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Good practice - Challenging homophobic language

Secondary School: Wisewood Sports and Community College

Wisewood Sports and Community College in Sheffield has a several-pronged approach to tackling homophobic language in the school.

Equipping staff: The school issues guidance on working with LGB young people to all new staff. The booklet was developed by a Sheffield voluntary sector organisation working with LGB young people. The school also has an inclusive anti-bullying policy that covers homophobic bullying and language.

Tackling homophobic language head on: Staff directly challenge homophobic language. One way of doing this is by asking if students would use a racist word as an insult. As the answer is usually ‘of course not – it’s racist’, this makes it a lot easier to challenge homophobic language for the same reasons. Homophobic bullying is also monitored via the ‘Cause for Concern’ slips in school. Pupils have been excluded for homophobic abuse or for using homophobic language.

Awareness raising: There are displays around the school and in many classrooms of the Stonewall ‘Some people are gay. Get over it!’ posters. This year we had an LGBT History Month display and there are plans to do more displays next year. The PSHE department does work about different kinds of families, including same-sex parents, and makes the point clearly that all kinds of families are normal. Because of the work on bullying, the department specifically includes the use of homophobic language and its damaging effects on everyone. The school is very upfront about the fact that society is diverse and interesting, and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. One member of staff specifically commented that she heard almost no homophobic language around school now. She thought that tackling it head on, and also by raising the whole profile of PSHE by a creating specialist department, had been significant contributing factors.

Secondary School: Glenthorne High School, London Borough of Sutton

This year Glenthorne High School has had two pushes on bullying. The first was in November when a whole school assembly included a dramatic presentation by some pupils on cyberbullying, which led to the development of an anti-cyberbullying code. During this time we also reviewed our anti-bullying policy. The school council contributed to this review and created their own anti-bullying code based around the word ‘STOP’.

In February we held an anti-bullying week. This started with a whole school assembly with a piece of drama on different types of bullying, including the inappropriate use of the word ‘gay’. We then spoke to the school about this and as a school it was made unacceptable to use the word ‘gay’ in this way. Everyone signed the anti-bullying charter and the idea was launched that everyone within the community is responsible to protect victims and report bullying. This had an immediate impact on misuse of the word ‘gay’, and pupils were completely supportive. There was a lot of discussion around the school and it is now extremely unusual to hear the word ‘gay’ used in this way. During the week the pupils had two further assemblies. One was held in dual year groups where an extremely hard-hitting drama performance was staged about a bullying-related suicide, including references to the use of the word ‘gay’. The other was held within year groups, explaining bullying issues including homophobic bullying. We also launched an anti-bullying poster competition for Key Stage 3 students, suggested by the school council.

To ensure that the school continues to move forward in addressing bullying, anti-bullying is a fixed agenda item at all Head of Year meetings and Year Team meetings. It has been written into next year’s calendar that once a term the whole school will dedicate tutor time to discussing how effective the pupil contribution is to reducing bullying and what more should be done.

Primary School: Dobcroft Junior School and Dore Primary School, Sheffield

It became clear about four years ago that the inappropriate use of the word ‘gay’ in the primary playground had become rife with children who used it as an insult but with little or no understanding of the implications behind its usage. They intended to hurt and others were hurt by it. We felt we needed to tackle this head on in order to stop the trend and then treated this name-calling as seriously as racist comments. We began to report to parents any incident where inappropriate use of the word ‘gay’ was used. In school, we unpicked the issue as we would any behavioural incident and made it clear that this language is unacceptable. We also logged homophobic bullying in our robust incident and ‘children of concern’ recording system. This in due course was passed on through the Sheffield City Council reporting system.

As Deputy Headteacher at Dobcroft Junior and now as Headteacher at Dore Primary School, I operate a ‘Values and Mottos’ system which underpins our school ethos and leads our work in GUS (Growing Up Skills) along with PSHE and SEAL. Our school values (of which there are twenty) such as cooperation, responsibility, understanding, trust and thoughtfulness give a common core vocabulary to use within the curriculum and in dealing with issues. They are promoted to parents with the idea that the whole community speaks the same language and gives the same messages. The ‘Values and Mottos’ system is working very effectively in these two schools, giving a very strong framework to build on as we educate the ‘whole child’. At Dobcroft Junior School during Anti-Bullying Week we launched a ‘Code of Respect’ to support the ‘Values and Mottos’ system but also specifically to tackle the issue of homophobic language. We promoted a culture around language of respect, and told the children that the use of the word ‘gay’ in order to upset or hurt somebody would always be investigated if reported and that parents would be told so that they could help explain why it is unacceptable. We spoke of respect as ‘care and consideration’ and that the way we talk (words we use), the way we act (actions we take) and the way we look (body language) are all part of our behaviour and affect the way we respect others.

There was an immediate effect in the community and parents offered support. The inappropriate use of ‘gay’ is now rare. The ‘Values and Mottos’ system and ‘Code of Respect’ are proving to be a powerful aid in establishing a strong anti-bullying ethos and have significantly reduced homophobic language in both schools.

Primary School: St Matthew’s Primary School, Cambridge

St Matthew’s Primary School is a large, diverse primary school in the middle of Cambridge city. There are over 40 languages spoken and it serves a socio-economically wide catchment area.

We have been recording racist incidents and empowering our school community to challenge racist behaviour and language for a number of years, but have become increasingly aware of the use of homophobic language among the children.

Over the past two years, we have been working in partnership with SexYOUality, a local charity that supports LGB young people, and Cambridgeshire Race Equality and Diversity Service, to challenge homophobic language in our school community.

We recognised the importance of involving all staff, so began our project with a whole staff training session which was delivered jointly with SexYOUality. This raised awareness of the issues and gave teachers and support staff the opportunity to explore and discuss how they might respond to homophobic language and incidents.

SexYOUality then provided a workshop for Year 6 pupils enabling the children to look at language and some of their behaviour from a different perspective. Pupils commented on how much they had learnt and how they would behave differently in future and challenge homophobic language when they hear it.

At the same time, we started recording homophobic incidents in the same way as we record racist incidents. Children and families were made aware of this.

We are also addressing homophobia and heterosexism across the curriculum, not just in PSHE. For example, in a Year 5 literacy module, the children have looked at old picture books and identified things that were missing or that have changed over time – for example, there was less ethnic diversity in the older books, while gender stereotyping and heterosexism were commonplace. The children then read books which challenged these stereotypes and used them as models to write their own picture books. Finally they took their books to a Year 2 class and shared them with the younger children.

We recognised the importance of normalising homosexuality through the curriculum and the school’s PSHE coordinator contributed to a national SEAL development project. The focus of the project was on strengthening the diversity dimension of the primary SEAL programme and the PSHE coordinator developed a unit of work for Reception aged children around the theme of anti-bullying. This included the use of stories featuring diverse family groupings, including same-sex families. This has been published locally and nationally and will be used again this year with our Reception classes.

We have shared our anti-homophobia work with other primary schools at a county conference and continue to challenge homophobic language around the school so that being a member of our community can be a positive experience for all our children and families.

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