Letter from Department for Education and Employment

Annotated response from DfEE to OutRage!’s letter to David Blunkett after the Soho bombing, pregnant with promise, but with unstated gestation.

Department for Education and Employment,
Sanctuary Buildings,
Great Smith Street,
London. SW1P 3BT

6th July, 1999.

Thank you for your letter of 25 May addressed to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment concerning Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. I hope you will understand that due to the volume of correspondence received by the Secretary of State, it is not possible for him to answer all of it personally. On this occasion, I have been asked to reply on Mr Blunkett’s behalf. I apologise for the delay in doing so.

The lead Department with responsibility for Section 28 is, of course, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), and it is the Government’s intention to repeal Section 28 as soon as a suitable legislative opportunity occurs. However, I can indeed reaffirm that Section 28 applies to the activities of local authorities and has never applied to the governing bodies or staff of schools. Schools can cover gay and lesbian issues if they choose to do so and indeed our guidance document to schools, circular number 5/94, ‘Education Act 1993: Sex Education in Schools’, makes it clear that Section 28 does not bar them from doing so.

This is a response to point 1, reaffirming (as requested) that Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act neither applies to schools, nor restricts the supportive teaching and counselling that schools should offer on lesbian and gay issues. It is, however, regrettable:

  • that no indication is given of how many years we are expected to have to wait for the repeal of ยง 28;
  • that, while schools are free to “cover gay and lesbian issues if they choose”, there is currently no requirement (or even encouragement) for them to offer a complete, balanced, nonjudgemental syllabus to ensure that all their pupils have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and become well-informed and well-adjusted citizens.

Ministers do not underestimate the effect that homophobic bullying can have, both on the emotional well-being and educational achievement of children. We are concerned that all schools should treat the issue of bullying seriously, in whatever form it takes, and take steps to combat it promptly and firmly. Indeed, recent guidance that the Social Inclusion Pupil Support Division within DfEE issued for consultation, includes the issue of homophobic bullying and its unacceptability in schools.

This is a response to point 2, for schools to take firm action to halt all forms of homophobic bullying, whether directed at pupils or at staff, and regardless of the suspected sexuality of the victims.

While the statement that ministers do not underestimate the effect of homophobic bullying is presumably intended to sound reassuring, this reply suggests that no policy is actually in place. OutRage! has not received the consultation document on guidance as to the unacceptability of homophobic bullying: so we cannot comment on the content. There is no indication of how long it will take before even the mildest guidance is issued as DfEE policy. — The fiasco this month at the Passport Office is causing travellers to miss holidays: but delay here can cost lives.

Headteachers are already responsible for securing discipline on a day-to-day basis subject to any general principles laid down in writing by the school governors. They also have a duty to determine measures that encourage good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils.

It is for individual teachers to decide whether they wish to disclose their sexuality, but equality of opportunity in employment is imperative and all discrimination is unacceptable. [Emphasis added.] If a teacher feels he/she has been unfairly treated, they may wish to take their case to an Employment Tribunal.

This is a response to point 3, (confirming that being lesbian or gay is no bar to being a teacher) and to point 4, (on encouraging lesbians and gay men throughout the teaching profession to “come out”, and to advise schools and local education authorities that no teacher who does come out should be dismissed or in any other way disadvantaged for being honest and open about their sexuality).

We welcome the DfEE’s assurance that “equality of opportunity in employment is imperative and all discrimination is unacceptable”: but are saddened and dismayed that David Blunkett does not feel able to issue a public proclamation of encouragement to all school governors and staff, (following the lead of the call in May by Sports Minister Tony Banks for gay football players to come out).

Yours sincerely,

Lindsey Baker,
Personal, Social & Health Education Team.