School and college governors can play an essential role in tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools by making sure their schools and colleges take appropriate measures to prevent and respond to bullying.
Why does it matter?
Stonewall's 2014 research, The Teachers' Report, revealed that only one in five secondary school teachers and one in six primary school teachers in England and Wales say their school governors demonstrate a clear leadership role when it comes to tackling homophobic bullying.
Under the Education and Inspections Act 2006, governors have a duty to promote the wellbeing of all children and young people in their care. This includes any child or young person who experiences homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying. Ofsted inspectors may also ask governors about homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying in their schools.
Under the Equality Act 2010, college governors are responsible for making sure the college does not discriminate in the provision of education in their college. Governors are also responsible for making sure lesbian, gay, bi and trans students are not excluded or subjected to any other harm because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
What does it look like?
Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying can occur in different forms, such as verbal abuse (including spreading rumours and using 'gay' as a derogatory term), cyberbullying and physical abuse and even death threats. The School Report found that where homophobic language is challenged, levels of homophobic bullying fall by almost half.
Unchallenged, homophobic bullying has severely negative consequences for students. Three in five gay young people say homophobic bullying directly affects their work, and a third change their future educational plans as a result (The School Report).
Bullying directly affects young people’s health and well-being. Almost a quarter of young lesbian, gay and bi people have tried to take their own life at some point and more than half have self-harmed. Governors can play a key role in addressing these vital issues and improving welfare for the students in their schools and colleges.
What you can do as a governor
- Make sure your school or college’s anti-bullying policy specifically includes homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.
- Ask your headteacher or principal to update the governing body on a regular basis on the number and nature of homophobic, biophobic and transphobic bullying incidents, and on how the school or college dealt with them.
- Find out what training staff receive to prevent and tackle bullying and support lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people.
- Involve parents – through the governing body and otherwise – in the life of the school or college. This includes parents in same sex relationships.
- Ask the headteacher or principal how the curriculum addresses different families and lesbian, gay, bi and trans issues in an age-appropriate way. Check again when the policy is updated.
- Ask your Chair of Governors what training is available for governors on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.
- Check if your local authority is signed up to Stonewall’s Education Champions programme, or your school to the School Champions programme. If they're not, push for them to join.
- Be a role model. Governors can help send out the message that the school or college is a welcoming place for all students.
Interested in becoming a governor?
Becoming a governor means that you have oversight of a school's, or college's, policies and practice, and the head teacher or principal is accountable to you. So by becoming a governor you’re in the perfect position to influence your local school or college to do more to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans people have traditionally been under-represented on governing bodies. Thankfully, the vast majority of governing bodies now recognise the importance of reflecting their students' local community and are actively looking to become more diverse.
You don’t have to be a parent to be a school governor and on average it only takes 10-15 hours a month, for which your employer has to give you time off. If you’re interested, you can find out more about how to apply on the Governors for Schools website www.sgoss.org.uk and play your part in eradicating bullying. If you're interested in being a college governor, get in touch directly with your local college.