Embed sexual orientation equality within education
The Equality Commission recommends that strategic action is taken by the Department for Education, schools and other education bodies to embed equality of opportunity for pupils of different sexual orientation within education
The importance of embedding equality of opportunity and good relations within the school curriculum has long been recognised by the Commission.
In 'Every Child an Equal Child' the Commission makes it clear that there are a number of strategic actions that can be taken to embed equality and good relations in education; including reviewing curriculum support materials and developing good practice guidance, setting strategic actions and outcomes and developing equality and good relations elements to the training programmes for student teachers, existing teachers, heads and governors.
We note that a report in January 2011 by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) into relationships and sexuality education (RSE) recommended a range of areas for improvement, including ‘the implementation of further whole-school training through staff training to include training for staff in the handling of particularly sensitive areas, including sexual orientation.’
One of the findings of the research was that there was a clear need to build capacity, both during initial teaching training and continuing professional development, to enable teachers to deal more effectively with the challenges of teaching sensitive issues. The teaching of issues associated with sexual orientation was one of two main areas where the need for further support or guidance was identified.
Further, the need for the statutory curriculum to be more inclusive of LGBT issues has been raised by both the Rainbow Project and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).
In particular, the Rainbow Project in its report Left out of the Equation: A report on the experiences of LGB young people at school raises concerns that whilst the statutory curriculum includes many references to the necessity of children to be educated in human rights, equality and respect for diversity, the curriculum itself only refers to race, sectarianism, sexism and disablism and ‘ignores sexual orientation’.
Further, the NIHRC has recommended that “there is therefore arguably a need to align curriculum content more carefully with CRED [community relations, equality and diversity in education] aspirations. In particular, given that there appears to be a teacher reluctance to deal with LGBT issues, there is a danger that the rights of this Section 75 group will not be represented adequately.”
We welcome the Department’s recent circular on RSE to schools in which it made it clear that the Department required each school to have in place a written policy on how it will address the delivery of RSE.
We further welcome the Department’s commitment, as confirmed in the circular, to liaise with the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessments (CCEA), to commission a review of existing guidance and develop resources to address any identified gaps in provision.
- The Commission recommends that steps are taken to ensure that schools are supported to deal with sexual orientation issues in a sensitive, non-discriminatory way, including when delivering relationships and sexuality education (RSE) to pupils.
- We further recommend that the Department and other key stakeholders, in line with the aims and objectives of the Department’s CRED policy , takes steps to ensure that curriculum support materials and good practice guidance effectively embeds equality of opportunity for LGB pupils.