The Labour Party has today announced that it will make Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) compulsory in all state schools, and that it plans to crack down on homophobic bullying.
The announcement was made by Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt today at Little Ilford School in London.
The plan, as well as making age-appropriate SRE more LGBT inclusive, and compulsory in all state-funded schools, including academies, free schools and voluntary aided institutions, will ensure all teachers are trained to deal with homophobic bullying.
In addition, mental health services for young people living with the consequences of homophobic bullying will be promoted, and a national best practice toolkit will be created to help schools to tackle homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying.
Mr Hunt, announcing the policy at the beginning of LGBT History Month, said it aims to make “every classroom, dinner hall and playground a homophobic free zone.”
He said: “The presence of homophobic bullying in our classrooms, playgrounds and dinner halls is deeply troubling, and it is very real. The use of homophobic language and other forms of homophobic bullying is damaging the life chances of so many young people.
“It has a daily effect that limits learning, and causes people long term damage. There is no place for it in our society – and never should it be ignored in our schools. Schools have a duty to show a zero tolerance approach to the use of homophobic language and bullying.”
Continuing, Mr Hunt said he hoped the new policy would rid the UK of the shadow of Section 28, calling it “a most pernicious piece of legislation”, which “casts a shadow over our education system, both for those that are new to the schools workforce and for those who worked in schools whilst it was in operation.
“That is why repealing Section 28 alone, is not enough. We need new training for new and long-standing teachers, and others in the school workforce. Strategies for education, dealing with both prevention and resolution. And we need to act urgently to prevent the plight of homophobic bullying that is damaging the lives and life chances of thousands of pupils.”
The new policy is supported by Stonewall. The gay rights charity released figures today which estimate that over a quarter of some 215,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in schools will miss schools due to homophobic bullying.
As well as the 52,000 missing school due to bullying, it also estimated that 37,000 pupils will change their education plans because of being bullied, and that the school work of 70,000 young people will suffer as a result.
Charlie Condou, actor and campaigner, who was with Mr Hunt at the announcement said: “As a gay man, and as a parent, the tackling of homophobic bullying is obviously something that’s extremely important to me. School is where I want my kids to feel safe, to be nurtured and cared for when I’m not there. We’ve made so many advances for LGBT people over the last few years, but I truly believe that prejudice is learned behaviour and therefore we need to address LGBT issues at an early age. The word gay is still used as an insult in playgrounds across the country and the amount of young people still taking their own lives for being seen as different is quite distressing. I’m so glad that tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying will be a priority for the next Labour government, as always, leaders in the struggle for LGBT equality”.
Speaking to PinkNews after the event, Mr Condou said: “A lot of homophobic bullying isn’t just reserved for gay and lesbian kids. Homophobic bullying can affect anyone – perhaps boys who might be artistic, or not seen to be the stereotype of what a young man should be. Same as for girls who are into sports who might be perceived as being gay. It really can affect anyone.”
Responding to the quote, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told PinkNews; “Homophobic bullying can blight young people’s lives. It not only affects young people’s happiness and achievement at school, but can have severe consequences for their mental health.
“That’s why we made a tackling homophobic bullying a priority in the Coalition Agreement and since then we’ve invested in projects to train more teachers on tackling homophobia in the classroom and set out clear guidance on the importance of tackling all types of bullying, including homophobic bullying.
“We’re pleased that teachers are now reporting lower rates of homophobic bullying compared to five years ago and greater confidence in tackling this bullying.
“Of course there is no room for complacency which is why we recently announced a £2 million fund to support projects to combat this bullying in our schools and take us step closer towards our goal of eradicating this bullying from our classrooms.”
PinkNews in September joined with a coalition of LGBT organisations and campaigners writing to political leaders in the UK to highlight a need for compulsory LGBT-inclusive SRE in all schools.
Cliff Joannou, the editor of QX magazine, today told PinkNews: “It’s great news that Labour recognise the vital importance of age appropriate sex and relationship education for young people. Unfortunately, while the Conservatives have made some great advancements from the party of old, they are increasingly looking more like they’re severely out of touch with the way young people live their lives today.
“The world has changed drastically in the last twenty years and the current education system is not supporting young people in the face of the pressures that come with a world that is dominated by social media and hook-up apps. There is too much wrong and inaccurate information out there available at the touch of a smartphone screen, not to mention inappropriate images and bad examples sexual health. We aren’t teaching young people about the value of relationships, how to address the pressures of body image and to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The number of young people being diagnosed HIV positive is on the rise, and teenage pregnancies are too high – the only way we can combat all this is through decent education.”
A Private Members’ Bill, tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas, requiring SRE to be introduced as a provision of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education had its second reading postponed last year and will now receive parliamentary attention in February.
The Lib Dems have signalled support for the bill.
The Prime Minister responded to a question about whether sex and relationship education should be compulsory, saying “all schools” should teach the subject.
Last year, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan hinted that she could be moving towards supporting statutory PSHE – however she is yet to confirm her intentions.
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