Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) has been named one of the best in the country for tackling anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi and trans) bullying in schools.
Stonewall, Britain’s lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality charity, listed the council in third place in its Education Equality index 2017, which rates local areas for combating this form of bullying and celebrating difference in schools.
The council, which made sixth place in last year’s Index, is a member of Stonewall’s Education Champions Programme and has developed nationally recognised strategies to address anti-LGBT bullying, providing both resources and guidance to school staff.
OCC’s cabinet member for education Hilary Hibbert-Biles said: “We’re delighted to be ranked once again among the country’s very best local authorities for tackling this issue.
“Any young person can experience homophobic, bi-phobic or transphobic bullying, and like all forms of bullying it should never be allowed to go unchallenged.”
Stonewall began in 1989 specifically to campaign against controversial Section 28 of the Local Government Act, legislation that effectively criminalised the promotion of homosexuality in schools making the subject taboo whilst simultaneously stigmatising lesbian, gay and bi students.
In the 28 years since its inception the charity has had significant breakthroughs and along with other rights groups has successfully lobbied for the equalisation of the age of consent, lifting the ban on LGB people serving in the military, securing legislation which allowed same-sex couples to adopt and the repeal of Section 28.
Its work with local authorities via the Education Champions programme provides tailored support enabling specific anti-LGBT bullying in schools to be tackled by:
Individual needs assessment;
Training of local authority staff;
Online resources and networking with other local authorities.
Cabinet Member for Children and Families Services Steve Harrod added: “We are very proud of the partnership work we are doing with schools and other agencies including Thames Valley Police, Health, and youth groups both to prevent bullying and to provide support for LGBT children and young people.”
Sarah Rose, senior account manager at Stonewall, said: “Oxfordshire County council has once again made huge progress.”
Another stand-out aspect of the Stonewall report was the innovative play led by staff and students at Bloxham’s Warriner School called Project Q.
The 20-minute drama uses physical theatre and dialogue taken directly from interviews with young people about their experiences relating to gender, sexuality and how these are treated by their peers and adults.
It was so successful that it has now been performed at schools across the country and a performance of the play will be filmed later this year. Dr Annabel Kay, head teacher at The Warriner, said: “The Warriner school continues to celebrate equality and difference within in our community.
“Staff, students and parents have been instrumental in developing a culture of tolerance and acceptance around our mantra of instilling key values in students to be Responsible, Ready and Respectful.
“Project Q has been one facet of our anti-bullying work here at the Warriner School. Project Q is a commissioned piece of dramatic work involving Warriner students that over the past few years has been used by Oxfordshire County Council to spearhead and highlight the challenging issues young people face around homophobic bullying and gender identity.”
The play, debuted a year ago, is followed by a question and answer session with the cast which aims to challenge its audience to think about what their school would be like to ‘come out’ in.
Dr Kay said: “Project Q has helped OCC gain recognition for the county wide work around homophobic bullying within the LGBT community.
“To date Project Q has performed at Stonewall’s national conference and last year’s Oxfordshire Anti Bullying conference. Students from The Warriner school have been a true credit to themselves and our community.
She added: “I am so proud of the way in which our young people and staff have raised awareness of LGBT issues across the county.”