Accord urges at Stonewall Education Conference for faith schools to tackle homophobic bullying

July 5, 2013

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, has urged ‘Goodwill, common sense and religious enlightenment’ to prevail at faith schools, so that they are ‘part of the solution’ to homophobic bullying in schools.

Speaking at a fringe meeting entitled ‘Faith Schools; Are they Part of the Problem?’ at Stonewall’s annual Education Conference this afternoon (July 5th) Rabbi Romain stated that he was saddened that homophobia was shown to be worse at faith schools and criticised the Government for not doing more to protect pupils, such as it continuing to allow schools to circulate homophobic material. He argued that while there was a wide variety of religious interpretations about matters of sexual diversity, that all faith schools should add three commandments for themselves, ‘Do not discriminate against LGBT pupils; do not discriminate against LGBT staff and job applicants, and provide a curriculum that is balanced about matters of sexuality and promotes an acceptance of diversity’. He also highlighted schools that exhibited best practice around tackling homophobia, such as Gwinear Community Primary School in West Cornwall, which won Accord’s Inclusive Schools Award in 2011.

Rabbi Romain was joined on the panel of speakers by two teachers at faith schools which were making tackling homophobia a high priority. Alice Humphrey, a teacher at St George’s Voluntary Aided School, a Christian school in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, spoke of how her school had sought to react in response to Stonewall’s 2007 paper ‘The School Report’, which found that homophobic bullying was worse in faith schools than other schools, as they were concerned that staff and pupils could be concealing a miserable experience.

She explained that her school’s work was based on the strong backing from senior management and governors, that its work was founded in a Christian context of treating everyone with respect and kindness, and that the school did not engage with those outside of it who have challenged its work on theological grounds. The school also provided pupils with positive role models, including gay and lesbian staff being open about their own sexuality, senior students putting forward the case against homophobic bullying in school assemblies, and a presentation on Personal, Social, Health and Economic education by a gay serviceman in the Royal Navy.

Matt Rowe, Head of RE at The Northumberland Church of England Academy, explained that his school woke up to taking homophobic bullying much more seriously after a serious incident of such bullying and requests from students. His school’s approach was championed by authority figures, including the school’s chaplain, and pupils were treated to a visit from Sir Ian McKellen as part of Stonewall ‘s School Champions programme.

Meeting Chair and Stonewall’s Education Programmes Manager, Sayeqa Islam, argued that all schools wanted staff and pupils to be treated with dignity and respect, and that since 2012 OFTSED had begun to assess how schools approached homophobic bullying as part of its normal inspection regime. She explained that homophobic bullying was the second most common form of bullying in schools (after bullying related to young people’s appearance and weight), and that it was three times as common as bullying related to religion or race.

She highlighted how nine out of ten teachers believed they had a duty to prevent and respond to homophobic bullying, but that nine out of ten teachers also said they did not receive training on how they should best do this. She also stressed that she believed that rather than serve as a barrier, religion could supplement school’s work on homophobia.

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