Thursday 23 November 2017

Primary schools asked to stop children using 'homophobic bullying' words

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Primary schools are being asked to play a direct role in stopping children using words such as gay, poof, faggot and lesbian to label others in a negative way.

Concern was triggered after a survey of principals found that such name-calling was often dismissed as innocent banter, or ignored because children were deemed not to understand what they were saying.

Researchers at Dublin City University are worried that principals themselves did not consider the use of such language as homophobic bullying,

But Dr James O’Higgins Norman, director of the DCU Anti-Bullying Centre, said that “even if children did not fully understand the terms, it is the thin edge of the wedge and some of it will translate into bullying.

“Bullying starts as small things and ends up as something bigger.“

According to the DCU study,  more than one in two primary principals dealt with homophobic bullying in the 2012-13 school year.  Some 238 primary principals nationwide were surveyed.

In 11pc of cases, principals said that they had dealt with this issue either weekly or monthly and some also indicated that teachers and/or parents had contacted them to raise a concern.

In a very small number of cases, principals said that they dealt with an incident where one pupil was physically abused because others thought they were gay or lesbian.

Principals also reported experience of their pupils using homophobic language to both label another pupils’ behaviour and/ or to describe things that they did not like, or were different

But principals did not always consider the use of homophobic pejoratives to constitute homophobic bullying, according to the DCU study, which was co-authored by Dr O’Higgins Norman, Gerard Farrelly and Michael O’Leary.

According to Dr O’Higgins Norman other studies have shown that adults often do not  treat the use of homophobic pejoratives by children with the same seriousness as, for instance, racist labelling.

The DCU research was the first such at primary level, and Dr O’Higgins Norman said they focussed on the views of principals because of the critical role they play in policy implementation.

“It is clear from our findings that further education and training for school leaders on the topic is required as we are at the risk of them contributing further to the many silences that surround the topic in primary schools in Ireland.

We hope that by making this initial exploration into this topic in primary schools, that a greater understanding of the challenges principals face will go some way towards increasing their capacity to respond to homophobic bullying in schools.”

The  DCU study coincides with a new awareness programme called All Together Now, to prevent and tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in primary schools,  prepared  by BeLonG To, a youth group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people, and St Patrick’s teacher training college, which is now part of DCU.

The DCU findings are published in the current edition of Irish Education Studies.

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