gender equality and non-violent, respectful relationships between women and men.

As the SRE Guidance does stateYoung people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs…. teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support.” & “Schools need to be able to deal with homophobic bullying”.  The legal duty for teachers/schools to combat all forms of bullying is now enshrined in the Education Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2010 

Therefore regardless of what the SRE Guidance says about “promotion of sexual orientation” (whatever that even means!?)- schools and teachers can and should talk about sexual and gender identity and challenge all forms of bullying and discrimination.

Why set up a SO What squad

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the fourth of six posts.

Taken from from Stonewall’s School Report which can be viewed here (N.B Stonewall have produced an updated 2012 version of the school report- here)

Homophobia in Schools

Homophobic bullying is almost epidemic inBritain’s schools. Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying.

Even if gay pupils are not directly experiencing bullying, they are learning in an environment where homophobic language and comments are commonplace. Ninety eight per cent of young gay people hear the phrases “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” in school, and over four fifths hear such comments often or frequently.

Ninety seven per cent of pupils hear other insulting homophobic remarks, such as “poof”, “dyke”, “rug-muncher”, “queer” and “bender”. Over seven in ten gay pupils hear those phrases used often or frequently. Less than a quarter (23 per cent) of young gay people have been told that homophobic bullying is wrong in their school. In schools that have said homophobic bullying is wrong, gay young people are 60 per cent more likely not to have been bullied.

Over half of lesbian and gay pupils don’t feel able to be themselves at school. Thirty five per cent of gay pupils do not feel safe or accepted at school.

Why set up a So What Squad?

  • This culture of homophobia and discrimination needs to be challenged and LGBT young people need a safe space in schools. This can be achieved by setting up a So What Squad- with a sample mission statement of; “The So What squad aims to promote acceptance and education of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) issues and eliminate ignorance and discrimination as well as provide a safe space for LGBT students”




Sample initial letter for school newsletters about tackling homophobia

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the third of  six posts.

Below is a letter I sent out in the school newletter about tackling homophobia at our school and informing parents of the existence of the SoWhat Squad. I was expecting some parental backlash given our parents. I never heard a negative comment. It was brilliant! Feel free to amend adapt for your parents.

Anti-Bullying work at XXXX

XXXXX is actively working on an anti-bullying project to update our anti-bullying policy and to raise awareness of bullying and its unacceptability. We’re combating all forms of bullying, and wish to educate pupils on specific issues one by one. We’ve chosen initially to specifically focus on homophobic bullying because we’ve observed a significant number of incidents in the school and schools now have a legal duty to ensure homophobic bullying is dealt with (Education and Inspections Act 2006).

Homophobic language such as “that’s so gay” has now become commonplace and this is propagating a culture of homophobia within schools. Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) pupils will have experienced direct bullying within school however in schools that have said homophobic bullying is wrong, LGB young people are 60 per cent less likely to have been bullied.

As a school we have adopted the stance that homophobic bullying is unacceptable in our school. We are also establishing a zero-tolerance approach to homophobia and homophobic language. Since we started this we have noted a reduction in the use of homophobic language and a raised student awareness of its unacceptability. We are also developing curriculum opportunities within PSHE and Citizenship that examine this issue. In addition a student group has been established to help combat discrimination amongst peers and to provide a safe space for LGB students at the school.

If you would like to find out more please visit the school website where further information about homophobic bullying is available or contact the following members of staff who have been working on this project: XXXX XXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX

Eight steps to setting up a SO What squad

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the second of six posts.

1. Get Senior management on board. You can’t do this without them!

2. Once you have the okay from SLT. Get teachers on board- mention what you intend to in staff briefings etc. Find a supportive network of teachers who want to help (they don’t have to give any time commitment but knowing they are also on your side will really help you feel not like you have undertaken a David and Goliath task!)

3. Mention you want to set up a SoWhat Squad in every lesson and ask if students are interested in joining- ask them to tell their friends. Get your supportive teachers to mention it to their form groups etc. Get it announced in assembly. Once you have a list of a few students who want to attend set up an initial meeting to brainstorm what the group will look like.

4. Initial meeting- discuss what the group aims to do- our group came up with this one:

“The So What Squad aims to promote acceptance and education of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) issues and eliminate ignorance and discrimination as well as provide a safe space for LGBT students”

Yours doesn’t have to be the same- make sure the group own it! If it will help invite an outside person in from Stonewall or School’s out to help you with the first meeting and planning.

5. Plan your meetings- what activities will you do? What time and where will meetings be held? (consider a time and place that meets the students needs- we found friday after school in a tucked away classroom to be the best as some students were worried about being “outed” if they were seen attending. In fact I had one student who came every week for “detention” with me just so he could attend the meetings. He was a fairly good kid so it was a stretch but it was important to provide him with that cover so he could still attend the safe space. Even to the other kids in the group he was in “detention” to them until he felt more comfortable.

6. Launch the group- advertise via posters, assembly announcements, school counsellor referrals, word of mouth. Also send a letter home in the newsletter to inform parents about the group (you can see a sample letter I wrote here.)

7. Have fun! There are so many different ideas and activities your group can try out. We did logo design, badge making, campaigning, eating biscuits and gossiping and all sorts. It was brilliant.

8. Ensure sustainability- how will you get the group to keep going if you leave the school, or the students leave (many of our group were in the 6th form).

Any questions? Email Sexedukation at

S.O.What Squad- setting up an LGBT support group

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I wanted to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the first of six posts.

The So What Squad (Sexual Orientation Whatever)* was set up in 2008 in a North London secondary school. A teacher at the school was leading on a project to tackle homophobia and as part of that work worked with a group of students to set up the group.

The groups name, logo, mission statement and aims were all developed by the students themselves. Their aim was to challenge discrimination and homophobia/transphobia and provide a safe space for any LGBT students within the school. In fact several students felt so comfortable as a result of the group that they were able to come out to family and friends which was a massive step for them and all of them reported it was a very positive one. The group absolutely was not only for LGBT students (whole point was Sexual Orientation- Whatever!- So what!? It really didn’t matter in the group*). As a result of the group and the campaigns run within the school there was a marked reduction in the previous homophobic/transphobic language and bullying that seemed commonplace.

This post was started in response to watching Jamie- Drag Queen at 16 shown on BBC3 recently as it showed how his school were not dealing very well at all with Jamie’s wish to go to his prom in a dress. (And it was incredibly touching how his peers supported him in the end!). Although sadly all the founding members of the SoWhat squad have moved on from the school and as far as we know it isn’t running in the same capacity at the school any more, we hope that these posts will help inspire and support other schools in creating safe spaces for LGBT students and challenging the endemic culture of homophobia and transphobia that exists in our schools.

These posts aim to support other young people, teachers, youth workers, parents or anyone else in setting up a SoWhatSquad in their school. You are welcome to use any of our materials or use our ideas to develop your own stuff. We’d love to know how you get on please email sexedukation at (Also feel free to email any specific issues or questions and we will do our best to answer them and if appropriate use them to write blogposts to support other people!)

* A note about the SO What- standing for “Sexual Orientation Whatever”, the group was inclusive although on reflection our name could be seen as excluding the transgendered community, this was absolutely not intentional. The name was developed by the students as they loved the notion of “So What!? As in it really doesn’t/shouldn’t matter! but perhaps a more fitting name might be “student orientation whatever” or something. Most importantly the name should fit your group- so if “So What” as a name doesn’t work for you- choose another that does!

An open letter to Matthew Offord MP re. same sex marriage, teachers and schools

Dear Matthew Offord,

I was genuinely shocked to read your response to Nick Lansley’s partner about same sex marriage, as it seems you are suffering from some very basic misconceptions about how schools and how sex and relationships education should work. As I am not one of your constituents I thought I would write an open response to you on my blog.

Before I go into your problematic response about schools I need to ask you about your statements:

“It is my strong personal, moral and religious belief that the institution of marriage is to provide the foundation of a stable relationship in which those two people of the opposite sex procreate and raise a child. That is physically not possible for same-sex couples so I don’t see the point of introducing a law to allow this”

Can I just ask you where you stand on opposite sex couples who are infertile? Who don’t ever want children? Who marry past the age of menopause? Should they still have the legal right to marry? Based on your statements I would assume you would be campaigning for an end to marriage in these cases, or do they get an exemption because they are heterosexual?

In your letter you stated:

“In regard to education, Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 places a legal requirement on schools to teach children about “the importance of marriage”. If marriage is redefined, schools will have no choice but to give children equivalent teaching on same sex marriage, even those children of a very young age, including those at primary school.”

Can I ask you exactly what you think is wrong about that? The 1996 law is sixteen years old and needs updating as does the whole of the legislation and guidance relating to Sex and Relationships Education. We currently only have the 2000 DfE SRE guidance (twelve years out of date) and we are still waiting on the outcomes from the PSHE review. Both the law and guidance pre-dates the Section 28 Legislation (which only actually ever applied to local authorities not schools directly) and also needs to be updated in light of that. There is no mention of civil partnerships in the guidance for example. I absolutely agree with you that teaching about marriage is very important, but I would argue that teaching about equality, tolerance and respect is even more so.

What exactly is your issue with primary school children talking about same sex marriage? Are you falling for the classic ignorant assumption that discussing sexual orientation means you also have to talk about sexuality and sexual activity? You really can separate the two out you know- talking about gay marriage to primary school children does not mean you have to talk about “gay sex” at all. (By the way the concept of “gay sex” is erroneous anyway. Being a sex and relationships educator I do feel I have to point out that the spectrum of sexual activity is NOT confined to one particular sexual orientation. Any sexual activity you can think of can be carried out whether you are in a same sex or opposite sex relationship.)

Alternatively are your worries that talking about same sex marriage to primary school children might make them gay? I have worked with young people for 12 years now, let me tell you that talking to young people about different sexual orientations DOES NOT MAKE THEM GAY. What it absolutely does do is make them more tolerant, respectful and understanding of people’s differences. Can I ask you if you think it is acceptable for a young person to be bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation? To live in constant fear of persecution by people who don’t understand them? One of my proudest teaching and learning moments was covering a lesson on homophobia with a class, a boy with strong faith views shouted out “I WANT TO KILL ALL GAYS” he was angry and convinced this was a course of action they deserved. By the end of the lessons he came to me and said “Miss, I still don’t like it and neither does my faith, but I get what you mean now about not being mean to someone because of it.” For him that was the most monumental shift, and he was a violent angry young man, I have absolutely no doubt that he would be the type to beat someone up for acting “gay” whether or not they actually were. I strongly believe widespread teaching of such lessons would go a huge way in reducing incidences of homophobic bullying and violence. Surely you agree that a reduction in hate crime is a good thing?

Your letter makes it clear you are a man of faith however all major religions teach tolerance and respect and you absolutely can teach about different sexual orientations in a way that does not conflict with faith views. What you seemed to be advocating was that schools be absolutely silent on the issue of sexual orientation, which can only lead to more bullying and violence against individuals who may or may not turn out to be gay but they are perceived to be “different”.

Thanks to addressing issues of homophobia within my previous school, a girl who had previously contemplating drastic steps because of her sexual orientation, had the confidence to confide in me she was a lesbian and from there was able to come out to her mum. Her mum later said to me “I’m glad that she could talk to someone when she couldn’t face me with it, and I’m grateful and relieved that the school were there to support her, without the support who knows what she could have done.” I made a difference to that girl’s life and since then I have devoted my teaching career to supporting young people and the people that work with them around issues in Sex & Relationships Education. It is not over the top to say it really can save lives. Thankfully schools now have a moral and legal duty (see Equality Act 2010) to support all students regardless of ability, gender, sexual orientation, race or religion, and when given the opportunities they do this very well indeed.

You asked “So what will happen to parents who because of religious, or philosophical beliefs take their children out of lessons? ” I also would very much like an answer to that. Parents currently have the right to opt out of Sex and relationships education lessons (but less than 1% do). I would argue that young people should all have an entitlement to sex and relationships education lessons- and if it is not provided by the school then I would expect parents to provide it including teaching about different sexual orientations. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual (LGB) people EXIST, parents simply cannot deny that. They have existed for more than the 2000 years you are glad that “homophobia” has been enshrined for. Well you actually called your homophobic beliefs “views” you stated:-

“Discriminated against and persecuted because they hold views that have been enshrined in our laws and have been the cornerstone of our society for two thousand years.”.

Can you please give me a “for instance” where someone with “views” such as yours has been “persecuted or discriminated against” to the same level as someone who is LGB (or Transgender). Has your stance in life ever led to Verbal abuse? Violent assaults? Being disowned? Murder? Suicide? No? Then please do not be so insulting as to be speaking from a position of privilege and claiming the same level of victimisation. Because it simply IS NOT TRUE.

Your letter asked:

And what of the teachers who object to teaching about same sex marriage. Will they face disciplinary action? How will it affect their careers?

Currently all teachers are expected to have the ability to teach Sex & Relationships Education. It is enshrined in QTS 21 of the Qualified Teacher Standards (although this is likely to change following the current review of teacher skills requirements). However thankfully many schools only ask for teachers willing to cover such topics to cover them, usually they will get additional training for this. This is important. I strongly believe no teacher should ever be forced to teach a subject they are not comfortable or trained in. All teachers are expected to uphold the law and school policies. This includes the Equality Act which “makes discrimination against someone for their real or perceived sexual orientation illegal in the provision of goods, services and facilities. Section 13 of the Sexual Orientation Regulations says that all students have an equal right to education, regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation.” Therefore I would argue that teachers absolutely should teach about same sex marriage as part of sex and relationships lessons, but I absolutely agree it needs clarifying in law for those teachers in schools expecting all teachers to provide sex and relationships education. Having an ignorant homophobic bigot deliver lessons about homophobia could be incredibly damaging for the young people in those lessons and they are my priority. Not the tiny minority of teachers who may have views that conflict with their duties and responsibilities as teachers and who damage their own careers accordingly. Thankfully the vast vast majority of teachers I know are very supportive of challenging homophobia in schools when given sufficient support and training to do so. They know the damage homophobia can do to our young people.

You also asked:

Will same sex marriage be covered under such subjects as citizenship forming part of the main curriculum taught to our children and tested through examination?”

PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) and Citizenship are two very distinct but complimentary subjects. The law and curriculum surrounding both of them could definitely do with clarifying and updating, but I think you will find that the current debate about changing the law around same sex marriage has already been covered in many citizenship lessons across the land already. It is relevant to the subject and topical. I suspect some students may end up doing coursework on it. It’s already happening. Is that a problem for you?

You stated you have a “strong personal, moral and religious belief” in “the institution of marriage”, As a happily married heterosexual woman I also have a strong personal moral and faith in marriage, I strongly believe it is an institution all couples in loving relationships should be able to enter. In fact Chief Justice Margaret Goodridge said it far better than me:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.”

Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition. Tangible as well as intangible benefits flow from marriage. The benefits accessible only by way of a marriage license are enormous, touching nearly every aspect of life and death. It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a civil right. “

It was my personal and professional values and attitudes that compelled me to respond to your letter. Finally you stated “I do not believe that same sex marriage would serve to enhance British society or its values.” Could you please explain to me how same sex marriage would affect “British Society and values” in any other way than show we are a tolerant and accepting nation that recognises and celebrates individual human rights?

Yours Sincerely

A Teacher of Equality, Compassion, Empathy and Respect.

Introducing my new venture- So What Squad!

Some of you may have noticed a new twitter account and Blog  appearing lately.

Well its my new venture and you can read more about it here.

If you would like to find out more about it please tweet me @sexedukation @SoWhatsquad or email on sexedukation at or S.O.Whatsquad  at

A rant about the new QTS standards for teachers and PSHE training for teachers.

As you may have read in my blogpost on rewiring teachers attitudes to homophobia, I was a little cross that the now almost defunct GTC (they cease to exist in April 2012) will now no longer be implementing their code of conduct for teachers – as the equalities section was really rather good.

But then I hear the new QTS standards (from Sept 2012) that new teachers is covering some of the code of conduct that the GTC outlined (kind of).  So I excitedly pootled off to read them.  Well what a disappointment I must say!   Instead of the rather fab fourth principle of the GTC code of conduct:

Demonstrate respect for diversity and promote equality.

Registered teachers:

  • act appropriately towards all children and young people, parents, carers and colleagues, whatever their socio-economic background, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or belief
  • take responsibility for understanding and complying with school policies relating to equality of opportunity, inclusion, access and bullying
  • address unlawful discrimination, bullying, and stereotyping no matter who is the victim or the perpetrator
we have the rather woolly:
Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high
standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by:
o treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in
mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries
appropriate to a teacher’s professional position
o having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in
accordance with statutory provisions
o showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
o not undermining fundamental British values, including
democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect,
and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
o ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways which
exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.
So faiths and beliefs are specifically mentioned but not race, gender, sexual orientation etc.  (Plus they stuck in the “outside of school clause” which has always irritated me.  I am a professional who has a right to a private life. No student will ever see me drunk in a gutter because I am a mug of cocoa and slippers kind of girl but I think professional standards impinging on private lives is a bit much!).
I think the TDA (Teacher Development Agency) have really missed a trick here- it could have been a real opportunity for a requirement for teachers to be equality and diversity role models (which I believe we all should be) but instead it feels they have chickened out and fudged it and it is frustrating.
Add into that a further rant that now PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education and related Sex and Relationships Education, drugs education) now no longer appear at all in the QTS standards, I am worried that trainee teachers will now have even less provision for PSHE (which many teachers are expected to teach even if not trained to do so) within their ITT (Initial Teacher Training).  PSHE used to fall into QTS 15 which states:
Know and understand the relevant statutory and non-statutory curricula
and frameworks, including those provided through the National Strategies,
for their subjects/curriculum areas, and other relevant initiatives applicable
to the age and ability range for which they are trained.

Which although doesn’t mention PSHE directly it does fall under this standard as a non-statuory curricula, as well as the statutory laws relating to sex and drugs ed.

When I trained to be a teacher the standard specifically related to PSHE and Citizenship (plus there were a few more about emotional development, bullying, equality etc):

S2.2 They know and understand the values, aims and purposes and the general teaching requirements set out in the National curriculum handbook. As relevant to the age range they are trained to teach, they are familiar with the programme of study for citizenship and the national curriculum framework for personal, social and health education*.

Again not brilliant but at least it was explicitly mentioned.  I just find it so frustrating that PSHE (including sex ed, drugs ed and the challenging bullying including homophobia etc etc) is often seen as everyone’s responsibility but no-one puts their money where their mouth is and actually supports and trains teachers properly as well as requiring them to meet standards in PSHE and uphold principles of respect, tolerance etc etc.  (I had to do a science PGCE as there was no way of specialising in PSHE until I got into my first job- thank heavens for my amazing boss who let me run with it!).

Also there used to be a fab PSHE certification scheme for teachers – where you could complete a portfolio and get a certificate from DfE basically saying you meet standards in delivering PSHE education (can I just say with a smugface that my epic portfolio was rated v.highly- AND I completed it in my NQT year when normally you ain’t allowed to do it until after you have completed your first year’s teaching [v.proud 😀 ]).  Unfortunately this scheme has now been devolved to local authority level.  Some local authorities are still continuing with it but I suspect in light of the cuts with whole LEA departments for Healthy schools, PSHE, Citizneship etc etc being cut then this is unlikely to still be provided in many authorities.

They keep saying they want better trained PSHE teachers- so why on earth is the training provision getting worse not better 😦 ?  We are still waiting on the curriculum review for PSHE and believe me I shall be adding my two pennorth or three!

So yeah today I am rather despondent about the subject that I love and has the potential to really change the life of a student (and as a result boost their attainment in other subject areas- ahem headteachers).  However you know I do pride myself on being an optimist so I am going to finish by mentioning that the fab PSHE association will be launching some CPD modules soon which will be approx an hour long, nice and bitesize and really give you the opportunity to improve your practice from the comfort of your own home. Win!

For any other help with developing PSHE provision within your school -please contact me.  I may not be able to offer accreditation but all people trained can have a free smiley face certificate or something at the very least (as well as some darn useful training!). 😉

Rewiring Teacher Attitudes to Homophobia.

The TES produced this article today:

“Too many teachers still turn a blind eye to homophobic bullying – we have to rewire their attitudes “

I wholeheartedly agree with this article -although the terminology of “rewiring teacher attitudes” did have me imagining a bunch of teachers strapped to chairs and given ECT until they started waving rainbow flags! Ahem! That really wouldn’t be good! Although am pondering what the Daily Fail spin on that would be 😉

This week I have also been somewhat cross to read the attitudes of certain teachers in this teachers forum thread (and to be called a bully for saying homophobic language shouldn’t be tolerated- eh!?) and shocked and saddened that a teacher lost out on work because of answering a students question about sexuality (page 43 of thread).

I may have really quite loathed the General Teaching Council (for many reasons we don’t need to go into here) but one thing I quite liked was their “Code of conduct for teachers” which included the rather good fourth principle :

“Demonstrate respect for diversity and promote equality.

Registered teachers:

  • act appropriately towards all children and young people, parents, carers and colleagues, whatever their socio-economic background, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or belief
  • take responsibility for understanding and complying with school policies relating to equality of opportunity, inclusion, access and bullying
  • address unlawful discrimination, bullying, and stereotyping no matter who is the victim or the perpetrator
  • help create a fair and inclusive school environment by taking steps to improve the well-being, develoment and progress of those with special needs, or whose circumstances place them at risk of exclusion or under-achievement
  • help children and young people to understand different views, perspectives, and experiences and develop positive relationships both within school and in the local community.”

Now that is actually something I am sad that will be lost in the quango cull.  I won’t miss the GTC but thought a code of conduct document including a requirement for “demonstrating respect and promoting equality” was a rather good thing (although the bit about teachers private lives had me fuming somewhat).

But yannoo what- A pretty much unenforceable code of conduct by an unlected quango that is now redundant isn’t going to make it reality in schools.  What we actually need is a legal requirement of certain equality principles to be upheld by teachers and if you “can’t, won’t, don’t” then you shouldn’t be in the profession. If you are a teacher in a school in the UK you absolutely should not be espousing any discriminatory attitudes.  It’s not about you and your opinions and “your right to free speech”, its about your essential role as a role model for young people and the need for all young people in schools not to be exposed to discriminatory attitudes towards them from anyone least of all their teachers. 😦

I know from experience of tackling homophobia in my school it wasn’t until the Head spoke about how unacceptable it was and got us all to agree to challenge it by standing up at a teacher training (only one person out of 100 staff stayed seated) then teachers attitudes were “rewired” (and by that I really just mean the extremely homophobic teachers knew to be very careful about how they addressed the issue with students).   This “rewiring” isn’t actually about everyone believing the same thing- you can believe what you want about “the big “gay” debate” that’s your right, but as a teacher you need to know that have a responsibility to your students that you need to ensure you promote respect and tolerance of everybody regardless of differences.

So come on Dave C. et al.  write it the GTC’s 4th principle into some educational manifesto law type thingummy so that teachers know that it is a legal requirement.  Wouldn’t that be a lovely way for the Conservatives to atone for the vile damage that the now repealed section 28 has done in our schools.

I think unfortunately that will be the only way to “rewire teachers attitudes”.

Tips for Teachers to Tackle Homophobia in our Schools

Homophobic language is often used in ignorance, and therefore education is crucial.

Recently Stoke Newington High school was applauded for tackling homophobic bullying.  Fab that they have a new training division to support teachers in this, but for those who can’t access the training I thought I would blog some tips for teachers for tackling homophobia.  These are just my tips – things I found useful and wish I had known about when starting to tackle homophobia in schools.  The thing is this whole issue often gets bogged down in debate which is very frustrating as it means nothing actually gets done, so this was my attempt to rise above that and offer practical solutions for teachers.   If you agree or disagree with these tips- that’s absolutely fine you are free to take them or leave them, but if you use them and they help please do let me know.

So here goes:

When you first start addressing a culture of homophobia in school it can be really scary, “what will the parents say”, “I don’t feel trained enough”, “What if they think I am gay” etc etc.

I would hope you are reading this post because you feel that you want to try and challenge the endemic culture of homophobia in our schools.  It really helps if your school has robust policies on Anti-bullying including homophobic bullying and includes reference to Sexual Orientation as part of their inclusive ethos and Homophobia is not tolerated.  If you can get your Headteacher on board do it.  It is something that needs a top down approach and the classic “everyone singing from the same hymn sheet”.

Anyhow on an individual level here are some things to think about:

A note on language and terminology

Firstly an initial note on our language as teachers. We need to be careful of  “heterosexism” – where we assume that everybody’s sexual orientation is heterosexual unless told otherwise.  Heterosexuality is usually seen as ‘normal’ and can therefore imply alternatives are ‘abnormal’.  These ideas of  of “normality” and “abnormality” lead to discrimination and injustice.   It is neither normal or abnormal to be gay, straight  or bisexual- it is simply a part of who somebody is.

Terminology can be tricky in relation to discussing sexual orientation.  Some people find the term Homosexuality or Homosexual offensive and prefer the synonym “gay” (which is sometimes be used to include lesbians and bisexuals, but may not be a term that lesbians or bisexuals want to be described as), some people prefer the term Queer but some people find that offensive.  I have discussed this terminology issue at length with colleagues from PACE (A LGBT mental health charity) and Stonewall (LGB charity) and we agreed that the terms “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or LGB” were the most acceptable.  Sometimes you may hear LGBT which is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender.  However please be very clear that gender identity and sexual identity are different things.  If you are transgendered you may identify as gay or straight or bisexual.

Top tip for schools would be to try to use the term “sexual orientation” and not “sexuality”.  This is because sexual orientation is simply a part of a person’s identity, whereas sexuality can obviously also include reference to sexual practices and obviously since sexual activity is illegal for students who are under 16, then it is a term that some parents and teachers can be uncomfortable with.   The term “sexual preference” is quite outdated as it implies that sexual orientation is a preference (ie. a choice) rather than a simply a facet of who somebody is and therefore if it is a choice people can choose not to be gay.  The term “Sexual Identity” indicates how someone has chosen to identify sexually, this may not always be the same as someone’s sexual orientation.  You should always respect how an individual chooses to define themselves.

Dealing with homophobic incidents (this section is adapted from the Safe to Learn Homophobic Bullying Guidance)

It is important to differentiate between overt homophobic language directed at an individual “you are such a faggot”, “don’t be such a gay” “You bender” etc. and the popular culture use of the word gay- “that is so gay man!”.

Homophobia directed towards individuals needs to be dealt with seriously and if appropriate incident forms should be filled in and forwarded to relevant people in the school.   Homophobic language directed towards an individual to make them feel bad about their perceived sexual orientation is bullying and needs to be dealt with accordingly.  If students (both perceived victim and perpetrator) are actually friends who were just “cussing each other” and there wasn’t genuine malice in their statements then they need to be challenged for their use of homophobic language.  If the homophobic language is not directed at anyone “this lesson is so gay” then students also need to be challenged for the use of this language (some suggested responses can be found below).

Please note that in the initial stages of tackling a culture of homophobia it may not be appropriate to issue detentions, this is because this will simply educate the student not to use that language in front of that specific teacher.  Instead what we need to be doing is working towards a culture of tolerance and acceptance.  Student will generally stop using homophobic language (in the lesson at least) when challenged about it. The message should be “you are entitled to your own opinions on this, (just as I am entitled to disagree with you!) however when your opinions are inciting homophobia then you need to keep them to yourself or express them in a very careful way that will not offend other people.”  In Citizenship/PSHE Education curriculum opportunities should be provided to discuss homophobia.  Also you could look at setting up a student group such as a Gay Straight Alliance.

The main thing at the moment is CHALLENGING every incident of homophobic language – soon students will realise it is unacceptable.  If a pupil continues to use homophobic language, they need to understand the effect that their language has on other people, and therefore the use of sanctions may be appropriate.  This could include asking the pupil to write why homophobic language is unacceptable in school. If the pupil continues to be homophobic, they could be spoken to by a member of SLT. A pupil may also be given detention if appropriate.

If a pupil continues to be bully others, schools may want to consider contacting parents or carers to discuss the issue and problem with them, and remind them about the school’s anti-bullying policy. Parents/carers also need to understand why homophobic language is unacceptable.

Some of my suggested responses for dealing with homophobic language and possible ways to answer some of the most common “issues” that students will try to debate with you.

(obviously some of these will depend on your own values, personality, time and energy! These answers are based on the ones that I have been found to be most effective in challenging some of the issues that have been raised most often within the classroom when discussing homophobia with students, the answers are based on a personal stance towards homophobia which you may or may not share- the most important thing though is that you feel confident enough to tackle homophobia within the classroom and the examples below are a kind of tool kit to try to help you to this end.  (If you feel there is anything else that needs to be added please contact me).

Some standard responses

  • “XXX School does not tolerate homophobic language”- usual response- “sorry miss/sir”
  • “Do I need to fill in a homophobic bullying incident report about this?”  (or whatever incident report your school has)- usual response is a resounding “no, no sorry sorry!”
  • “You wouldn’t accept someone using sexist or racially abusive terms would you?  How is this different? It’s still discrimination.”
  • You could also reference the “some people are gay, get over it” campaign by Stonewall.

Some suggested responses to common issues & misconceptions that arise from their behaviour being challenged.

  • If the student tries to use the excuse “But I’m not homophobic at all I just use “that’s so gay” to mean something rubbish/stupid” point out to them that by using that phrase in a negative context they are propagating a culture of homophobia (or words to that effect for Year 7’s!) and therefore the language is unacceptable.
  • Sometimes students will use the excuse that their faith doesn’t allow homosexuality- to which a standard response is that all religions promote tolerance and respect for your fellow human beings or no religion condones bullying.  You may have faith based opinions on homosexuality but it is how you express those opinions that matters.
  • If once you have challenged them about their language and they try to say they were using the word gay to mean “happy”- repeat the sentence back to them and point out that the context was clearly negative, or sometimes dependent on the student, the situation and the context I have been known to pretend to believe them and say “oh good really, that’s nice because did you know gay also stands for Good As You?”
  • Some students hold the horrendous misconception that all LGB people are going to fancy them/start sexually harassing/abusing them.  This is usually put right with a harsh point out that they are not so attractive as everyone will fancy them, or a more gentle point out that do they fancy absolutely everybody of the opposite sex?  On the sexual harassment/abuse front then you need to be very clear that sexual abuse/harassment of any form is wrong and needs to be reported.  It is absolutely no more likely in gay people than straight people.
  • Sometimes students will try and argue that “homosexuality is against nature” (or even that it doesn’t exist/they don’t believe in it!).  Pointing out that gay people have existed in history since records began and also there are many species of animals that also have individuals that exhibit heterosexual and homosexual behaviour, therefore although no-one knows really why there are different sexual attractions within animal species including humans- it is pretty hard to refute that it exists in nature, always have and always will.
  • Often students will try to say but “if everyone was gay there would be no more people.”  The percentage of LGB people is usually quoted at being between 1 and 10% and this is quite stable and therefore there it is never going to happen that “everybody will be gay” especially as being gay is NOT catching (some students seem to think that it is!).  Whether you are gay or straight you could still have a family if you wanted, although gay couples, alongside infertile heterosexual couples would need to look into options such as adoption, surrogacy, IVF etc.
  • Sometimes students will say things like “well I am not homophobic but I don’t think it is right that ‘they’ should marry, have kids, kiss in public etc etc.” Usually gently pointing out that these things are basic human rights that everybody should have a right to and also it actually does not have to affect them personally.  Perhaps discuss the use of “they” – it shouldn’t be an “us and them” – just an Us- Humans.  I also have been known to come out with “if you are against same sex marriage then don’t marry someone of the same sex!” or “if you don’t want to see gay people kissing then you don’t have to look!”
  • For students that have this conviction that being gay is a “choice” then you could point out that by “choosing” to be gay, you could potentially be “choosing” to be subject to continued discrimination, not be able to get married (although civil partnership is legal is not marriage), “choosing” to not have children/make it very difficult to have children”, “choosing” to be harassed, beaten up even murdered simply on the basis of the gender of the person you “choose” to fall in love with.  When you put it like that it’s not really a “choice”.    No-body really knows how sexual orientation arises (although it is subject of much research and debate) but it is generally agreed that it is NOT a choice, and it is something that is determined from quite early on in life (generally realised at around puberty when feelings of sexual attraction start to develop).
  • If Students ask you about your own sexual orientation then it’s up to you how you respond, I like to answer “would it matter if I was gay?”, usually the answer is “no” and we get on with the lesson. Or I like to ask “Why do you want to know?”  My sexual orientation has nothing to do with my students.  I also often remind them of our ground rules for PSHE “no personal disclosures- just general situations and examples.  If you did decide to come out then I would suggest you ensure you have the support of your SLT beforehand.  If you are straight- please please don’t ruin all the good work by an emphatic “urgh NO I am NOT!” like it’s a bad thing!

Anyhow hope that helps.  Just some things that kept coming up when I first started challenging homophobia in schools and at the time I wished I had a crib sheet like this to help me out!  Funny thing is the kids started to challenge themselves once they had worked it through and I barely heard homophobic language after that.  It had become the norm NOT to accept homophobia rather than let homophobia be the norm.

Happy educating.

Contact me if you would like more help with addressing homophobia in your school.