Under the Equality Act there is a requirement for public sector bodies, including schools, to promote equality for disabled people in every aspect of their work.
The Equality Act 2010 introduced a single Public Sector Equality Duty (sometimes also referred to as the ‘general duty’) that applies to public bodies, including maintained schools and Academies, and which extends to all protected characteristics – race, disability, sex, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment. This combined equality duty came into effect in April 2011. It has three main elements. In carrying out their functions, public bodies are required to have due regard to the need to:
Eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act,
Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it,
Foster good relations across all characteristics – between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
This duty requires schools to adopt a proactive approach, mainstreaming disability equality into all decisions and activities. The duty does not just apply to disabled pupils; it applies to any non-educational services schools provide. The duty applies also to parents, members of staff, visitors to the school, local community members and to potential pupils of the future. Schools can implement the general duty by actively reviewing all their policies, procedures and planned access improvements to remove barriers, with a view, for example, to greater recruitment and retention of disabled staff, greater participation of disabled pupils, disabled parents and community members.
Schools are still required to have Accessibility Plans showing how they are planning strategically to increase access over time; the same duties as previously existed under the DDA and have been replicated in the Equality Act 2010. The plan must show how the school is:
increasing the extent to which disabled pupils can participate in the curriculum;
improving the physical environment of schools to enable those with disabilities to take better advantage of education, benefits, facilities and services provided; and
improving the availability of accessible information to those with disabilities.
Schools will need to provide adequate resources for implementing plans and must review them regularly. An accessibility plan may be a freestanding document but may also be published as part of another document such as the School Development Plan, a Single Equality Plan. OFSTED inspections may include a school’s accessibility plan as part of their review.
What is homophobic bullying?
Homophobic bullying can involve physical or mental violence by a group or an individual. It is often aimed at someone who has poor defences and who, as a result, may be significantly upset. Victims may be male or female. What distinguishes it from other forms of bullying is the language that is used. Words like “queer” and “poof” and “lezzie” have been used abusively for many years. They have now been joined by words (such as “gay” and “lesbian”) which were formerly descriptive but which now may be used as general insults. In some youth cultures, “gay” is now used as a derogatory adjective to describe objects and people that may have no connection whatsoever with homosexuality.
Both boys and girls may be subjected to homophobic abuse.
Why does it happen?
The root cause may well be prejudice against gay and lesbian people. Even very young children, who do not understand what homosexuality is, may be encouraged to indulge in homophobic behaviour by this general prejudice.
Individual motivations may be more complicated and, as in the case of other forms of bullying, may include a desire for power or a need for affiliation: some people gain satisfaction from imposing their power on others and a group will be strengthened if someone else is outside that group. Identifying people as being different because of their gender orientation may be a convenient excuse for isolating and persecuting them. The bonds that tie the members of a group together are strengthened because the members are not “different”.
Fear may also be a motivation - as the word “homophobic” suggests. This can be a fear of the unknown, a fear of someone who is perceived to be different, or a fear which is based on uncertainty about the nature of their own developing sexuality:
“Keep away poofta”.
“Here he comes, backs to the wall”.
Many adolescent boys say that the worst thing anyone can call you is “gay”. In accusing others of being gay they may seek to demonstrate their own masculinity.
Both sexes can be involved in homophobic name-calling. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that boys are most likely to be victimised by other boys. The bullying, especially if it is physical or verbally aggressive, is often deliberate but sometimes bullies may not realise the harm that they are doing. They may believe that their victim enjoys their “jokes”, or that the label they have attached to him is simply a nickname.
Some very young children indulge in homophobic bullying. In one Scottish primary school the head teacher reported that boys as young as seven regularly used words like “poof” and “gayboy”.
Teachers are rarely accused of such overt actions but, by the careless use of words such as “sissy” or by simply failing to challenge homophobic name-calling, they can be perceived as giving tacit approval. One mother described what happened to her 9 year old son:
He is a sensitive wee boy who doesn’t enjoy sport. On a cold wet windy day he was standing shivering on the rugby field when the PE teacher came over to him and said, “If you’re just going to stand there shivering why don’t you do what you do best - go and play with the girls”.
Who is affected by homophobic bullying?
- Children and adults who are perceived to be gay or lesbian
- Young people and adults who are lesbian or gay
- Children who have a gay or lesbian, parent or sibling
- Everyone who teaches or learns in an environment where such behaviour is tolerated.
Young people who are sure of their identity as gay or lesbian, especially if they have chosen to reveal this to their peers, are likely to be subjected to some homophobic name calling. However, the majority of victims in schools are either too young to be certain about their sexual orientation - or are heterosexual. This statement is not intended to diminish the suffering of young people who are gay but rather to emphasise just how widespread the practice of homophobic bullying is. A sixteen year old boy described his experiences:
The others are always calling me names - things like gay and poofta and bummer. They do this just because I don’t enjoy football and the other stupid things which they like. I can’t stand it. I can’t sleep at night, I’ve been staying off school and I just keep thinking about what they say. Maybe it’s true but I don’t think it is. I like girls! I think I’m heterosexual.
Taunts do not have to be true to be hurtful. But taunts like this hurt so much because we live in a society where homophobia is so common.
What can Parents do
Parents and carers can play an important role in tackling homophobic bullying:
- Talk to your child. Ask how they are feeling and if everything is OK at school, rather than if they are being bullied. They may be embarrassed and worried that you will think they are gay, so might choose not to say anything.
- Remember that homophobic bullying can affect any young person, regardless of their sexual orientation. Just because your child is experiencing homophobic bullying does not necessarily mean that he or she is lesbian, gay or bisexual.
- Be supportive. Your child needs to know that if they do decide to talk to you about bullying, you will listen and that they can trust you with what they tell you. Let them tell you in their own time, and ask them how they want to proceed. Preferably approach the school together.
Check with the school what procedures they have in place for dealing with bullying and in particular, homophobic bullying. Involve your child in any decisions that are taken on how to tackle the bullying. If you are not satisfied with how your child’s teacher responds, talk to the head teacher or bring it to the attention of the school governors - including your child at every stage.
What is racism?
Racism means you are subjected to abuse and harassment because of your race, colour or beliefs. There is a difference between racial discrimination and racism. Racial discrimination means being treated differently to someone else because of your race, perhaps by being told you cannot wear a turban if you are a Sikh, a yarmulka if you are a Jewish boy or hijaab if you are a Pakistani girl.
What is racist bullying?
Racist bullying was defined as "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".
These incidents can include racist abuse, physical threats or attacks, wearing of provocative badges, bringing racist comics or leaflets to school, inciting others to behave in a racist way, racist graffiti and refusing to co-operate with others.
What schools have to do about racist bullying?
The Race Relations Act 1976 states that schools and governing bodies have a duty to ensure that students do not face any form of racial discrimination, including attacks and harassment. Please refer to our Anti-Bullying Policy.
Racism means you are subjected to abuse and harassment because of your race, colour or beliefs, or ethnic background. Bullying UK, part of Family Lives, receives many complaints about racist bullying. If you are being bullied in this way you must tell your parents and ask them to write to your head teacher about it. Keep a diary of who says and does what because that will help the school to see where the bullying is taking place.
You should make a complaint to the police if the school doesn't act to sort out racial bullying.
Making a complaint to the police about racist bullying
You need to make a complaint to the police if the school doesn't sort out racial bullying. Most police forces have school liaison officers who should be able to warn the bullies off. In serious cases you could ask whether your local force has a hate crime unit.
The police have been recording racial incidents separately since 1988 and figures have risen nearly every year since then. This is partly due to an increased willingness to become involved but also because it is now much easier to report racist incidents, in some areas you can report them online.
Schools need to know about tensions in their local communities. This information should be provided by the local police. Disputes within the community sometimes end up in school. Schools must keep a record book of the names of perpetrators of racial problems and are expected to work with the police and other agencies including the youth service and the wider community.