Atkinson and De Palma (2010) are among the researchers who realise that there is increasing concern about homophobia in schools. This concern extends to young children in primary school. Recognising the link between homophobic and transphobic bullying, Ofsted were prompted in April 2014 to reissue their guidance on tackling the issue in primary schools (Ofsted, 2014).
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While Moffat (2014) lacks research evidence to back his assertion that children as young as five need to learn about homosexual and trans-people, he convincingly identifies the need for early intervention as the key to addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying in primary schools. Being a homosexual pupil generates prejudice and inequality in schools through homophobic bullying directly against them, and this bullying is rife in primary schools. An illuminating, though worrying, study by Stonewall (2009) found that 44 percent of primary school teachers stated that children in their schools experienced homophobic bullying, name-calling or harassment. Citing a study by Rivers (2000), the teacher’s union NASUWT highlights a variety of examples of abusive homophobic prejudice experienced by lesbian and gay pupils in school, including from name-calling to physical and sexual assault. The NASUWT point to research by the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) which shows that school children can also experience gender variance, thus making them potential targets for transphobic bullying. In the Stonewall study (2009), a significant 17 percent of teachers report that ‘girls who act like boys’ are bullied. Both Stonewall and the NASUWT understand that transphobic bullying is additional to, and different from, homophobic bullying: young homosexual girls with gender identity issues suffer the two-fold risk of transphobic as well as homophobic bullying. Such bullying is likely to cause low self-esteem and the risk of self-harm and suicidal contemplation (DCSF 2007). It is unclear how this learning support will fit in the emerging revised national framework for PSHE, nor how homosexual students with gender identity issues will be included in the pupil voice which the PSHE Association (2014) rightly asserts is needed in shaping schools’ PSHE curriculum. Homophobic and transphobic prejudice and inequality also become powerfully generated within schools as institutions. One way this happens in primary schools is through the prejudiced and unequal treatment of homosexual and gender dysphoric pupils producing a culture of negativity around being ‘gay’. In the Stonewall study (2009), three quarters of the teachers reported pupils saying ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’. One of the teachers sums up the negative culture: ‘At primary level to call another child gay is currently a term of abuse’. Another way is through staff and parents abusing their power to treat homosexuality and / or gender difference with prejudice and inequality: the NASUWT stress that homophobic bullying can be perpetrated by any member of the school community.
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