LGBT pupils at risk as Section 28 returns and Government guidance weakens

21st August, 2013 4:30 pm

This year has been a significant one for the LGBT community in many ways and we have seen a huge amount of column inches and airtime covering LGBT equality issues.

Largely unnoticed in all this was 2 significant anniversaries, firstly the 25th anniversary of the introduction of Section 28 by Margaret Thatcher’s government and the tenth anniversary of its repeal by the last Labour government.

These anniversaries probably deserved more attention than they got but in the light of significant achievements in LGBT rights of the last 15 years and the legislation on equal marriage this year it’s no surprise they were missed, viewed as part of our less enlightened past and more as a touchstone with the laws now being enacted in Russia.

All that changed this week when the spotlight fell very firmly back on Section 28 as it became clear that some schools had their own localised versions of the law. At first it emerged that 3 or 4 schools had this policy, but within a few days that was into double-figures and the most recent reports following investigations by the British Humanist Association shows that at least 45 schools are now involved. It was quite a shock to see a national newspaper running the headline ‘The Return of Section 28’.

We shouldn’t forget the impact and toxic effect that Section 28 had. It was a significant attack on LGBT people and the message – written into law – was that we had (in the words of the legislation) ‘pretended family relationships’.

The spin was that this was to protect children from ‘promotion of homosexuality’. The reality was that it was designed to stop any mention of the existence of gay people, part of a backlash against a growing confidence of LGBT people to be open and honest about their lives. The impact was a generation of schoolchildren who were denied any knowledge of the existence of LGBT people, any proper education on relationships; with LGBT pupils forced into the closet and teachers too fearful of the law to deal with the issue or provide proper support and advice. It was a charter for bullying that lead to young LGBT people being left isolated and fearful.

As Sir Ian McKellen said

“If Section 28 and the attitudes behind it had remained then society would still believe that gay people are second class citizens and that it is right that they should be treated as second class citizens.”

The Department for Education has commented that whilst schools can draw up their own sex education policy they should not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation but what has now emerged, however, is that the DfE has changed its own guidance to delete protections for transgender people in education. References to gender identity have been deleted from new drafts of the National Curriculum guidelines. This removes any official support for transgender pupils and recognition that schools should protect and support trans pupils and staff.

The only response the DfE have been able to offer to this to Gay Star News is ‘Teachers are best-placed to understand the needs of their pupils and to tailor their programme to reflect the needs of their pupils’. Many teachers and schools indeed will be, but as we can see from the new Section 28 issue many schools will not and this is putting trans pupils at risk.

Bullying in schools remains a big issue and despite the moves forward on LGBT rights there remains lots of work to be done. But unlike the days of Section 28 many schools do understand this and are prepared to tackle the issue working with campaigners like LGBT Labour’s Natacha Kennedy, who’s been leading work on helping schools properly support and understand gender issues, and with organisation’s like Stonewall and their important education programmes.

So far no Government minister has commented. David Cameron opposed the repeal of Section 28 ten years ago but subsequently apologised for it. If he wants to prove that he meant that apology and it was more than just an attempted to wipe the stain of prejudice from his party’s record he and his education secretary need to act. These attempts at reinstating Section 28 by the back door must be quashed and his government’s education guidance needs to be clear and explicit that all pupils and staff are protected from discrimination irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The DfE and schools can’t pick and choose and if they fail on this we risk returning to an era we all thought had long been consigned to political history.

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  • leslie48

    With the greatest respect I am sure your concerns are important but in its just over a week now since the Tory Government released the A Levels results for millions of our teenagers who for the first time in over * a decade * will be unable to resit their A Levels/AS units this Jan as Gove forbids it; this will deprive thousands of students especially working class ones the chance to improve and gain higher grades and will produce overburdened exam numbers next June; it affects kids with problems the most, it affects schools with teaching problems most and destroys Labour’s A Level system created in 2000 providing opportunities for all. Less working class kids will get into better universities. Labour’s media experts have ignored it. Labour deserves what it gets. Labour needs new media savvy experts in touch with the real issues which concern the voters..

    • Chilbaldi

      Disagree with this. Resits are a bit of a red herring and are not particularly working class friendly as you put it. All that resits have done is contribute to grade inflation which makes it even harder for universities to distinguish between pupils and makes it harder for working class pupils to stand out.

      There are far greater issues for pupils at comprehensives than A Level resits – starting with the quality of the education itself. Though we must remember that 70% of A/A* grades were achieved by state educated pupils.

      And re working class kids getting into better universities – you could start by abolishing the Oxbridge interview system which is biased towards public school children from the south of England, and by offering incentives to universities to give greater weight to A Levels achieved at comprehensives.

      • leslie48

        Go tell that to the hundred of thousands of young people who have gone to university over the last 10 years or so; most of whom did at least one AS resit and took a unit in January to help improve their overall grades. It helps to get to ‘A’ grade in maths (etc) if you can have one or more tries. And we need more educated young people not less.

        I find your analysis weak. Curriculum 2000 ( AS + A2 ) and the expansion of our universities has been a triumph of Labour for the last 13 years. Now its threatened by Gove ( Behind the scenes the Russel group and the independent schools are lobbying like mad to get him to change his mind as they know a 1960s model is crazy for our schools and economy now).

        What is grade inflation ? D/Mail myth perhaps. You do not have to go back to a ‘1960’s’ model – just higher the marks needed for the A grade and be more challenging. This is a class issue too. The more opportunities people have to improve themselves the more students can improve. Gove is ‘closing down’ those opportunities- its working class FE colleges, weaker 6th forms, high staff turnover 6th forms, children who had illnesses, family issues, weak teachers who could not deliver the A level correctly- all these will now suffer and who will be most advantaged while the Southern Middle class will be less affected as they buy into better schools. In middle class London the number of kids going to red brick unis is very high and will remain the same. You miss the point GCSEs, Sixth form A Levels and access to Unis is a VERY big issue for all parents – its social mobility and believe me is not a red herring down here in the South!

        • Hugh

          If memory serves, the OECD are keen Daily Mail readers.

          “Evidence suggests that improvement in exam grades is out of line with independent indicators of performance, suggesting grade inflation could be a significant factor.”

          And “The share of A–level entries awarded grade A has risen
          continuously for 18 years and has roughly trebled since 1980 …
          independent surveys of cognitive skills do not support this development.”

          • leslie48

            Precisely my point more students in sixth forms have achieved higher levels of attainment. But anyway the point is Gove and a return to an old 1960s model unsuited to our economy where we need large numbers of educated youngsters like our competitors. The right wing elitists hate the idea of wide-scale university expansion but the Scandinavians, Germans,French, Canadians, Ausies just get on with it ;not look for tricks to limit it.

          • Hugh

            Your point in suggesting grade inflation was a Daily Mail myth was that it is a reality?

            Are you sure?

  • Chilbaldi

    As far as I’m aware the current DfE guidance says that no sexuality can be promoted, whether that be heterosexuality, bisexuality or homosexuality. This is fair enough and hardly discriminatory, but agree that it could perhaps be changed so that all have to be mentioned. But then you have the issue with faith schooling…

  • DanFilson

    The comments made – Chilibaldi’s apart, and even that poo-poos the issue James Asser has raised – are not relevant to the subject of the article. If this were typical of school governors around the country, that this is not a subject worth discussing, it is a sad reflection on how little in reality we have progresses since Section 28 was repealed. Schools shy away from talking about sex education, preferring even to talk – if they do – of relationships education. The result is that many at school think themselves alone in being gay or lesbian or bisexual. The issues of what kinds of sex LGB people enjoy (or ‘practice’, to use that ugly and bizarre word), what STIs are about and how to guard against them, and what strains can occur in same- and opposite-sex relationships all get avoided and instead there are vague and embarassed generalised but worthy discussions about the importance of respect etc. In practice, who is monitoring what goes in free schools’ curricula? Who monitors what actually goes on in voluntary-aided schools? The way that this thread has gone suggests that readers of this article not only don’t know, but also that they don’t care.

    • rekrab

      As a parent I’d say I’m confused with the “FREE SCHOOL” mantra, what does it mean? free in a sense that it doesn’t cost pupils/parents money? or free as in it means, the schools have free choice over the way there run?

      • DanFilson

        They are free in the sense that parents don’t pay for them except through their taxes as for other schools though there’s a certain lack of transparency as it’s hard to get hold of details of a free school until it has been set up and is up and running. And they do seem to have considerable freedom over how they operate. There is a myth about that “state schools” are under local authority “control” as if they do not have much freedom. In fact they have delegated budgets which they must manage and buy in services from whom they choose, which is not always the local authority. The local education authority is there to provide support and advice, something the free schools eschew, thinking they know it all. Some do, some don’t but you can be sure that picking up the pieces of things go awry will fall to the local authority as the minister will be nowhere to be seen. So one feature of free schools is their lack of accountability and transparency. Another is the anarchy with which they pop up. Unlike the schools for which the local authority carries responsibility (though, as explained, not necessarily over which they have that much power), a free school can be set up regardless of whether there’s a surplus or shortage of places in the area. The result can be a wasteful excess of places, which – given the money ultimately comes from the same pot as funds the other schools – can lead to the decline of the other schools competing for the same pupils. Competition is good, thinks Gove, and no doubt Eton scores over other Slough comprehensives. He’s determined NOT to create level playing fields. Just to go back to free schools and Section 28, should the state really be funding schools that pick and choose which parts of equality laws they observe and on the back of their being faith schools – as some free schools are – inculcate religion-backed bigotry instead of secular and sound sex- and relationships-education?

        • rekrab

          Sounds like a total mine field. So we could have free schools teaching creationism and ignoring other scientific studies, while a few miles down the road another free school could be teaching Darwinism and ignoring religious teachings.

          And when these pupils have matured they’ll have reason to fight one another because of their teachings.

          Jeez! how can we stop Gove’s segregated ways?

          • Hugh

            No, free schools have to teach evolution as part of their science curriculum, and can only teach creationism in religious education classes.

          • DanFilson

            And state schools still have to have an assembly with a collective act of worship and follow the national curriculum re religious education, or so I understand.

            I would be surprised if any UK school actually teaches creationism in all seriousness, though it might be legitimate to refer to it in the course of religious education. But if my own experience is anything to go by, challenging the Bible as a true record invites opposition.

          • Hugh

            They have to follow the national curriculum in other respects, why would they not have to follow it for religious education?

            I don’t think challenging the Bible as a true record invites half as much “opposition” as asserting it as a true record in everyday life (although perhaps you are talking about in schools), but I’m not sure what the point you are making is: it seems the nature of free speech.

          • DanFilson

            Well my challenges on the Bible and what it was worth was when I was 13 and bored by RE big time, but it was interesting how astonished those in my class were at the revelation I had not been baptised, let alone that i was uninterested in confirmation. Those inside the bubble find it hard to conceptualise the outside viewpoint. This is a diversion. The issue is whether schools should be permitted to adjust their syllabus to reintroduce the equivalent of Section 28 which regarded same-sex relationships as pretend families. I don’t think they should be, and it is to me shocking that the Gove department wasn’t really thinking of this or monitoring for it.

          • rekrab

            Well, can you be sure they’ll will?

            When such events have taken place in a state run school?


            There are groups out there just waiting for the chance to infiltrate places like “free schools”

          • Hugh

            No, but evidently I can’t be sure of what happens in state schools either so your argument doesn’t strike me as very convincing.


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