Jonny Winbow discusses why having an LGBTQ+ inclusive education curriculum in schools is crucially important.
Being educated at an all-boys school with limited a severely limited LGBTQ+ inclusive education was tough and is something that no self-identifying LGBTQ+ person should have to experience. The problem was not just that of the school, but of the design of the entire curriculum which teachers based their work off. Not only were there limited chances to hear and read about LGBTQ+ role models in weekly ‘Sex and Relationship’ classes, but there was also a severe lack of LGBTQ+ representation in other parts of the curriculum. This is an experience a lot of young LGBTQ+ people have to experience, as they are not represented across their educational lives.
A Stonewall survey found that ‘over half of LGBT pupils suffered from bullying while at school.’ This fact is astonishing considering the fact that it has been 17 years since the destructive Section 28 was abolished in the Local Government Act of 2003. Despite this, there has been little done across the educational sphere in terms of improving the LGBTQ+ representation to young people across the UK. In 2017, the UK Government committed to introducing statutory Relationships and Sex Education in English schools – something which was supported by leading LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. Perfectly put by Ben Saunders (Stonewall’s Young Campaigner of the year) ‘Without inclusive education, so many LGBTQ+ young people feel isolated, or even unwanted in school.’ This highlights the lasting positive impact which the introduction of RSE has had on young LGBTQ+ pupils in schools – making them feel like they have safe spaces to talk and helping them understand their own sexualities. However, we look to Scotland to see how this approach can be taken even further – and can support LGBTQ+ pupils even more.
Scotland’s approach to LGBTQ+ education in schools is arguably one of the most progressive in the world. By September 2021, the Scottish Government will have implemented a LGBTQ+ inclusive education that spans the entire curriculum – something which England and Wales should also have. The Scottish LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group had all 33 of their proposals adopted by Scottish Government – creating a cross-curriculum approach to LGBTQ+ inclusive education. The main aim of these proposals was to ensure teachers are properly trained in LGBTQ+ issues, LGBTQ+ pupils will be better represented, and that there is a safe space for vulnerable pupils to speak openly about their sexualities. The impact of these changes is yet to be shown, however from anecdotal evidence, a change of policy to something this open and inclusive would be life-changing for many LGBTQ+ pupils across Scotland.
So, what can we take from Scotland and implement across the rest of the UK? Well, the idea that LGBTQ+ inclusive education is something that is not just specific to ‘Sex and Relationship’ lessons and is instead something which should be taught cross-curriculum is one that is fundamentally right. I propose that across the rest of the UK there should be even further measures to combat homophobic and outdated views across education.
Not only should there be LGBTQ+ Inclusive classes, there should also be examples of LGBTQ+ role models across other subjects – such as History and English. Why should it be that we learn about World War Two, yet there is little mention of Alan Turing? In the same vein, why should we teach pupils in GCSE English about Shakespeare and not poet and LGBTQ+ icon Oscar Wilde and his life as an out gay man? More could be done to improve the representation of LGBTQ+ figures to pupils across their education; while on the ground level teachers could be trained to better represent their pupils by having specific LGBTQ+ role-models across the teaching staff for pupils to admire and learn from.
The Department for Education should both hire and train more counsellors, so that each school has an on-site counsellor to help with issues such as bullying or LGBTQ+ insecurity. This would see a drop in the rates of bullying across LGBTQ+ pupils and would allow teachers to signpost vulnerable pupils to professionally trained staff members to help with their problems.
Finally, the third policy that should be implemented across all schools in the UK is an introduction of LGBTQ+ inclusivity sessions with the parents of the pupils at the school. Not only do the vulnerable LGBTQ+ pupils need to feel safe at school, but also need to feel supported and loved at home. Offering these sessions to parents not only allows the schools to educate the carers and guardians of these pupils, but also allows an open dialogue between both the school and parents to exist across these issues. Protests at a school in Birmingham for introducing ‘Relationship and Sex’ lessons could have been combatted by sessions led by the school and LGBTQ+ activists in teaching the parents about LGBTQ+ inclusivity – while this may have not stopped the protests or the grievances of these parents, it could have at least meant the school had begun an open dialogue with the protesters about the importance of LGBTQ+ education.
 Stonewall UK, LGBT-inclusive education: everything you need to know, 2020, https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-inclusive-education-everything-you-need-know [Accessed 15 July 2020]
 Stonewall UK, Relationships and Sex Education, 2020, https://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/relationships-and-sex-education [Accessed 15 July 2020]
 Stonewall UK, This is how LGBT-inclusive education can change lives, 2019, https://www.stonewall.org.uk/how-lgbt-inclusive-education-can-change-lives [Accessed 14 July 2020]
 Scottish Government, LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group: Structure of Sub Groups, Jan 2018, https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/factsheet/2018/02/lgbti-inclusive-education-working-group-strategic-work-plan/documents/lgbti-inclusive-education-working-group-strategic-work-plan-january-2018-pdf/lgbti-inclusive-education-working-group-strategic-work-plan-january-2018-pdf/govscot%3Adocument/LGBTI%2BInclusive%2BEducation%2BWorking%2BGroup%2BStrategic%2BWork%2BPlan%2BJanuary%2B2018.pdf [Accessed 14 July 2020]
 BBC News, ’LGBT Teaching row: Birmingham primary school protests permanently banned’, November 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-50557227 [Accessed 15 July 2020]