One year ago today, on 8th November 2018, education secretary, John Swinnie MSP, stood up to confirm that The Scottish Government would implement LGBT-inclusive education in all Scottish state schools.
At the heart of the new policy would be 33 recommendations made by the LGBT-inclusive education working group, which included organisations like Stonewall Scotland, LGBT Youth and the TIE Campaign.
The move was seen as groundbreaking, a world first, but in the year since, how much work has happened to implement the changes and importantly, are schools ready to cast off the long shadow of Section 28 scrapped nearly 20 years ago.
Firstly, it’s important to know the history of why LGBT identities were not already included in the education of our young people, despite the significant progress in equality made in Scotland and the UK throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s.
The main reason for that was an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988, called Section 28 (or Section 2A in Scotland), which stated that a local council “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
This meant Scottish teachers employed by local councils could not discuss LGBT relationships or identities for fear of being in breach of the law. Even LGBT teachers themselves were rarely out in the workplace for fear of being sacked or at the very least being bullied in the workplace by colleagues or pupils.
It was a time of rife homophobia – bullying in schools was common and ferocious, there were very few positive role models in society and there was a constant stereotyping portraying gay men as lip-wristed and camp, lesbians as some over-sexualised fetish for men to enjoy and god-forbid we ever saw a trans person or any bisexuals on TV!
But there were groups out there hoping to challenge the status quo.
In Scotland, demonstrations and lobbying by LGBT groups to repeal Section 28 were finally successful on 21st June 2000, one of the first laws passed by the new Scottish Parliament. In England and Wales it would take a further 3 years.
LGBT Youth Scotland’s Head of Programmes, Cara Spence, has worked at the charity for 15 years and tells us how Section 28 cast a long dark shadow which has been tough to shift:
“This was a very different time: the legacy of damaging legislation was clear; teachers were nervous and there were still some very strong views about ‘promoting homosexuality’ to children and young people.
“I remember at one point we were asked to have a stall at a health fair in a school. It was all going really well and all the agencies were happy to have us there when suddenly, out of the blue, we were asked to leave by the Head Teacher and frog-marched out of the school in front of lots of organisations and young people. Of course, we dusted ourselves down and continued to make the case for LGBT inclusion in schools – back then it was just par for the course.
The work to create a truly LGBT-inclusive education system for Scotland’s young people would take time to become a reality and would need to be based on evidence. In 2006 the charity conducted research with the University of Edinburgh which covered all local authorities, individual schools and young people themselves.
The result was the first ‘Toolkit for Teachers’ on dealing with homophobia in schools.
“I wasn’t privy to the meetings that led up to its approval” continues Cara, “but I know it was challenging and involved hours of difficult conversations. What we ended up with was a resource that, now I look back on it, was really ahead of its time and contained lots of content that we still use today.”
The charity launched multiple projects in the years to come, focussing on peer education in the ‘Challenging Homophobia Together’ project, which engaged over 5,000 young people in schools over 4 local authority areas. The project’s findings were also shared at an EU level, allowing members states to use the findings from Scotland to help develop their own approach to inclusive education in the late 00’s.
But with long term funding a serious challenge, it was time for a different approach. Young people were central to the development of a new focus for the charity and in 2014 the LGBT Schools Charter was launched.
Cara explained, “[Young people] were clear, they wanted their teachers and their schools to take the lead on driving change. Ultimately, they didn’t want LGBT inclusion to happen on just the one day that LGBT Youth Scotland staff visited; they wanted to know they had someone understanding to talk to every day, protection from harm and their LGBT identities reflected in the curriculum.”
“The Charter takes a whole school approach to improve school culture and ethos while looking at leadership, policies, practice and training for staff. More than a quarter of publicly funded secondary schools are working towards, or have achieved, the LGBT School Charter award.”
It was around this time, in 2014, that two men, who would otherwise unlikely be friends, met at a pub and decided to “change the world” – Liam Stevenson and Jordan Daly, co-founders of the Time for Inclusive Education Campaign (TIE).
They took grassroots activism and gave it a super-fast fibre upgrade! Both have said openly they had no idea how they would create a campaign (as outlined inTIE Podcast ‘No Gear No Idea’ Ep 1), but that they had been energised by political activism during the Scottish independence referendum that year.
Through innovative use of political motivators such as petitions, short films, pledges, as well as the odd public rant, the campaign gained traction with young people, with teachers, with the public and eventually politicians had to sit up and listen.
A majority of MSP’s backed the campaign by February 2017 and it was shortly after that The Scottish Government announced the formation of an LGBT-inclusive education working group, which would include the Scottish Catholic Education Service.
Just 18 months later, the group were in Holyrood to hear the Education Secretary announce the full acceptance of the groups proposals – Scotland would have fully inclusive education representing LGBT identities by 2021.
Jordan Daly, co-founder of the TIE Campaign told us:
“It’s been an incredibly busy year since the announcement. We’ve continued as members of the Implementation Group and we have all been working through the technicalities of implementation, ensuring that it is as smooth and effective as possible come 2021.”
“Throughout the year we’ve been working on the ground in a voluntary capacity to support teachers and practitioners to get ahead of the national implementation timeline, explaining the changes, and also continuing our work in schools. In the last year we’ve delivered 41 educational engagement sessions across the country and witnessed an increase in demand for our services.”
You did read that part about volunteering right – TIE has no paid staff and in fact there has been no financial commitments made by The Scottish Government to fund the recommendations of inclusive education as yet.
In response to an FOI request by Pink Saltire, the Government confirmed that the Implementation Group have met on several occasions, updating the Action Plan as they go, and that any future funding requirements, such as the additional teacher training resources needed, or in-school support by third sector organisations, will be decided when the Group “agree the delivery method for the recommendations that have been identified for delivery in 2020-21”.
Jordan continued, “We have been making good progress. There has been so much creativity and innovation locally in some schools across Scotland, and our own outcomes have been continually strong. Ofcourse, there is still a period to go before LGBT-inclusive education is implemented and then common practice in all schools, but we are still content that with continued commitment and proper investment then this will be rolled out successfully.”
And it’s that creativity and innovation being demonstrated by some schools which will help embed an inclusive curriculum even faster in some areas than the 2021 deadline. The Ayrshire LGBT+ Education Network is one outstanding example of that work happening to bring about the changes, some of them very simple and easy to implement, ahead of the timescales outlined by the Government.
“There is great practice happening in schools across Scotland and this needs to be celebrated and recognised, but there is still much to be done” Cara Spence explains.
“Many LGBT young people still experience prejudice, discrimination and bullying in school, or they simply don’t feel welcome and included in the life of the school. This means that young people are leaving school early or struggling to get the exam results they deserve. It’s also vital that our approach considers the needs of the whole LGBT community; our research shows that transgender young people experience some of the highest levels of bullying in schools and the specific needs of bisexual young people also need to be addressed.”
“There are countries that are further ahead than Scotland in relation to mandatory teacher training and have more robust legislation in place to protect transgender young people in education, especially in Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands and Malta. The Scottish Government has made a strong commitment to change and educationalists around the world will have a close eye on what happens next.”