Overcoming the Legacy of Section 28: Reaffirming the Need for LGBT+ Inclusive Education

In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to commit to fully integrating LGBT+ identities and the history of gay rights into the national curriculum following the recommendations of an LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group. From 2021, all public schools in Scotland will be required to teach lessons on the HIV and AIDS epidemic, the history of equality campaigning, same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, alongside an exploration of homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, and their impact upon wider society.  

It’s an important step forward in the campaign for inclusive education. Learning the history of a marginalised group’s struggle for recognition and equality under law is an essential part of preventing the spread of prejudice and the rise of discrimination. Neglecting this historical element otherwise serves to undermine the broader aim of inclusive education – to foster diversity and mutual understanding. It also has the effect of consolidating feelings of alienation amongst LGBT+ youth, given that their education doesn’t reflect who they are as individuals, let alone confer a sense of belonging or community. Research carried out by Stonewall in 2017 suggested as much: this found that two in five LGBT pupils had never been taught about LGBT issues at school, while almost half had suffered bullying for being themselves. Indeed, a 2019 YouGov poll revealed that LGBT+ bullying was the most prevalent form of bullying across primary and secondary schools.

This fits into a broader societal trend of discrimination. According to the latest Home Office figures, hate crimes against LGBT+ individuals are experiencing a sustained increase. Research has proven that LGBT+ people are more likely to be treated unfairly by healthcare professionals. LGBT+ youth are also more likely to be impacted by homelessness. Couple this with the fact that conversion therapy is yet to be outlawed in the UK and it becomes evidently clear that such changes to a child’s formative education are not just desirable, but a bare necessity. Homophobia is a learned behaviour and something which underscores systemic discrimination. As such, schools play a huge role to play in preventing its spread. 

Despite this, Westminster appears to have been playing catch-up in implementing similar changes to a curriculum which is well past its sell-by date. Current shortcomings can be traced back to Thatcher’s ruinous Section 28, an amendment to the British Local Government Act of 1988 which explicitly prohibited local authorities from promoting homosexuality, deeming it “a pretended family relationship.” Fast forward to today, and LGBT+ themes are nowhere to be seen amongst the buzzwords of empire, parliament, and monarchy which dominate England’s history curriculum.

Despite this, there are signs of progress. After decades of campaigning by organisations including Stonewall and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, England’s relationships and sex education is receiving a desperately needed improvement. As of September 2020, all secondary schools in England are required to teach about sexual orientation and gender identity, whilst all primary schools must teach about different families, LGBT families included.  This must now be sustained and integrated across the board, taking into account, for example, the foregoing limitations within history programmes of study.

Integrating broader LGBT+ themes into the curriculum raises wide-ranging implications for students, teachers, and parents. For students, LGBT+ inclusive education must follow principles of age appropriateness, with regards to content and education level. Initial Teacher Education (ITE) needs to equip educators with the skills and knowledge to teach these overlooked matters. A parent’s right to withdraw their child from sex and relationships education must also be considered and balanced against the legal requirement of state-funded schools to adapt to any changes in the national curriculum. And of course, funding would need to be provided to facilitate the development of new resources that match these curriculum changes.

The complexities involved here should not be understated. British devolution ensures that diversification in education will not always follow a uniform pattern. Furthermore, local communities in England have in the past taken a strong stance against the teaching of LGBT+ issues, with various protests taking place across England in early 2019 on the grounds of a conflict with faith. How can these changes be implemented without unilaterally revoking a parent’s right to withdraw and without ignoring cultural differences within a diverse population? Should headteachers be given greater autonomy in denying or accepting such requests on a case by case basis? These issues and those of funding are undeniably magnified by England’s 8.89 million pupils, a figure over ten times the size of Scotland’s latest enrolment figures. 

But despite these challenges, England is right to follow Scotland’s example in deconstructing the harmful legacy of Section 28. Central government must now ensure pupils are equipped with an understanding of LGBT+ issues through an age-appropriate and well-integrated modern curriculum supported by robust funding. Teachers must be given the support needed to implement these changes. Parents’ concerns ought to be properly addressed. Ultimately, though, the need for inclusive education is now being recognised and this should give some hope to LGBT+ youth previously neglected and alienated by the lingering remnants of 1980s discrimination. Sustaining this shift in momentum should now be a top priority for those tasked with ensuring the country’s education system promotes diversity and inclusivity. 

Michael Head

Michael is a third year History & International Relations student at King’s College London and a member of the Education Policy Centre’s Working Group at KTT.

The featured (top) image is by Jess Bailey on Unsplash.

Bibliography

Brooks, Libby. 2020. “Scotland to Embed LGBTI Teaching Across Curriculum”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/nov/09/scotland-first-country-approve-lgbti-school-lessons.

Department for Education. 2013. “History Programmes of Study: Key Stages 1-3”. Government Assets Publishing Service.

Department for Education. 2019. “Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education, and Health Education in England”. London: Government Assets Publishing Service.

Greenland, Katy, and Rosalind Nunney. 2008. “The Repeal of Section 28: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”. Pastoral Care In Education 26 (4): 243-251. doi:10.1080/02643940802472171.

“Housing, Homelessness and Young LGBT People: Solutions to a Crisis for LGBT Youth”. 2016. tuc.org.uk. https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Housing%20policy_0.pdf.

“LGBT Bullying More Common Than Racist Bullying in Schools – Poll”. 2020. Sky News. https://news.sky.com/story/lgbt-bullying-more-common-than-racist-bullying-in-schools-11756325.

LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group. 2018. “LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group: Report to the Scottish Ministers”. https://www.gov.scot/publications/lgbti-inclusive-education-working-group-report/.

Stonewall & YouGov. 2015. “Unhealthy Attitudes: The Treatment of LGBT People Within Health and Social Care Services”. Stonewall. https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/unhealthy_attitudes.pdf.

“Stonewall Urges Public to ‘Come Out’ for LGBT-Inclusive Education”. 2020. Stonewall. https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/stonewall-urges-public-%E2%80%98come-out%E2%80%99-lgbt-inclusive-education.

The Home Office. 2020. “Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2019/20”. Government Assets Publishing Service.

Wiltshire, Mo. 2020. “As LGBT-Inclusive Education Begins, Teachers Must Be Supported to Implement It Properly”. inews.co.uk. https://inews.co.uk/opinion/lgbt-school-curriculum-sex-education-headteachers-supported-614606.

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