July 2015


  • Room for manoeuvre…
    Many voices in the education world have called for a ‘period of stability’ now that a new government is in place. But that does not mean a let-up in meeting the significant challenges facing us, says Brian Lightman. More
  • Making the grade
    A successful qualification reflects the achievements of its holder and it signifies the attainment of a specific set of skills, explains Ofqual’s Phil Beach. More
  • A perfect storm?
    A 5 percent hike in costs in the next 18 months will put all schools under more pressure, but an unequal funding system is exacerbating the problems for some. Members need to take action now, reports Julie Nightingale. More
  • Finding our pride
    While many schools and colleges now actively address homophobia for students and staff, leaders who are members of LGBT communities still face a dilemma in ‘coming out’. Carol Jones highlights the challenges and looks at what ASCL is doing to meet leaders’ needs. More
  • Joined-up thinking
    Peter Kent unveils plans for a new foundation, b backed by teachers and governors, to nurture leadership development and says if the government is serious about letting the profession lead the system, it should fund the idea. More
  • Growing reigns
    A new review highlights the most successful approaches to professional development for teachers from around the world, as Sarah Coskeran explains. More
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While many schools and colleges now actively address homophobia for students and staff, leaders who are members of LGBT communities still face a dilemma in ‘coming out’. Carol Jones highlights the challenges and looks at what ASCL is doing to meet leaders’ needs.

Finding our pride

Enormous progress has been made in recent years to address the prejudice and discrimination faced by members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. Yet life in schools and colleges can still be frightening for many students and staff.

Research from a range of organisations has, quite rightly, focused on the intimidation and suffering of young gay students at school, but the experiences of LGBT staff and school leaders have been studied far less.

Changing attitudes

Attitudes in Britain are changing. Government figures show that the proportion of people who think that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex is always wrong has dropped significantly from 64 per cent in 1987 to 15 per cent in 2013. The recent overwhelming vote by Irish people to legalise same-sex marriage (22 May) and the mobilisation of emigrants to return to Ireland to vote through Twitter such as #HomeToVote is testimony to the changes in opinion.

This may be due, in part, to legislation introduced to counteract prejudice and discrimination, particularly in the last fi ve years. The Equality Act of 2010 and the public sector Equality Duty (PSED) have had consequences for schools and their governing bodies, which have a responsibility not only to safeguard LGBT school students and staff against discrimination but also to consider ways to tackle homophobic and transgender bullying.

Ofsted has also been expected to evaluate the impact of government LGBT equality reforms. Since 2014, the framework and its evaluation schedule has monitored schools’ practice in ‘promoting tolerance of and respect for people of all… sexual orientations (and other groups, including transgender individuals, with protected characteristics as defi ned by the Equality Act, 2010)’. It has also sought evidence that schools are ‘preventing and tackling all forms of bullying and harassment, including cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying related to sexual orientation or gender reassignment’.

It may be too early to evaluate the impact of recent LGBT legislation in shifting attitudes in school culture but, even so, evidence produced by government departments and Stonewall in 2012 makes for bleak reading. Findings from large-scale surveys of school students and staff confirm that homophobic bullying is endemic in schools and that this is affecting gay young people’s attendance, achievement and safety. This is corroborated in Stonewall’s 2014 Teachers’ Report in which teachers refer to witnessing homophobic language and abuse in schools (see the report online at http://tinyurl.com/kkgfj9n).

Experiences of school leaders

No research has been done into the homophobic bullying and prejudice faced by leaders in schools – unsurprising given the fear that many leaders have in coming forward to talk about their experiences. However, the experiences of these senior school leaders, compiled b by ASCL in developing an equality and diversity framework, offer some insights. (Names and some details have been changed.)

Senior leader 1

Andy has been the headteacher of a successful, large academy for seven years. He and his male partner, Geoffrey, want to marry, having been in a civil partnership for almost nine years. Andy is not ‘out’ to staff or to his governing body, fearing that his leadership would be in question if anyone discovered that he was in a same-sex relationship.

He and Geoffrey wanted to move to another part of the country to support Geoffrey’s ageing parents, so Andy applied for a headship elsewhere. Despite being shortlisted for the post, he withdrew from the interview because part of the process required candidates to invite their partners to an informal ‘meet the governors’ tea at the end of day 1, so he remained at his current school.

The school has run annual LGBT history events and is seen as pioneering. Nevertheless, Andy feels unable to be ‘out’.

“Every day I feel sad and guilty for living such a secret life,” he says. “Although staff might bring their partners to school events I don’t. If I’m out with Geoffrey at weekends and I see anyone from school he walks on because I don’t want them to find out. I love my job, my school and I love Geoffrey, but this secrecy blights my life.”

He fears that coming out would mean losing his authority.

“If I had to exclude a pupil then I know s/he might take revenge in the form of social media. From then on other pupils, parents and staff would see me as a gay man, vulnerable to any abuse, not as an authoritative headteacher.”

Senior leader 2

Celia, an experienced deputy, is in a relatively new lesbian relationship and has a daughter with a previous partner. She’s apprehensive about applying for headships as she doesn’t want to have to explain her family structure.

“Being a parent helps because people assume that I’m heterosexual and being a parent makes me acceptable to the parents of the school,” she says. “I can always say, at open events, ‘as a parent myself’ and no one knows.

“If I took on a headship I know that staff and pupils at the school would be curious about me – they always are of headteachers. I couldn’t stand the pressure of deciding whether to be who I really am or not and I’d feel responsible for anything negative that might come my daughter’s way through social media.”

Senior leader 3

Yvonne is on her second headship, having taken on a school judged to be ‘requiring improvement’ and with a deficit budget. Her partner is a headteacher of a neighbouring faith school.

She does not want her governors to discover that she’s in a civil partnership because of their religious attitudes, so Yvonne is cautious about who she speaks to about her relationship. As she says, ‘the education community is very small’.

In preparing for their civil partnership they checked that the local town hall, where the banns were read, was able to display the banns discreetly.

At the beginning of her latest headship, Yvonne has had to make some unpopular decisions, leading to conflict with a union. One of the union leaders regularly resorts to using social media to influence public opinion. Yvonne is fearful that she’ll be ‘outed’ and publicly discredited, which would result in personal intimidation of both her and her partner at school and may make the school vulnerable to further publicity.

The ASCL framework

ASCL’s work to develop an equality and diversity framework has arisen, in part, because members expressed concerns. One wrote:

“Gay colleagues report feeling pressured not to raise the gender of their partners and, in some instances, have been reduced to lying about their sexuality when asked by students directly. It seems staff are afraid of parental complaints and a potential lack of support from other members of the senior leadership team and governors.

“Surely as senior leaders we have a duty of care to our staff to protect them from fear of reprisals. If we don’t address this, how can we expect school cultures to change and society to become more tolerant?” The draft framework, which includes guidance for schools and governor training, was presented to ASCL Council’s Leadership and Governance Committee in July and we will keep you informed of any further developments. If you have views on ways of addressing LGBT issues in schools and colleges then please email carol.jones@ascl.org.uk

ASCL is also continuing to develop a regional network of LGBT support for school and college leaders. Members are asked to make contact if they wish to find out more or wish to be part of the network.

LGBT in schools

● Resources and guidance for schools and their governors of all school and college phases is available from Stonewall; see www.stonewall.org.uk/ at_school

● The National Governors’ Association (NGA) provides guidance on supporting schools to address homophobic bullying for school governors who are members; see http://tinyurl.com/q2rrypz

● Schools Out UK provides lesson resources, speakers and guidance for schools developing curriculum resources; see www.schools-out.org.uk

Carol Jones is ASCL Specialist for Leadership and Teacher Professionalism