Homophobic Bullying (Schools)
Nick Gibb (Minister of State (Schools), Education; Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Conservative)
The points that the hon. Gentleman makes are important. The issue cannot be tackled overnight with any instant panacea. We have made it clear that the
Government regard any form of prejudice-based bullying in schools as unacceptable. We expect teachers to take action when pejorative phrases are used, or when a pupil shouts out in the way that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South. Teachers should take action against pupils who use those words in the same way that they would against a racial slur. Those things will not be dealt with overnight. There is no clear and simple solution, such as the solutions proposed by Chris Bryant. We need a range of answers. However, one of the relevant issues is ensuring that schools have proper behaviour policies and that there is an intolerant approach to poor behaviour and bullying, from whatever cause and of whatever type. That is a key priority of the Government.
As my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew pointed out, widespread access to technology such as the internet and social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook have provided another avenue by which bullying can occur. Such bullying is not confined to the school site or day, but can happen at any time. As has been mentioned, there is no escape from bullying. Going home is no longer a safe haven from bullying for pupils.
To help children and young people to use the internet safely, the Department supports the UK Council for Child Internet Safety—a voluntary organisation that works to protect children from risks including cyber-bullying as well as harmful content, sexual images, grooming, loss of privacy and scams. Earlier this year, UKCCIS launched child internet safety guidance, including on the theme of cyberbullying. Facebook, the BBC and others are using the guidance, which should ensure that, whichever online service children use, they receive sound and consistent messages about what to do if they want to prevent harm or if they have become upset by something online.
In addition, children’s charities such as Childnet and Beatbullying, which are active UKCCIS members, offer expert advice on cyber-bullying for young people to raise awareness of online safety and how to protect themselves. Beatbullying has developed the CyberMentors peer support programme, with dedicated websites using a social networking model to allow young people to help and support one another.
Bullying is not an issue that is just for the bully and the bullied. It can affect a whole school and so can need a whole school to create an environment that prevents bullying from being a problem in the first place. Each pupil has a part to play in preventing and tackling bullying. All pupils should show respect and courtesy towards one another and should be encouraged in that by their parents. Pupils can demonstrate that attitude by not going along with a bully. As Stonewall would put it, “Don’t be a bystander.” That applies of course to teachers as well—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South about a teacher who failed to admonish pupils for making anti-gay remarks. Prejudice-based bullying in schools, such as homophobic bullying, is unacceptable. When I spoke last July at the Stonewall “Education for All” conference I said:
“We need to send a message that homophobic bullying, of any kind and of any child, is unacceptable.”
I am happy to restate that message today and will continue to send as clear a signal as I can that we cannot and should not tolerate homophobic bullying.
I have set out our expectations of schools and what they should do to prevent and tackle bullying. We have taken action to support them by ensuring that they have the powers that they need to maintain good behaviour and discipline. We have taken action by giving them clear advice on their duties and their powers. We continue to work with specialist organisations that can provide help and advice, not just to schools, but to those who experience bullying. Schools now need to be able to demonstrate the impact of their anti-bullying policies to Ofsted. I believe that that provides a comprehensive approach to ending not just homophobic bullying, but all bullying in our schools.