Coinciding with the demonstration outside Conservative HQ this afternoon, George Osborne has announced new plans to tackle homophobic bullying in faith schools .
In summary they are:
• Freeing heads to exclude homophobic bullies
• Giving teachers the power to stop violent homophobic incidents (“Teachers are often unable to break up violent homophobic bullying because of the lack of clarity over use of force”)
• New guidance on bullying aggravated by prejudice (“non-violent bullying aggravated by prejudice like homophobia should result in tougher punishments than other forms of persistently disruptive behaviour...we believe that all forms of violent bullying should continue to lead to some form of exclusion”)
• Recording incidents of homophobic abuse
They are geared around further exclusion and based on “tougher punishments.” There is nothing restorative in the proposals. Indeed, their stated aim in promoting exclusion is to avoid contact between victim and offender. Contact can actually be helpful if managed properly and both parties consent to it (see Anti-bullying Alliance ).
Nor do they do anything to tackle the indications that there is more bullying in faith schools than in others , which we highlighted in a letter to the Times recently . There is nothing in the proposals to tackle, for example, the exemptions that faith schools have in sex and relationships education, which some feel lie close to the root of the problem.
One glimmer of hope is the fourth proposal, under which they state: “it is difficult to assess the scale at the moment because of the way the Government collect data. We would include a new category in exclusions data specifically for ‘homophobic abuse’”.
The new category could reveal the extent to which homophobic bullying does take place in faith schools when compared to others, and may highlight where it is not being dealt with well. The problem is that any increase in exclusions recorded could be seen as much as 'success' as 'failure', according to the broad approach they are taking.