School's out. It's the summer holidays. And as the last registers of the year were taken, classroom doors closed and bells fell silent, a flag continued to flutter from the front of our school, Dame Elizabeth Cadbury, Birmingham, UK, in the warm July sunshine. It's the rainbow flag, and was first raised as part of our Spirit Day celebrations in October 2014 to show support for bullied LGBT youth around the globe. This was momentous for us as a school community, and showed how far we had come in our journey of inclusion. In June this year it was flown again to celebrate our year 8 LGBT Day, a day that raised awareness of LGBT bullying and how to combat it through pupils scripting their own plays. The flag looked at home. We just never took it down. Flying it was no big deal, but it was symbolic.
Three years ago, this would have been an impossibility. Three years ago, being gay at our school really was a big deal. Many of our children were wounded by the slings and arrows of homophobic language, and our teachers and support staff weren't equipped properly to tackle the homophobic comments that ricocheted around classrooms, canteens and corridors. New teachers arrived at our school gates having received no training whatsoever on addressing homophobic bullying or on celebrating the achievements of LGBT role models in lessons. Even saying the words 'gay' or 'lesbian' in lessons elicited derisory laughter. Nearly three years later and a zero-tolerance approach to homophobic and transphobic language, coupled with teaching our pupils to be upstanders for their LGBT friends, not blind-eyed bystanders to bullying, and we were on our journey.
And we stand on the shoulders of giants. It is thanks to the support and encouragement of LGBT pioneers in education like Shaun Dellenty and Elly Barnes that we have been able to begin our journey at all. We have done much to rid our school of homophobic and transphobic bullying through our PSHE lessons in form time, through the innovative work of our pupil-led anti-bullying ambassadors and through events like Spirit Day and our LGBT Days. But our work doesn't end there. We feel a particular responsibility to properly equipping teachers new to the profession so they can confidently tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in their schools. Astonishingly, teacher training providers in the UK aren't obliged to provide training on this for their trainee teachers. Thanks to the forward-thinking work of training providers like Teach First at Birmingham City University and Birmingham's home-grown King Edward's Consortium, our school has been able to collaborate with them to train hundreds of new teachers in 2014-2015 on how to tackle the homophobic and transphobic language that is sadly so endemic in many schools in the UK.
The statistics show that our profession needs to act urgently. Stonewall's recent (2014) research, The Teachers' Report, surveyed a sample of nearly 2000 teachers and non-teaching staff from primary and secondary schools across Great Britain. The survey asked staff about their experiences of homophobic bullying of pupils in their schools and the inclusion of sexual orientation issues in their classrooms. It found the following:
- Almost nine in ten secondary school teachers (86 per cent) say pupils at their school are bullied, harassed or called names for being, or suspected of being, lesbian, gay or bisexual.
- Nine in ten secondary school teachers (89 per cent) hear pupils use the expressions 'that's so gay' or 'you're so gay' in school.
- Eight in ten secondary school teachers (80 per cent) have not received any specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying.
- Teachers in faith schools are significantly less likely to report their school allows them to teach about lesbian, gay and bisexual issues than those in non-faith schools - 51 per cent compared with 62 per cent.
- More than a third of secondary school teachers (36 per cent) have heard homophobic language or negative remarks about gay people from other school staff.
The report makes depressing reading, despite improvements in some areas since Stonewall's previous Teachers' Report in 2009, and highlights the imperative for more training for new and existing teachers. This needs to happen, and happen now. Homophobia and transphobia kills. LGBT young people are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. They are also more likely to self-harm and suffer from depression. Stonewall's 2012 research, The School Report, revealed that two in five pupils identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying. The same number say that they deliberately self-harm directly because of bullying. This has to stop. As teachers and education professionals we have a statutory duty to safeguard the young people in our care. We must properly support and train our colleagues so all our schools are happy, safe, inclusive spaces, for the sake of all our children.
And so back to this summer. The rainbow flag looked at home. We just never took it down. Flying it was no big deal, but it was symbolic. It represents our commitment to equality and inclusion, for every member of our school community. And that is a big deal.