LGBT Inclusion in Schools
Researchers at Leeds Beckett University have conducted a survey to ascertain public opinion on teaching young children about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and on the teaching of same-sex relationships in primary schools. The research findings have been revealed during the high-profile media coverage of Parkfield Community School in Birmingham where parents have protested about the school’s LGBT curriculum programme, No Outsiders. Similar protests have also taken place in Manchester.
Professor Jonathan Glazzard and Samuel Stones, researchers in the Carnegie School of Education, collected 366 responses from the survey. The survey was distributed using social media and was completed by teachers and parents.
88% of the respondents did not agree that parents should have a right to withdraw their children from lessons which teach children about LGBT people. The majority of respondents (94%) felt that it was important that schools teach children about LGBT identities. The same proportion, 94%, felt that schools had a responsibility to promote LGBT inclusion. This is not the same thing as promoting a lifestyle. 88% agreed or strongly agreed that schools were not promoting a sexual orientation or gender identity through teaching children about LGBT people and relationships, indicating that respondents understand that the role of the school is to raise awareness that different types of identities and relationships exist.
Whilst these results are extremely positive, some of the responses demonstrated divergence of opinion. Respondents were less confident about teaching children about different kinds of identities from the age of 4. Only 76% agreed that ‘schools should teach children about different kinds of relationships from the age of 4’. A lower proportion (73%) agreed that ‘schools should teach same sex marriage from the age of 4’. Only 50% of respondents agreed that ‘schools should teach children about transgender identities from the age of 4’.
The findings illustrate that although the majority of people think that it is important for schools to promote LGBT inclusion by teaching children about different kinds of relationships, they are less likely to agree that children should learn this content at the age of 4. Respondents were even less likely to agree that children should learn about same-sex marriage at this age and opinion on the teaching of transgender identities at the age of 4 was split 50/50. One likely explanation for this is that respondents feel that very young children are too young to learn about LGBT people and relationships. It is possible that respondents feel that young children need to be protected from learning about LGBT identities and relationships, either because they feel that the content will cover sex or because they believe that young children are easily influenced.
This raises some interesting issues. Firstly, some children at the age of four have same-sex parents. They are aware of same-sex relationships and they may have brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles in their family who identity as LGBT. If these identities are not visible in the school curriculum they can start to feel that their lives are not reflected in the school. Secondly, it is interesting to note that there is divided opinion on the teaching of same-sex marriage, despite the fact that in the early years children learn about heterosexual relationships through topics on ‘family’ and role-plays of mock straight weddings. Why is it acceptable to teach children about heterosexual relationships and not about LGBT relationships and identities? The data suggests that there might be a view that exposing young children to different kinds of people and relationships is somehow harmful. The findings also suggests significant resistance to teaching children about transgender identities which indicates negativity towards the transgender community.
Research has demonstrated that non-acceptance, and negative attitudes toward LGBT people in general are associated with lower levels of education and intelligence as well as higher levels of religious belief and political conservatism. In addition, research also suggests that people’s identity that will not change through inclusive sexuality education. Therefore, teaching children about LGBT identities will not suddenly make them LGBT. One participant said: ‘In terms teaching about sexuality and gender from a young age, there must be trust from parents that the content taught is appropriate for the age groups and this shouldn’t really be questioned to be honest’. Another respondent who identified as a teacher and a parent said:
I whole-heartedly believe we should be teaching LGBT in primary schools in an age appropriate way and that children must learn about the many variations of identity and relationships that are in the world. At my school we have the same community issues as has been experienced in Birmingham and although I believe this shouldn't stop us from teaching this curriculum, it's not as simple as just getting on with it. Having said that, it could be made easier for schools to just get on with it no matter what the community feeling is if they teachers were supported fully by the Department for Education and OFSTED. At the moment these two bodies are sitting on the fence and placing the decision making with schools which is unfair and creates huge difficulties for schools like ours. I also think that the language and explanation of this curriculum creates misunderstandings with communities which, once there, are difficult to break.
The key point to emphasise here is that firstly, an LGBT curriculum in schools does not attempt to promote a particular sexual orientation or gender identity. Given the research above, it is not possible to change people’s identities anyway. The curriculum simply seeks to educate children that people and relationships are different but differences should be respected and celebrated. Secondly, young children need to be aware of LGBT people and relationships because the school curriculum should prepare children for life in a socially inclusive society. They will meet LGBT people in school, college, university and work and therefore they need to be exposed to difference from a young age. Thirdly, the LGBT curriculum does not teach children about sex. It teaches children about identities and relationships. It is not dirty, dangerous or harmful. Fourthly, if it is acceptable for children to learn about heterosexual relationships and identities, it is acceptable for them to learn about LGBT relationships and identities.
Schools play a critical role in confronting and challenging prejudice. Whilst some faith groups may contest this teaching, it is important to emphasise that the Church of England, the Catholic Education Service and the Jewish faith have produced documents which affirm the commitment of these faiths to tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. These faiths are leading the way to promoting a more inclusive society. Whilst religious values must be respected, it is important to emphasise that schools have a legal duty to prevent discrimination and foster good relationships between different groups of people. These duties are outlined in the 2010 Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty. It is also important to emphasise that schools must promote Fundamental British Values, one of which is the rule of law. In the United Kingdom the law says that it is legal to be LGBT and also that same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage are also legal. There should be no restriction on the age that children learn this.
Should parents have a right to withdraw their children from lessons which address LGBT inclusion?
Teaching children about different gender identities is important.
Schools have a responsibility to promote LGBT inclusion.
LGBT inclusion in schools is not about promoting a sexuality or gender identity.
Schools should teach children about different kinds of relationships from the age of 4.
Schools should teach same sex marriage from the age of 4.
Schools should teach children about transgender identities from the age of 4.
All children should be taught about LGBT identities.
I am a...
Jonathan is Professor of Inclusive Education. His research focuses on LGBTQ+ inclusion and mental health. He is a researcher, teacher educator and qualified teacher.
Samuel is a Lecturer and Associate Researcher at Leeds Beckett University and a Head of Year and Associate Leader at a secondary school and sixth form. He also holds a national training role with a large multi-academy Trust.