KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 20-Nov-13 12:09:01

Stonewall's Get Over It campaign: "why I won't tolerate homophobic language in my school"

As you might know, we've teamed up with Stonewall on Gay. Let?s Get Over It - a campaign to address the misuse of the word 'gay', and provide guidance to schools, parents and young people.

Here Liam Nolan, head teacher of one of Britain's most-improved schools, explains why it was crucial to challenge homophobic language.

If you're keen to support the campaign, why not tweet your school? Find out how over here.

Liam Nolan

Executive Headteacher of The Perry Beeches Academy Trust

Posted on: Wed 20-Nov-13 12:09:01

(1 comment )

Lead photo

Liam Nolan has stamped out homophobic language in his school

We don't accept casual use of offensive racist or sexist comments at Perry Beeches.  Nor do we accept loose-tongued remarks about our students with physical or educational support needs.
 
Why then would we tolerate homophobic jibes aimed at demoralising our young people and, like all the other groupings, using people's individuality, their very being (or their perceived being), as a weapon against them?
 
In Stonewall's Teachers Report of 2009, 95% of secondary teachers said they heard phrases such as "that's so gay" and "you're so gay" as negative put-downs in schools - and we could see the damage often flippant comments had on our young people, when Perry Beeches was at its lowest ebb in 2007.
 
As an out, gay head teacher I was perfectly placed to say, "Enough is enough".  

The Perry Beeches poor behaviour record, its exam results (some of the lowest in the UK) and its whole sense of demoralisation had to stop.  I knew that, when turning around any school - in fact any institution - it's vital to create a space where everyone feels safe, secure, cared for and RESPECTED.
 
Perry Beeches put tackling homophobia and challenging homophobic comments as the centrepiece of its rapid and sustained turnaround. And in September of this year, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, called the school "the most improved school ever".

The minute you say “everyone is safe, everyone has a place here, everyone is accepted and respected”, people will no longer accept others being bullied; they will strive, together, to stamp out all forms of prejudice.

 
You see, the minute you say "everyone is safe, everyone has a place here, everyone is accepted and respected", people will no longer accept others being bullied; they will strive, together, to stamp out all forms of prejudice.
 
As a gay man, I know that I've had to work hard to achieve the success I now enjoy.  Although I remember very little personal homophobia while a student at school, I was rejected by my parents when I was 19 - shunned, and never spoken to since, because I am gay.  I was lucky: I found solace in friends, so never became one of the current 23% of gay young people who attempt suicide, or one of the 56% who have self-harmed.
 
At Perry Beeches we celebrate LGBT History in a proactive way - exactly as we celebrate Black History, Diwali, Eid and Christmas.  We identify positive LGBT role models: scientists, doctors, politicians, actors (and headteachers!).  We discuss positive gay culture in lessons, and the terrible impact homophobia, and all irrational hatred, has on not only those we attack, but also on ourselves and our society.  At Perry Beeches we clear the decks of all these issues.  We create a set of Family schools where posters for the school production sit alongside posters for homework club sit alongside 'PB rejects homophobia' and 'Some People Are Gay - Get Over It' posters.
 
We believe our academic success is due to the fact that all our students are encouraged, stretched and supported, and I can show you that there is huge buy-in from everyone: staff, parents, community and students. Our attendance rate is 98% - because our students want to be here, and feel safe and loved.  And over the last four years, we've seen 100% of students gain a minimum of 5 A*-C. In 2007, just 21% got 5 A*-C including English and Maths; in 2012 it's 80%, with year on year improvement.
 
Allowing homophobia to run rife in our schools is permitting academic failure, violent tension and community division. That's why I'm so pleased that Stonewall and Mumsnet have launched this new campaign to tackle homophobic language. Tackling homophobia head on means that everyone can be part of our schools; we can all succeed - because nothing stands in our way.

By Liam Nolan

Twitter: @StonewallUK

NumptyNameChange Wed 20-Nov-13 16:41:58

just wanted to say good work with the school turnaround (school cultures can go so wrong and be so resistant to change) and well done on being 'out' as a headteacher - really important for young people to see positive examples of gay people in positions of authority.

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