Essex

Concern over 'act less gay' anti-bullying advice

Claims that some school children in Essex have been told by teachers to "act less gay" to avoid being bullied have been labelled as "worrying".

The anecdotal evidence came from a report to Essex County Council about an anti-bullying conference in March organised by the Young Essex Assembly.

It also heard teachers wanted more help and support in dealing with bullying.

Chris Gibbons, from gay rights group Stonewall, said pupils should be encouraged to express themselves.

He said: "It's really worrying to hear young people are being told they cannot be who they are.

"It impacts on their self-esteem, their confidence and enjoyment at school and ultimately their attainment at school."

Mr Gibbons said homophobic bullying in schools was a nationwide problem.

He said: "We understand this can be difficult for teachers, because if they haven't had their training they don't necessarily know how to prevent and respond to homophobic bullying.

'Taken seriously'

"I was at a young people's conference in Essex only two weeks ago and we saw some very positive work going on in schools in Ockendon.

"Young people and their teachers were getting together to tackle the problem."

The conference, attended by both pupils and teachers, also heard other anecdotal evidence of pupils being advised to "wear their hair differently" to avoid being a target.

Essex County Council said it was unaware as to whether the "act less gay" comments were intended as homophobic, but was looking to address bullying of all forms.

The comments were reported in a report to the council by Julie Keating, principal officer from the authority's children support service.

It read: "Pupils wanted teachers to be more accepting of difference in school. Anecdotal evidence on the day of students being told to act less gay or to wear their hair differently as teachers felt they were making themselves a target for bullies was a current theme."

Cabinet member for education at Essex County Council, Stephen Castle, said: "I think the critical issue for us is to ensure bullying of any kind is taken seriously and I think the conference has helped to do that.

"What it has done is give young people the chance to talk about how bullying works today."

The Essex secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Jerry Glazier, said pupils needed to be given the confidence to report bullying in order to break the cycle.

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