Warning of increased bullying if LGBT guidance for schools is diluted

By agency reporter
February 13, 2019

More than 50 prominent religion and belief leaders, educationists, and LGBT rights advocates have joined forces to write an open letter urging the Secretary of State for Education not to dilute draft guidance for independent schools on teaching respect for LGBT people.

The letter, which includes signatories from LGBT groups, representatives of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and humanist groups, and independent school and union leaders, warns of significant safeguarding risks if the guidance is watered down, such as increased bullying of LGBT pupils, and the risk of schools fostering a culture of discrimination and inequality.

The letter has been written in response to reports that the Department for Education may change proposed advice for independent schools as part of the new guidance on Independent School Standards. The draft guidance that was consulted on says that independent schools will be required to teach respect for LGBT people, but the move could allow some schools to avoid teaching LGBT acceptance altogether, on grounds of religious belief.

The letter has been jointly organised by Humanists UK, Sex Education Forum, and the Accord Coalition for inclusive education. Humanists UK has also created a portal through which individuals can add their name to the letter digitally.

The Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union and the Chief Executive of the Independent School Association have also signed the letter which will be sent to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds. Other signatories include the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National Aids Trust, Faith Matters, and British Muslims for Secular Democracy.

The letter states that any dilution of the guidance ‘poses a significant safeguarding risk to LGBT young people, who are still subject to significant levels of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying.’ The signatories add, ‘Challenging LGBT discrimination in school lessons and in everyday school life is fundamental to fostering equality at school and in wider society. This teaching should take place at both primary and secondary level, to stem the development of anti-LGBT prejudice and to support LGBT people in the school community.’

The letter also cautions that ‘While it is possible for schools to consider issues from a range of religion or belief perspectives, fundamentally all schools, including those with a religious character, must provide lessons that inform young people of their rights, and promote a culture of inclusion and acceptance of diversity.’

The signatories urge the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that, irrespective of the type of school they attend, all children are supported and allowed to thrive through education that actively promotes respect and LGBT acceptance.

Encouraging respect for LGBT people is a requirement of the existing Independent School Standards and preventing discrimination is a requirement of the Equality Act 2010, and faith schools are not exempt from these provisions.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘There is widespread support for LGBT inclusion in schools and it is imperative that LGBT lessons in independent schools are not diluted out of fear that it could offend some religious groups. Providing an inclusive education for all pupils, including LGBT students, so that they can learn and develop in freedom, must be the priority for schools and we urge the Department against the watering down of its draft proposals.’

Chair of the Sex Education Forum, Lynnette Smith said: ‘It is largely through education we are seeing prejudice to LGBT people melting away. Children should all be able to ask questions and clarify thoughts and feelings in safe school environments that promote respect for others. But all schools must be held to account. Leaders need to keep up with children and provide the inclusive education they expect and deserve.’

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Rev Stephen Terry said: ‘If LGBT people are to live free from discrimination, stigma or prejudice then schools should not be settings where LGBT bullying still takes place, but [should] actively promote inclusivity on these grounds. The letter demonstrates the wide body of support in favour of ensuring this. The Government must not now go back on earlier commitments and cave in to those who wish schools to discriminate against or marginalise LGBT people.’

* Read the letter and see the list of signatories here It is also possible to sign the letter.

* Humanists UK https://humanism.org.uk/

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