Developed with The Rainbow Project and Youthnet, this guidance aims to positively change the attitudes and behaviours of the school community towards homophobic bullying - resourcecentre.savethechildren.net
Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE)
The Department of Education Circular 2010/01 advises schools to take account of the Equality Commission’s 2009 guidance on Eliminating Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Northern Ireland.
Schools should also recognise the diversity of family life in today’s society, particularly the fact that some children may have gay, lesbian or bisexual parents or carers, some of whom may be in a civil partnership.
Children and young people should respect differences between people and celebrate their own and other people’s diversity and uniqueness. They should respect differences in family, culture, religion, age, gender and sexual orientation. Young people who identify as LGBTQ+ (which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning) and others) should feel valued and safe within the school community.
Schools must make sure that they:
- increase knowledge and understanding of LGBTQ+ matters in an age-appropriate way that is in keeping with the school’s ethos and RSE policy; and
- support pupils who identify as LGBTQ+.
Teachers should be adequately prepared for disclosures, be respectful to the pupil and their family, and know what to do or who to talk to for support.
It’s important that both primary and post-primary schools have policies to cover, and strategies to deal with, homophobic bullying. Pupils who are victimised in this way should know who to talk to for help.
The Education Authority (EA) has published guidance for schools and other educational settings on supporting transgender pupils. For more information and to download the guidance, see Supporting Transgender Young People on the EA website.
This area of the RSE Hub signposts to resources and guidance information for teachers, parents/carers, and children and young people on LGBTQ+ matters. It also signposts to local organisations that can offer confidential advice and support to children and young people, and families.
RSE in primary schools should focus on appreciating each child’s uniqueness. For all pupils to learn effectively, schools must make sure that they feel safe, supported and able to thrive.
Research shows that transgender young people become aware that their assigned birth sex is different from their gender identity between the ages of 3 and 5. Transgender young people start to understand their feelings and talk about them between the ages of 6 and 16. See Grasping the Nettle: The Experiences of Gender Variant Children and Transgender Youth Living in Northern Ireland for more information.
Children have the right to an education free from discrimination and prejudice. Teachers need to understand gender stereotypes and have the confidence to:
- use a range of resources to support a gender-aware approach to teaching and learning;
- use appropriate terminology and language;
- tackle gender stereotypes;
- challenge homophobic, transphobic or any other type of bullying; and
- use appropriate strategies to support transgender or gender-questioning children.
According to the charity Stonewall, more than eight in ten primary school teachers in the UK have never had any specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying.
Schools should be proactive in establishing links with local agencies, such as Cara-Friend, that work with schools to provide training for teachers and anti-bullying workshops for pupils. Cara-Friend’s workshops cover general LGBTQ+ awareness and also address the issues of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. See Cara-Friend – Training & Workshops for more information.
In 2017, the Department of Education published research on the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people (aged 16–21) in post-primary schools in Northern Ireland. 92.1% of the young people indicated that there was not sufficient information available in their school about LGBTQ+ issues. They believed that this:
- impacted on their ability to come to terms with their sexual orientation and gender in safe and supportive environments; and
- contributed to the high levels of homophobic and transphobic language and attitudes.
The research revealed that transgender young people were significantly disadvantaged by schools not understanding them or their needs. In particular, schools should pay attention to names, pronouns, uniform, toilets and changing facilities.
The young people were also concerned about confidentiality, which was a significant barrier to them accessing support. They were concerned about how, without consent, parents and carers could be informed of a child’s sexual orientation, and how this could pose a risk for some young people.
Effective RSE can help to promote a positive view of sexual orientation and gender identity, which can then help to raise the self-esteem of young people who may feel different.
Learning about LGBTQ+ matters should cover:
- the importance of valuing diversity and the uniqueness of individuals, including diversity in sexual attraction and gender identity;
- the terms associated with sex, sexuality, gender identity and transgender, and an understanding of what they mean in real life;
- that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is unacceptable and how to challenge it; and
- how young LGBTQ+ people can access support.