Are LGBT pupils at a disadvantage?

Nov. 14, 2018
Emma Bentley

Emma Bentley

Head of Geography, Thorns Collegiate Academy

Closing the gap for disadvantaged pupils is something at the forefront of all educators’ minds, and has been for many years.

The phrase ‘disadvantaged pupils’ covers a range of pupils who will statistically access fewer opportunities than may be expected: those eligible for pupil premium funding from low income families, children with special educational needs/disabilities (SEND) and children for whom English is an additional language (EAL).

I find myself increasingly aware that this term is not as inclusive as it may be and that there are children being left behind as a result. I raise the question: isn’t it time that we consider LGBT children as disadvantaged?

Why there’s a need for extra support

On the surface, this question may well seem controversial. Generally, to consider being transgender or gay as being disadvantaged in everyday life is (thankfully) a vastly outdated concept, holding no place in the modern world.

However, when reviewing national statistics, I discovered that LGBT pupils have lower than national average attendance, resulting in poorer grades. Their low attendance is usually a direct result of bullying based on their sexual orientation or gender.

While the wonderful discussion on and acceptance of the LGBT community is increasing we cannot forget these young people are one of the first generations speaking this language, not dissimilar to the first generation of EAL students.

For pupil premium children and EAL pupils, our schools have created programmes such as the accelerated readers programme to help them progress. Our schools have employed SEN assistants to offer extra support to our disadvantaged students. We have a range of fantastic support on offer to enable our disadvantaged pupils to succeed and reach their potential.

Whereas LGBT pupils are leaving school with poor attendance and low grades. 64% of transgender pupils are subjected to bullying which clearly has an impact on their grades. Don’t these pupils deserve support programmes as much as disadvantaged pupils?

What leadership means to Areyauna

Why more needs to be done on LGBT acceptance

Prior to 2018, I had never really considered LGBT acceptance as an issue. I had never been approached by a pupil who was concerned about coming out or explain that they were transitioning.

I was aware bullying occurred and how both pastoral and teaching staff were tackling it. But I had not realised that there may be children in my school feeling downtrodden on a daily basis (by students and staff alike) from being called a girl’s name and not a boy’s, or from having to change in the male locker room rather than the female.

I only truly became aware of these issues through the struggle of a close friend and her daughter who had been refusing to attend school. She had always been unhappy at school, despite numerous meetings between the school and her parents, and even attending counselling. She was frequently subjected to bullying and struggled to feel accepted by her peers.

But, early in 2018, she came out to her parents as gay, and later in the year told them she felt she was trapped in the wrong gender (Gender Dysphoria).

This year, she started college as a he.

He has learned to love himself through support and time. He now has a positive social circle and is accepted for who he is, and each day he goes to college happy.

Through this experience I have been educated a little more each day about the reality of being LGBT in school and now feel passionate about raising awareness of the struggle of LGBT children. No-one should be expected to thrive in a school where they do not feel accepted or supported.

How to make school a better place for LGBT pupils

More and more people like me are realising what some pupils are going through and are putting things in place to improve their experience at school. I think this will result in improvements in the attainment of LGBT pupils.

There are things we can start to do now to improve these pupils’ experiences while they are in our care. Let’s educate their peers. Let’s be prepared as staff to support these students and tackle homophobia and transphobia head-on.

Let’s not accept that funding to support this is not available, and let’s not assume that someone else should be tackling this issue for us.

Let’s not allow more children to fall under the of criteria of ‘disadvantaged’ and add to the gap we are all trying to close.

Every child matters, and we are the frontline of defence for our students.

If you want to support this cause, then Gendered Intelligence has lots of resources we can use to equip our staff, parents and pupils. Stonewall have also created an excellent guide for schools which gives more information about how we can better support our LGBT pupils and keep them comfortable and happy at school so that they can keep learning and progressing.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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