education

One in five teachers are still uncomfortable discussing LGBT topics with children


Teacher Zahara Chowdhury said the discomfort could be linked to the lack of the ‘right literacy, language and safe spaces’ (Pictures: Zahara Chowdhury, Getty)

One in five school teachers are still uncomfortable talking about LGBT+ topics with pupils, a new poll has revealed.

Independent research by Just Like Us, the LGBT+ charity for young people, found that only a third of teachers are ‘completely comfortable’ talking in the classroom about things related to being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Over 6,000 primary and secondary teachers were surveyed, and 3% of them even said they were ‘completely uncomfortable’ discussing these with pupils.

This comes despite the regulator Ofsted requiring primary schools to include different types of families – such as lesbian mums or gay dads – in lessons.

The staggering results are revealed today as England marks 18 years since Section 28 – which was brought in in 1988 by the Margaret Thatcher to prohibit ‘the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities’ – was repealed.

A London primary school teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, detailed why he feel uncomfortable: ‘As a primary school teacher and a gay person, I have never felt very comfortable talking about LGBT+ inclusion in school because I’ve feared parents’ negative responses.  

‘Many teachers I know share these concerns, however, I think that as a member of the LGBT+ community myself, these feelings are heightened because it is personal.

Zahara said it is a ‘human responsibility’ to educate pupils about diversity and inclusion (Picture: Zahara Chowdhury)
A campaigner against LGBT+ conversion therapy attends a picket outside the Cabinet Office and Government Equalities Office in June (Picture: Getty)

‘I’ve been lucky to work in a school where I could be out to my colleagues but I never came out to my students and very rarely came out to parents over fears of backlash – despite LGBT+ families, such as some children having lesbian mums, being in the primary school curriculum.

‘Where my straight colleagues could talk about their partners easily, even if it was a casual pronoun, this was something that I couldn’t do.’ 

For some teachers, the discomfort could also be linked to the lack of the ‘right literacy, language and safe spaces’, according to Zahara Chowdhury, who works at Beaconsfield High and the Beaconsfield School, in Buckinghamshire.

The 33-year-old, who is also the equality, diversity and inclusion lead at the school, explained: ‘Teachers need to be given the time, knowledge and space to learn as well.

‘Yesterday afternoon, for example, I chaired a training on how to have uncomfortable conversations, and this one will specifically focus on race.’

Describing her work, she said it is a ‘human responsibility’ to educate pupils about diversity and inclusion. Zahara added that after working at eight schools, it is ‘so refreshing’ to finally see a leadership team which is so progressive.

Dominic Arnall, CEO of Just Like Us, highlighted it is ‘unacceptable’ that ‘things have not changed as much as we like to think’ (Picture: Just Like Us)

Zahara revealed she uses a variety of tools to build trust between the children, their parents and teachers, and make these topics less painful.

Some of these, she said, include Pride societies, introducing LGBT+ voices in lessons, inclusive displays in corridors and classrooms, and facilitating safe and open conversations.

Despite this, another teacher at a different secondary school revealed they had seen students being ‘hushed up’ when talking about LGBT+ topics.

Dominic Arnall, CEO of Just Like Us, highlighted it is ‘unacceptable’ that ‘things have not changed as much as we like to think’ since Section 28 was repealed.

He said: ‘We don’t blame teachers for feeling uncomfortable – they may not have had the resources or personal life experiences.

‘But all you need is a willingness to support your pupils and Just Like Us can help provide lesson plans, assemblies, talks and training so that you feel confident discussing LGBT+ topics with your pupils.

‘When so many teachers say they are uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics, such as mentioning that some families have lesbian mums, this has serious knock-on effects for LGBT+ young people’s wellbeing and mental health, who are currently twice as likely to be bullied and have depression.

‘Having silence around LGBT+ topics only results in shame, stigma and students feeling that they don’t belong in school.’

He also called on the Government to provide further support and clear guidance for schools on supporting LGBT+ young people.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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