Another reason why Michael Gove is one of the most respected ministers in the Cabinet emerges today with the new guidance for school inspections. The focus on the quality of teaching, behaviour and achievement will be welcomed by all who want schools to be places of learning where academic rigour is valued.
It is good that the new guidance also includes a focus on bullying, and the bullying of vulnerable children in particular. I especially welcomed the delivery of our manifesto commitment to reduce homophobic bullying of young people who are struggling with their sexuality, or who already realise they are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender. (For an inspiring interview on what it means to be transgender do watch Ellen's interview with Chaz Bono at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpSVJHGZjmI).
It is depressing, but alas not surprising, that the Daily Mail reports the new guidance under the headline "Schools to be judged on gay and gypsy pupils progress". It is a small part of the new guidance but has been blown up in a way that just exacerbates the wrong that the guidance is seeking to right.
Less forgivable are the responses of members of the educational establishment. The Mail quotes Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, criticising the highlighting of gay pupils. He said: 'I'm not aware of any way in which such pupils might be identified in a school. It would be inappropriate for any head teacher to pry into the private lives of children".
Of course the guidance is not intended to "pry in to the private lives of children". I am afraid this comment is absolutely typical of the straw men sections of the public sector offer up as a means of kicking laudable government policy. It is usually a precursor to a campaign of non co-operation and undermining that so often sees off policies that dare to challenge the status quo in our schools and hospitals. I am quietly confident that in Michael Gove and Nick Gibb these people have finally met their match.
Bullying and peer pressure add insult to the injury of personal fear and struggles with self esteem that blight the lives of many young people who do not fit in to the heterosexual norm. Some young people are fortunate in coming from supportive families and attending enlightened schools. But I believe they are a minority.
Many schools have made great strides countering bullying. But most do not do enough to tackle the acceptability of prejudice and verbal abuse that is commonly leveled at any child thought to be gay. This advice should not lead to prying into pupil's personal lives. But it should lead to a greater awareness of the particular problems faced by young people who are marked out as 'different' in this way.
I was very sad to meet a young man from Dudley last year who came to me for advice. I looked at his CV and thought it odd that after such good grades at GCSE his A level grades were barely average. I asked him about this change and he looked very uncomfortable and explained that he'd had problems at College and he had moved out of his family home. I put two and two together within a few minutes. The young man had come out to his parents and his life had been made unbearable.
We need to make teachers more aware of the signs to look for in young people who are falling behind due to pressure or bullying associated with their sexuality. I am very pleased that our ministerial team are making good on their manifesto commitment to tackle homophobic bullying in schools.
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