Good practice - Working with faith communities

St George’s School, Hertfordshire

St George’s is a non-denominational Christian comprehensive school. It has its own Chapel which students have to attend three Sundays a term. The student body is mostly Church of England, with a sizeable Catholic intake, and a mixture of Methodist, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Evangelical churches. The school also has Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish students.

From the outset, we placed an emphasis on the bullying dimension of homophobia, not making value judgements about homosexuality or homosexual practices. Using Stonewall’s The School Report, we presented the issue to the Headmaster and Governing Body in the Christian context of the need to treat everyone with respect. Staff were encouraged to take the simple and consistent line that ‘we don’t treat people like that here’. Using Stonewall materials and DVDs, staff received training to ensure that, where lesbian, gay and bisexual issues arise in the curriculum, they had the confidence to manage and challenge inappropriate comments.

We presented our anti-homophobia work as distinct, but also in the context of the need to protect all vulnerable young people. It was launched simultaneously by senior students in school, and in a Sunday chapel address by the Chaplain, which placed our anti-homophobia work in a Christian context. To maintain momentum, we kept up a constant stream of activities, including student-led chapels and assemblies.

We considered in advance which church groups or sub-groups of parishioners and parents were most likely to be hostile to anti-homophobia work, and considered how we would deal with objections.

When faced with complaints, we responded by saying that the school teaches Christian views of sexuality in R.E. and the importance of stable families and marriage as a time-tested model in PSHE, taking the focus away from their theological views.

The school declines to engage with those outside the school who try to challenge our work in this area on a theological basis. Nevertheless, we did challenge those who complained to tell us what Jesus said about homosexuality: absolutely nothing. He did, however, defend all manner of marginalised people.

As a result of this work, the school has seen the near elimination of overt homophobia. The use of the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory term, which was the main manifestation of homophobia at the school, has almost disappeared.

 

Kelmscott, Waltham Forest

Kelmscott is a comprehensive secondary school serving an ethnically diverse community. The largest group of students is of Asian Pakistani heritage, and a large proportion of pupils come from Muslim backgrounds. At Kelmscott, the ethos of putting learning first is underpinned by celebrating diversity and dealing with all forms of bullying.

Two years ago pupils were incorporating into their everyday conversations references to things that were ‘so gay’. Themes were incorporated into Citizenship lessons but there wasn’t a whole school approach to tackle homophobic bullying. With the setting up of an anti-bullying working party we were able to develop a program for LGBT History Month in February which is now a permanent fixture on the school calendar.

The Head teacher and the majority of staff were supportive. There were some apprehensions from some of our Muslim colleagues about our rationale so opportunities were given in staff meetings to answer any concerns. The concerns were about the promotion of homosexuality but after explaining that the focus was one of respect and acceptance of diversity of the individual, staff were fully on board. This was partly facilitated by an outside speaker from the borough.

The first step was to include homophobic bullying to the policy which was ratified by the governors. Stonewall’s ‘Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!’ posters were positioned around the school and in tutor bases to make our work more visual.

By using assemblies that focussed on real life stories, we began to create an awareness and acceptance of pupils’ differences. The effect on pupils has been very positive. Pupils bullied about being gay were confident to report it and saw the outcome resolved, at times with an exclusion. One Asian pupil recently came out and their Head of Year was able to use resources to help support them. Debates in tutor time showed that young people were comfortable talking about gay issues and on many occasions were supportive of the right to be whom you want to be and not afraid to challenge views that were derogatory.

The P.E. department permanently display a notice board of sports stars that have come out. This always gets pupils positively discussing amongst themselves without having the issue of sexuality forced upon them.

Parents are informed of LGBT History Month through newsletters. Any concerns raised were discussed openly. We have also created links with organisations such as PACE (a London based charity which responds to the emotional, mental and physical health needs of lesbians and gay men in the greater London area) and ELOP (holistic Lesbian and Gay centre in London) to support our work.

To support trainee teachers in this area they attend a 45 minute CPD session on challenging homophobic language during their practice. They also have access to resources which are available on the staff notice board.

 

Preston Manor High School, Brent

Preston Manor High School is a large, oversubscribed comprehensive secondary school. The majority of its pupils are from minority ethnic groups and the largest of these are Indian, Black African and Black Caribbean.

The behaviour panel is a group of students that tackles behaviour issues in Preston Manor High School. The students wanted to tackle homophobic behaviour within their school community. They were particularly disturbed by the language the students were using in their everyday life. The panel wanted to educate the students about the use of phrases like ‘that’s so gay’, and help to make students understand that they were very derogatory to gay people.

The students first surveyed the whole school including staff, to find out what students felt about homosexuality. The survey asked questions like, ‘What would you do if your friend told you that they were gay?‘ Some of the results were disturbing with comments like ‘kill them’ and lots of the responses had a religious aspect to them with comments like ‘God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.’ The survey also highlighted that many boys found it harder to accept homosexuality, and were very openly aggressive and threatening towards gay people.

The behaviour panel decided to present their results each year in assembly to highlight how unacceptable some of the attitudes were in Preston Manor, and that homophobic behaviour would not and should not be tolerated in any society. In the assembly presentation the panel used a clip from Stonewall’s DVD ‘Fit’ in which a lesbian explains how rubbish she feels when people say ‘oh that’s so gay’. The panel also used role play to show the similarities between racism and homophobia. This really helped to get the message across, because everybody watching the role play was shocked with the language and actions used in a racist way and everybody knows that it is wrong and unacceptable to be racist.

The year nine students had a drama performance from a company called Little Fish and this performance also emphasised how homophobic language and bullying can affect a gay person.

The panel produced a leaflet that was given to every student in the school, answering key questions that somebody might want to know about being gay and hopefully dispelling rumours like you can be ‘turned gay’ by being around gay people.

The panel also put together a set of posters that were displayed around the whole school, in which the message was made very clear that all gay students would be respected in our school, and that any bullying or homophobic behaviour would not be tolerated. The panel also decided to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) on May 17th. A PowerPoint was put together and shown in every morning registration on that day, explaining what being homophobic was and also listing some famous LGBT people. Also during the day at 11.00 a minute’s silence was held for all those people who had been bullied for being LGBT and a poem was read out that again expressed how somebody felt who was being bullied because they were gay. A small number of parents objected to their child being involved in the minute’s silence, but the school explained that no matter what their religious beliefs were, Preston Manor would not support bullying of any type and that all students should be respected even if they did have a different point of view that conflicted with somebody else’s religious beliefs.

Staff also received training on how to tackle homophobia within the classroom and around the school. Again this training brought up religious differences and one teacher said that some of the Muslim boys had expected a Muslim teacher to back up their homophobic comments, but she had explained that everybody was entitled to their own views and opinions and that she did not have the right to impose her beliefs on somebody else.

The work of the behaviour panel was reviewed at the end of the year and it was good to hear that comments like ‘that’s so gay’ were now being challenged by both students and teachers, so the behaviour panel felt that all the work they had done throughout the year had made some impact on their school’s community and hopefully made a difference for the LGBT students at our school.

 

County Durham Anti-Bullying Service
‘Taking Action Together to promote Anti-homophobia and Respect’

The work that took place during National Anti-Bullying Week 2010 was a partnership between Durham Local Authority’s Anti- Bullying Service who led the project, a cluster of eight Roman Catholic primary schools and a faith-based dance company.

It was agreed that work would be focussed on Year 5 and Year 6 pupils; Year 6 to prepare the pupils for their transition to secondary schools, and Year 5 so that as older children they could promote the positive ethos to other pupils in school.

Each school was involved in a half-day workshop based on:

  • A discussion around negative words used towards others in school, within families and the wider community
  • An historical perspective on how positive words have been used negatively and the subsequent consequences
  • Movement exercises to demonstrate negative communication and relationships within partnerships and ways to develop these into positive partnerships
  • Movement using poetry to demonstrate feelings within friendships and relationships
  • A choreographed dance based upon a popular song about friendship

The workshops concluded with a session where parents/carers/guardians/school governors and members of the wider community were invited to attend along with other pupils from the school.

This session comprised:

  • An informative explanation of the workshop
  • A clear message that it was the responsibility of everyone attending to communicate the positive messages that the pupils attending the workshop had been learning about
  • A demonstration of some of the tasks carried out by the pupils
  • An opportunity for those attending to ask questions in an open or private forum in order to raise concerns, or support the work with the Anti-Bullying Service Manager.

Following the project an evaluation and impact questionnaire was sent tom each pupil taking part and a feedback request to the Head teacher/Staff of each school. Feedback has been positive and a request has been made to build on the work across the Cluster. The potential to use this successful model is being investigated as a positive way forward of addressing this issue across other ‘natural’ Clusters within County Durham.

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