This weekend the National Education Union holds its LGBT+ members’ conference.

In July 2021, during the Pride season, the National Education Union conducted an online survey of its members who identify as LGBT+ staff. In total, there were 915 responses.

The survey found:

  • 50% of LGBT+ members reported to us mental health concerns as a result of not being fully ‘out’ to all students and staff in their workplace.
  • Not enough is being done on LGBT+ inclusion outside of national or global dates or days such as History Month, Pride and IDAHOTB. Although 79% of respondents state that it is ‘extremely important’ to have LGBT+ representation in the curriculum, just 18% of members report that their school does this throughout the year.  
  • Almost half of respondents (46%) say that most colleagues challenge incidents of negative attitudes or stereotyping of LGBT+ people.  
  • 73% of those respondents teaching in England believe the Department for Education is not doing enough to support education settings to increase LGBT+ inclusion. Only 3% believe it is doing enough. 

The results reveal that many schools have been very proactive on LGBT+ curriculum content and in auditing their curriculum but that there is a real variation between schools.

Challenging stereotypical language

Do staff consistently challenge negative attitudes or stereotypical language about LGBT+ people? (multiple choice)

Not reliant on particular individuals/groups – most staff challenge

46%

Reliant on some other staff

40%

Reliant on me

35%

Reliant on other LGBT+ staff

22%

Reliant on current SLT/Governors

8%

Reliant on external guest(s)

1%

Almost half of respondents (46%) say that most colleagues challenge incidents of negative attitudes or stereotyping of LGBT+ people. However, in 35% of cases, respondents felt this was reliant on them.

When asked if they believed their colleagues have the confidence to develop LGBT+ inclusive curriculum, 10% of respondents said yes with a further 40% believing ‘some colleagues’ would be able to do so. 36% said no, and a further 15% argued that more training was needed.

Feeling confident to be out in the workplace 

  • Almost 90% of respondents are ‘out’ to some extent at their workplace, often to select colleagues only. 18% of the total respondents are out to all students, and 50% to all staff. 
  • When asked in a multiple-choice question what the barriers are to being out at work, 30% perceived ‘a lack of support’ if they did so. 25% anticipated ‘bullying by students’, and 27% anticipated a ‘negative impact on their career prospects’. 30% of respondents saw no barriers. 
  • 40 of the survey respondents identified as trans employees.  When the same question about barriers to being ‘out’ at work was put (see above bullet), a much higher proportion (47%) of trans respondents cited anticipating a negative impact on their career prospects.
  • Staff believed that confidence would be greatly increased through the embedding of teaching content on LGBT+ rights (69%), positive modelling by senior leaders (54%), training for colleagues (53.5%) and more positive role models in school (44%). 

In the next question we tried to assess the personal impacts of not being fully out at work for all respondents.

If you are not able to fully be yourself at work, what are the impacts on you? (multiple choice) 

Unable to share important parts of my life 

59% 

Impact on wellbeing and mental health 

50% 

Sense of loss from not being able to inspire students 

48% 

Undermines job satisfaction 

30% 

Undermines collaboration with colleagues 

24% 

Motives to move to new school/setting 

18% 

Motivated to leave education sector 

17% 

LGBT+ staff sometimes feel limited in their ability to support students who themselves are LGBT+ and may be isolated at school.

It is striking, too, that almost a fifth of respondents to the question in the above table are considering leaving not only their job but their profession due to concerns over the culture in their school.

In a separate question, 89% of respondents said it was ‘extremely important’ or ‘quite important’ to have visible role models in school. One noted in comments, “Sense of loss for students is massive - they have no role models or real support because staff are too afraid to be 'out'.”

Embedding LGBT+ representation in the curriculum 

This survey reveals there is more work to be done in order to ensure the curriculum can contribute to positive values and affirmation for pupils who are LGBT+.

The question below shows that a third of LGBT+ members are seeing an occasional ‘opportunistic’ focus, rather than coherent planning of LGBT+ curriculum content. Another 32% tell us there is no focus at all. In other settings, what is planned tends to be focused around national and international days of celebration such as around (26%) or LGBT History Month (21%). 

When is LGBT+ curriculum content taught in your school? (multiple choice) 

Not delivered or easily determined 

32% 

Opportunistically 

32% 

During Pride month in June 

26% 

During LGBT History Month in February 

21% 

Throughout the school year 

18% 

During ‘awareness days’ 

13% 

In specific terms 

10% 

With just 18% reporting regular representation throughout the year, there is clearly much to be done to consistently embed LGBT+ content away from theme days and months.

One member said, "When we teach LGBT+ content in the curriculum, students are exposed to diversity which leads to more tolerance and acceptance. LGBT+ students feel seen and acknowledged, they feel part of something.” 

Another adds, "It is very important to include LGBT+ content into the curriculum because it teaches acceptance of self and others. Understanding improves mental health and wellbeing."

Another respondent called for “sensitivity and collaboration. A recognition that, far from being solely concerned with exam outcomes, we have a responsibility to develop and support the emotional intelligence and empathy of all students.” 

  • 79% of respondents agreed with the statement that it is “extremely important” to have LGBT+ content in the curriculum, with an additional 19% viewing it important or quite important. 
  • LGBT+ curriculum content will tend to appear in RSE (62%) and PSHE (53%) lessons, according to our survey.
  • When asked if they believed their RSE colleagues have the confidence to develop LGBT+ inclusive curriculum, just 10% said yes with a further 40% believing some would be able to do so. 36% said no, and a further 15% argued that more training was needed. 
  • Members also see a failure of Government to support an increase in LGBT+ inclusion. 73% believe the Department for Education is not doing enough. 3% say it is doing enough.

However, the survey also found a wealth of creative ideas on how school are trying to ensure they are safe and welcoming for LGBT+ students, staff and parents.

For a third of respondents, they have seen LGBT+ inclusion being discussed in tutorials, assemblies and circle time (37%). Almost a quarter (23%) report that it is in ‘some other subjects’, with around 5% stating it forms part of most or all subjects/curriculum at their school 

In comments, members reflected on positive work done at their school: 

"Wearing LGBT+ badge or lanyards, the visibility factor is creating for me a feeling of safety and I'm sure it must do the same to students."

"Anonymous surveys to all staff and students to gather their information on their feelings/concerns on a variety of subjects which may cause them anxiety/concern. Opportunities for students/staff to make suggestions/voice their views through some kind of suggestions box."

"I made a list of reasonable demands after taking mental health leave - I felt like I was the only person addressing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia from students. Myself and management worked together to create an action plan incorporating the adjustments I needed."

"The anonymous survey worked well because it gave everyone the chance to ask questions and voice opinions, whether they felt ready to be out or not. The Equality Committee has both staff and student representatives which gives staff and students a place to voice their concerns and ask questions all year round. It’s very important to have someone from SLT on board."

"By developing and maintaining open channels of communication and creating a culture of support and encouragement for students, staff and LGBTQIA+ parents/carers to express their views to enable them to feel safe and valued."

"Allowing for personal testimonies at staff training events. Allowing for anonymity but also providing a space for further conversation if the LGBT+ staff/student/parent/carer requested it."

Commenting on the survey results, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is welcome that schools report lots of pro-active steps in tackling negative attitudes to LGBT+ people, but the findings of this survey show that more needs to be done to embed positive inclusion through the curriculum. This is not just a project for Pride days or History Month. For decades, LGBT+ people have reported that they do not have a positive experience when at school; this must be the generation when this changes.

“It remains the reality for many LGB staff and students, and for many trans and non-binary staff and students, that they don't feel they see themselves represented or validated, and we know what the mental health and exclusion impacts of this can be. Inclusion and equality are important, not just for preparing students – whether LGBT+ or not – for adult life, but to ensure that staff can thrive in their workplace. The benefits are very clear. LGBT+ staff want to contribute to this work of making schools inclusive and safe but are rightly saying it should not sit on their shoulders alone.

“Schools can do much within the curriculum framework to promote positive attitudes, and a whole school approach to LGBT+ equality is the only way forward.

“Many teachers in the survey highlighted how important it was for other staff to think about the perspectives of LGBT+ staff and help challenge any issues in the school, collaboratively. As part of this survey, members have relayed the positive work going on in their workplace to combat homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

“The NEU will do more to pull these ideas, examples and case studies together into a form which can help, inspire and support other schools to give each student and member of staff a sense of belonging.”

ENDS