Meeting date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 19 April 2017
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Economy, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Time for Inclusive Education Campaign
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scotland’s Economy
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Time for Inclusive Education Campaign
Time for Inclusive Education Campaign
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-03945, in the name of Monica Lennon, on the Time for Inclusive Education campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes that recent research has found that 90% of LGBT people experience homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at school; recognises that, despite the repeal of Section 28, 17 years ago, many schools in the Central Scotland region and across the country still do not discuss LGBT issues; notes the calls by Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) for LGBT-inclusive education to be commonplace in all schools as a method of tackling prejudice-based behaviours; further notes the view that Scotland has to do more to ensure that LGBT young people are safe at school, and understands that TIE has outlined five strategic steps to achieve LGBT-inclusive education, including new legislation, teacher training specifically on LGBT issues, the recording of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying incidents, inclusion of LGBT issues within relevant curricular areas and the monitoring of any steps taken with regards to LGBT inclusivity in schools.17:05
A few years ago, I was having drinks in a bar with a couple of friends from work—it was a typical gossipy get-together. I noticed that one of my colleagues was starting to fidget and shuffle in her seat. After much squirming, she explained that she had something to tell us. It seemed to take for ever, then out it came: “I’m gay.” All that I could do was throw out my arms and hug her. She had made us fear the worst, but she was not sick or dying; she was taking the terrifying but courageous step of telling her workmates something that she had hidden most of her life. She was asking us to see her and accept her as an openly lesbian woman. I could see that, in that moment of her life, her authentic life was only just beginning. I have not really thought about her for a while, because I moved jobs and people lose touch but, as I have been considering what to say tonight, I have been thinking about her and about that afternoon.
I am a straight woman. I have never had to declare that or struggle with my sexuality and I have never been accused of making a lifestyle choice because of that, so I have checked my privilege and I stand here as a friend, a mum and, yes, a politician. I have not experienced the fear, the isolation, the bullying, the taunting, the shame and the cuts and scars—mental and physical—that perhaps other members in the chamber, people in the public gallery or those listening at home carry with them, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I stand here, leading this debate in my name, because I have chosen not to be a bystander. I stand here because lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusive education remains an aspiration for my young constituents and is not a reality—not yet. How can I or any of us come to the Scottish Parliament and seek to represent them but not do something about that?
I am grateful to the many members who signed my motion and especially to those who are here tonight. Sixty-nine MSPs have signed the TIE pledge. They, too, have chosen not to be bystanders. We are not a Parliament of bystanders.
The TIE campaign has a clear ask, and the challenge to the Scottish Government is to successfully bring forward legislation in this parliamentary session. If it looks as if that will not happen, it will be down to other MSPs to make sure that it does.
TIE is my kind of campaign. Two years ago, the TIE campaign burst on to the scene, brimming with attitude, pushing boundaries and provoking politicians. I absolutely love it—I love its radical spirit, the hope and confidence that it inspires and its uncompromising fight for equality.
The TIE campaign is a story of survival. Co-founder Jordan Daly, who is now 22 years old, was once 12-year-old Jordan Daly: a scared young boy who was so worried about what the future would hold for him as a young gay man that he contemplated suicide and made a plan to end his life. Thankfully, Jordan did not see that plan through, but he kept his childhood fears to himself. It was not until he was 19, when he made an unlikely friend in straight tanker-driver Liam Stevenson, that he finally opened up about what had led him at the age of 12 to think no further for his future than his own funeral.
Jordan was the first gay person Liam had ever met, and getting to know Jordan made Liam reflect on his language and attitudes. What affected Liam most was thinking about his young daughter and not wanting her to grow up in a classroom, a school or a Scotland where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are made to feel less valuable. As a mum, I feel that way too.
Soon after my election to the Scottish Parliament, an introductory meeting was set up between me, Jordan and Liam. They kept me waiting—they were something like 45 minutes late. My timekeeping is not my best quality, but I wondered how on earth those guys were ever going to get MSPs on side if they could not even make the meeting. However, they arrived and the half-hour slot that we had allocated extended to almost three hours.
I am also thinking tonight of a close friend who always stands up for me when I get criticised for being a feminist. At South Lanarkshire Council, there are 67 serving councillors, of whom I am still one. Among us, there is only one openly LGBT councillor—my good friend Ged Killen, who is gay. Ged is now 30, but he recalls dreading getting on the school bus every day. Others think of the playground, the canteen or even the classroom. Ged told me:
“LGBT issues were not spoken about in my school. If you knew you were gay, you spent your life thinking of ways to hide it.”
Last week during recess, I met a 13-year-old constituent from Hamilton after her mum contacted my office. That intelligent and kind teenager told me that, in her school, her LGBT friends are not respected by some of the teachers; she does not feel that LGBT pupils are treated fairly. She said that physical education is often a difficult environment for girls and also for LGBT pupils.
My daughter will turn 11 this year. Like Liam Stevenson, I want my child to accept others and to be accepted in return. This is not a question about the right resources—it is about doing the right thing. It is a matter not of if, but when.
I end by paying tribute to the TIE campaign and to its co-founders Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson. I also thank Stonewall, the Equality Network and LGBT Youth Scotland for their tireless campaigning work on inclusive education and for their briefings for tonight’s debate. Many inspiring campaigners are involved in driving the issue forward, and they stand on the shoulders of the LGBT rights activists who came before them and who fought for civil partnerships and marriage equality.
I will share something that Liam Stevenson said to me about the 19-year-old Jordan Daly. Jordan put himself out there and visited places that he never wanted in his mind to return to, but he did it to make things better for every LGBT young person in schools across Scotland.
I see the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills in the chamber and I ask him to think about all the LGBT children and young people who have to face school tomorrow, the next day and all the days after that. It is time for inclusive education. Please act quickly, cabinet secretary, and make it happen. [Applause.]
I say gently to those in the public gallery that I understand your wish to applaud, but we do not permit it in the Parliament.
Ten members want to speak, so I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I ask Monica Lennon to so move.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Monica Lennon]
Motion agreed to.17:14
I thank Monica Lennon for her lovely speech on a very important issue.
“We are all hugely influenced by our early experiences. I was fortunate in mine: I come from a conscientious, working-class, Irish Catholic family steeped in social awareness and was taught from an early age that perceived difference mattered not a jot and that we were all Jock Tamson’s bairns.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2013; c 24679-80.]
That quote is from a speech that I made during the stage 1 debate on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, which was some time ago. It is my great pleasure to take part in today’s debate on an issue that affects members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community across Scotland and which has had an impact on members of my family and my friends.
It is no secret that my office manager has a daughter who is transgender. I have asked for the family’s permission to tell her story and they are glad that her story can maybe help others in the discussion about inclusive education.
I knew my office manager’s daughter when she started to self-harm and I saw how dangerously close to the edge she came. I watched helplessly as her mum and family did absolutely everything that they could to support her and to work out why she was behaving in such an extreme way. Her family took her to child and adolescent mental health services and found CAMHS to be excellent. With gentle encouragement and expert support, she was able to come out as transgender.
She is very lucky, and I know that she attends a school that is extremely supportive and very understanding of the issues surrounding LGBTI-associating young people. However, having worked alongside my member of staff during that journey and having got to know her daughter on a personal level, I can see that the journey of my staff member’s daughter through coming out could have been eased if there had been open and inclusive education throughout her schooling.
Members who were here in the previous parliamentary session will probably know that my brother Michael is gay. I spoke of that during the debate on equal marriage rights that I mentioned. Here is another quote from that debate that I think is appropriate for this debate:
“I remember what it was like for people who were gay when I was growing up, although we did not really know who they were, because they were in the shadows. My brother Michael was 15 when he came out, but the situation was so bad in Glasgow and Scotland at the time that he never came out to us. He waited until he was 17, then he went down to London and started a new life. He met a guy and went over to Portugal with him. He had to do that because of the Scotland that we lived in at the time, yet people say that we should not be moving on.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2013; c 24680.]
It was 40 years ago that my brother had to make that move. Thankfully, as time has gone by, fewer and fewer people have wanted us to continue to live in that kind of past. However, I have no doubt that when he was growing up, my brother would have had a much easier adolescence if we had been educated while at school on the issues that we are debating.
Although there is still a way to go, things have improved vastly between that time and now. My grandkids do not even know whether some of their friends are LGBTI—it is not an issue. They know that some are gay and some are straight, but there are others who they do not know about in that regard, and it is never the subject that it would have been back in my day.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson of TIE on several occasions. Their commitment to the cause of inclusive education and their fight for it to be brought into legislation is nothing short of inspiring. They are two young men—one is younger than the other, to be fair—who have made a huge difference in a short time.
At the most recent Scottish National Party conference, I watched as many young people stood up to tell extraordinarily personal tales of their lives as young LGBTI men or women. The conference then moved a motion to support the TIE pledge, which has been signed, as Monica Lennon said, by the majority of the members of this Parliament. The pledge gives the Scottish Government a clear mandate to implement inclusive education. I am hugely supportive of it but, as convener of the Education and Skills Committee, I will work to ensure that we implement it in a way that is compatible with the ethos of Scottish education.
While looking to close the attainment gap, the Scottish Government has committed to achieving a level playing field for every young person regardless of race, age, socioeconomic background, gender or sexual orientation. My committee will help to achieve that within the realms of inclusive education by working closely with TIE, the Equality Network, Stonewall, LGBT Youth Scotland, teachers and, of course, young people and their families.
For the TIE campaign’s goals to become a reality, we must work with all the organisations that I mentioned and others. I very much look forward to being part of the journey that will ensure that no LGBTI young person has to face the same trials as the beautiful young girl I mentioned and my brother, and the many more who have had to face such trials during their lives because of ignorance.
I finish with a quote that I used during a debate on the bill that I referred to earlier:
“The true civilisation is where every man gives to every other man every right he claims for himself.”
I suggest that that includes the right for every child to be fully educated on diversity and inclusion. On that note, I am delighted to support the motion.17:19
I would genuinely like to thank Monica Lennon for bringing this very important debate to the chamber this evening.
Over the past few years, Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson have worked tirelessly to establish and promote the TIE campaign’s core message. It has been a privilege to witness their drive and vision at first hand and to see meaningful strides towards tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes in our schools. I am proud to have played my part in the campaign by signing the campaign pledge and committing to the group’s strategy of LGBTI-inclusive education, including teacher training, curricular guidance and a requirement for all local authorities to record specific incidents of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in our schools.
Although we should, of course, recognise and celebrate the progress that we have made in tackling bullying, the fight for LGBTI inclusivity in our schools permits no room for complacency. Research that TIE published in August found that 90 per cent of LGBT people have experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at school and 95 per cent of LGBT people believe that bullying has had a long-lasting negative effect on them. Let us just reflect on that for a moment. It is a statistic that should resonate deeply with all of us, and it should serve as a reminder that the lives of LGBT people can still be far from equal.
I will take this opportunity to talk about my experience of bullying at school. Before I came into the chamber, I checked with the chamber desk that it is okay to say what I am going to say.
Name calling and bullying were common for me at both primary and secondary school. The labels of “fag”, “faggot”, “poof”, “gay boy”, “queer” and “fairy” were all too common, whether in the playground, in the classroom or, sometimes, on the school bus home. Interestingly enough, I was not even out at primary or secondary school—I was not openly gay—but I was targeted by homophobic bullying. I did not come out until I eventually got to university and it felt safer to do so. That kind of bullying has a profound impact on the individual’s life, self-confidence and feeling of self-worth. It hurts and it makes it more difficult for people to accept themselves.
Since I became a member of this place, I have talked to teachers across my region about this very issue and about language. It is interesting that some teachers say that they lack the confidence to address it, and that there is a nervousness about dealing with it in the classroom. I have even heard some say that they feel that it is difficult because sometimes boys can be boys. In the same way that we do not tolerate derogatory language on race, colour or creed, we should be taking a stand against the use of homophobic language in the classroom.
We must not allow the equality-enhancing efforts of the many to be eroded by the prejudice of the few. Instead, we must proactively and expediently stamp out discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head. Prejudice is an epidemic that remains entrenched in our society.
Although I support the Scottish Government’s commitment to form a working group on the TIE campaign’s pledges, I firmly believe that more must be done to eradicate prejudice at every stage, including at an early stage, and our schools are the natural place to do so. The provision of adequate training for teachers to deliver robust and informative LGBTI education should therefore be seen as paramount.
A majority of MSPs have signed the TIE pledge. There is a mandate for action, and now the ball is in the Scottish Government’s court to take expedient and meaningful action to deliver on the proposals that are outlined in the pledge. We need visible and effective leadership to promote equality and eliminate prejudice in the classroom. It is clear that the attainment gap cannot be fully closed until the issues facing LGBTI learners are rectified.
LGBTI inclusion in the curriculum should no longer be regarded merely as best practice. Rather, it must be regarded as an essential component of preparing our young people for life in a modern and inclusive Scotland.17:23
I extend my thanks to Monica Lennon for bringing this debate to the chamber, and I thank the Parliament, because it has indeed been a cross-parliamentary movement that has supported the TIE campaign.
Sometimes, a campaign comes that symbolises the very essence of what the Scottish Parliament was designed to be—a unique and representative institution whose fabric is rooted in the values of tolerance, acceptance and openness. Those principles—the principles of our Parliament—are identically mirrored in the TIE campaign.
It is therefore only right that we are here this evening to celebrate the remarkable progress of the campaign and to talk about the great work that is still to be achieved if we are to make inclusive education and the eradication of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying a reality for all the young people about whom we have heard so much.
At this point, it would be remiss of me not to take a few moments to reflect on the TIE campaign, as other members have done. It is a campaign that had humble beginnings, when two unlikely friends, Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson, found their voice through the 2014 independence referendum and forged what I think is a lifelong and everlasting bond. The two men were not campaigners; they were merely passionate people with an undeniable cause.
It is a campaign that sparked a national debate—of which we are part—on how we should educate our young people. It is rooted in the defeat of prejudice and, without question, it has changed the lives of LGBTI young people throughout Scotland, some of whom we know. I say with no hyperbole that the TIE campaign has saved some young lives. I witnessed some of the campaign’s work when the Equalities and Human Rights Committee visited the Vale of Leven academy.
To those LGBTI young people who do not feel quite comfortable in their skin, who somehow believe that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender makes them less normal, we have a clear message: it is okay; you are loved; you are welcome; you are normal; you are worthy; you have your place alongside us, your brothers and sisters here in Scotland, safe in the knowledge that we are striving to make this country a more tolerant and welcoming nation, by defeating the prejudices that make you feel abnormal.
We know that that will take some time. It will take more of what has been achieved already by the campaign—remarkable as it is, there is still much more to achieve. It will take the collective strength of this Parliament, this Government and all the campaigning groups that are represented here. It will take the strength of the young people, including pupils I know at Larkhall academy, who have benefited from visits from the TIE campaign. We need to show people why inclusive education is so vital.
The time has come for TIE. The Scottish Parliament has made itself clear. We support the TIE campaign. We support teacher training, we support inclusive education and, above all, we unequivocally support those young people who have found their voice, thanks to the work of Jordan and Liam and many organisations. We will not shy away from the difficult decisions that we know will come. We will not be afraid to tackle those who preach ignorance and intolerance.
That is precisely why, at the Scottish National Party conference, with the support of my colleague Jenny Gilruth and the SNP youth movement, we reaffirmed our commitment to the TIE campaign and moved an amendment to call on the Scottish Government to move the campaign’s work forward by setting up a working group. I hope that a working group will be set up to make the TIE campaign pledges a reality. That is exactly what we strive for: tangible actions that match the principles and righteous ambitions of the TIE campaign. I hope that the minister will be able to give us an update on policy in that regard.
The time for action has come. We have made that abundantly clear. This Parliament has made it abundantly clear. Jordan, Liam and the TIE campaign, LGBT Youth Scotland, Stonewall and the Scottish Youth Parliament have all made it abundantly clear. Now Scotland should make clear to them that we will be honoured to carry out that work for them. I look forward to working with them all to realise the campaign’s ambitions.17:28
I thank Monica Lennon for her powerful speech in opening the debate. It is a privilege to take part in a high-quality debate that means so much to so many people.
Credit goes to Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson. I have not had the pleasure of meeting them, but I know that they are campaigners who have lobbied hard for the basic right to be who you are and for society to accept who you are from birth, throughout school, at work and wherever you are in life. People have the right to be safe at school while they are developing into an adult—let us face it, that is scary at the best of times, without having an added thing.
Every individual has the right to be safe and to feel safe, and it is sad that 90 per cent of LGBT people experience homophobia, transphobia or biphobia and that 64 per cent have been directly bullied because of who they are. Indeed, 42 per cent have attempted suicide. I could go on, as there are many shocking statistics that illustrate how acute prejudice still is in our schools, how problematic bullying is and how far we still have to go.
As other members have said, it is great that 69 MSPs have signed the campaign pledge. By all accounts, that is a high number. Nevertheless, I think that we have a duty to ensure that the other 59 MSPs, who have not signed the pledge, give us a good reason why they have not. There are special rules for the Presiding Officers, but would it not be great if everyone else sent a message that the Parliament is unanimous in saying that we want inclusive education?
The campaign is simply asking for schools to be inclusive by talking about sexual orientation, so that young people grow to learn and understand that it is perfectly okay to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and that they will get the support that they need, whatever that is, to make any decisions that they need to make.
That is why it is important that there is counselling in schools. Those of us who come from such professions know that being able to talk to someone whose job it is to listen and who has some expertise in it makes a huge difference to the person. Talking the issue through with someone who knows what they are doing can make a real difference to them and their life looking forward. They need to know that a teacher in their school is not going to judge them for saying who they are and that society is not going to judge them.
I do not like using the word “tolerate” because it sounds like a failure in some ways, but members know what I am driving at. There is a lot of work to be done in educating people who are not in that situation to think, “Who cares?” and to let people be who they want to be.
There is nothing worse than bullying. Whether they are lesbian, gay or transgender, anyone who has experienced bullying knows that it is one of the most horrible things in life. Probably because I was the oldest child in my family, I was always in trouble at school for taking on bullies, but I do not know that I would have had the same confidence to take on a bully if I did not believe that my school, my friends and my parents fully supported my choices.
There are a lot of good ideas, and there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that we do the right thing on inclusive education. Let us work on the other 59 MSPs to ensure that this Parliament unanimously says that it is time for inclusive education.17:33
I, too, thank Monica Lennon for securing the debate, and I commend other members for the speeches that they have made. I am happy to take part in the debate.
I will start with the basic point that bullying of any kind, whether in school or in the workplace, is absolutely wrong. Experiences such as my colleague Ross Thomson outlined this evening are totally unacceptable in any form and must be stopped. When I was at school, I was fortunate to experience only very limited bullying because of my disability, because it was, due to the intervention of teachers and my school, shut down very quickly. I also received support from many of my colleagues at school.
The Equalities and Human Rights Committee has been examining bullying in schools—not just in regard to sexuality, but in other areas as well—and some clear lessons have come out of the committee’s work. They are lessons that not just the Scottish Government but Parliament and the education system need to learn. First, we need to ensure that teachers, headteachers and local authorities feel confident in recording statistics about who is bullied. We have heard worrying evidence from teachers who have been told not to record incidents because no one wants the school to look bad. That has to be the wrong way round. Surely, we need to know what is going on at the grass-roots level in order to determine what the policy should be. We need—this is more for local authorities, although the Scottish Government can push them in the right direction—to look at how statistics are recorded and encourage teachers to ensure that it is done properly.
The second area that we need to look at—this applies for all types of bullying—is the guidance that is given to teachers during teacher training. We have heard evidence that one lesson, or one afternoon, is given over to training on how a teacher should help a young person who is being bullied or who comes forward with an issue related to their gender, sexuality or other matter. A trainee teacher who is absent for that one afternoon will go to work in school with no such training. That is simply not right. We need to challenge our education institutions to ensure that teachers are properly equipped and have the confidence to deal with the issues.
That leads to a point that other members made about the confidence that teachers need. I am still to be persuaded—there is a debate to be had on the topic—of whether one or two teachers in a school should get extra training. We have heard that pupils often have a good relationship with a particular teacher and that for them to be shifted to another might make them uncomfortable. We need to think through the issues and, perhaps, take more evidence so that we can determine the best way for people to talk about their sexuality, gender, race or other matters, if that is what they want to do. We also need to ensure that they know whom to go to, and that that person is properly equipped to have the discussion.
We need to ensure that what we learn from the TIE campaign is applied to all the defined protected characteristics. A number of weeks ago, I attended an event at which an Educational Institute of Scotland member said that, following an incident in their school they had put all the resources into race and all the other characteristics were forgotten about. Problems in the other areas have now reared their ugly heads. We must make sure that all the characteristics are covered so that irrespective of whether the pupil’s problem is to do with their faith, disability, sexuality or gender they can be confident that the school will support them.17:38
Presiding Officer, I have discussed with you why I need to leave the debate early and am grateful for your understanding. I apologise to members because I must, because of prior commitments, leave early. I want to speak in the debate because the issue is extremely important to me, so I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.
I sincerely thank Monica Lennon for securing this important debate. I congratulate Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson on their success in leading the TIE campaign so strongly—to the point at which it is being debated in the Scottish Parliament. I pay tribute to the Equality Network and LGBT Youth Scotland, both of which are based in my constituency, and to Stonewall and other campaigners for their work and courage, which have made life easier and better for LGBTI+ individuals in my life, including friends and family and others across Scotland. I also pay tribute to them for creating heightened awareness about the human rights that are at the heart of the issues and circumstances that LGBTI individuals face daily, including the language that is used and the attitudes that people unfortunately still hold.
I was reminded of all that especially on Monday, when I had the privilege of hosting the TIE campaigners at an event in Leith, in my constituency. At the event, people of all ages, backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities and ethnicities had the opportunity to find out more about why the TIE campaign is so important. What struck me was not only that work still needs to be done, but that action is already being taken on which we can build. I spoke to teachers at the event to find out more about what they are doing at their schools and how they are proactively encouraging greater inclusion in education. I found out that they have set up LGBTI groups in their schools, established their own LGBTI point of contact, set up a shared staff drive with an assortment of resources and posters for each subject, provided in-house after-school training, and arranged police officer visits to discuss what to do after experiencing or witnessing LGBTI bullying behaviour. Local authorities have their own initiatives and, internationally, UNICEF is piloting its “rights respecting schools” award programme, which many schools are adopting.
The proactive work that teachers and pupils are driving forward is commendable and inspiring. One high school in my constituency that is doing work in the matter is Leith academy. Along with LGBT Youth Scotland, I went to its LGBTI history month celebration, where I found out that older pupils in the school are doing great work in classrooms, but I wondered who will take up that work when those older pupils, or the relevant staff members, leave. That is why the TIE campaign is so important. It is about working towards a comprehensive and consistent system of inclusive education and LGBTI+ support in all our schools. We need to think about the unlucky pupils for whom there is no network of support on such matters.
The TIE campaign is leading with courage, and I am proud that Parliament is working with it on a cross-party basis. This is a human rights issue. An holistic approach to inclusive education is required. I commend the TIE campaign for leading us towards that collective goal for the benefit of all of Scottish society and younger and future generations.
Let us continue to take steps forward together, as a Parliament and as a society, with the Scottish Government, the TIE campaigners, other campaigners, educators and communities. Let us work together to take meaningful and effective steps forward to make the difference that is necessary to improve the circumstances of young LGBTI people who are growing up in our country.17:42
As colleagues have done, I thank Monica Lennon for securing the debate. I also thank Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson for their campaigning, as well as Colin, Cara, the folks at the Scottish Trans Alliance and all the young people who have been driving the campaign forward so successfully.
It has been almost 17 years since section 28 was repealed in Scotland. An entire generation—my generation—has been through education in that time, yet we still do not have equality in our schools. The experiences of young LGBT people in Scotland today cannot be denied. I have heard first hand—as, I am sure, all members have—about the experiences that many have had. The situation is shocking and we are capable of changing it. Nine in 10 LGBT pupils have experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic language or bullying in their schools, and one in four has attempted suicide—some multiple times. Eight in 10 teachers do not feel that they are trained adequately on how to deal with that. We cannot simply do nothing and hope that the problem solves itself.
We have made great strides towards equality—most recently and most notably by legislating in the previous session for marriage equality—but we cannot pretend that we are there yet, and nor can we pretend that the atmosphere in our schools has followed the lead of the atmosphere in Parliament. It has not been enough to repeal section 28: far more must be done.
The Government has a mandate to act. As has been mentioned multiple times, a majority of MSPs across all parties have now signed the TIE campaign pledge. Given the recent vote at the SNP’s party conference, I ask the minister whether she can confirm when the working group on inclusive education will be set up, what its remit and its membership will be, and when it will report back. The TIE campaign, among others, has made it absolutely clear that the working group must lead to tangible action. It must not be delayed, it must not be drawn out unnecessarily and it must have a clear purpose and the freedom to come to the conclusions to which the evidence leads it.
Every young person deserves a sex and relationships education that is relevant to them, whoever they are, and all young people should learn about the variety and validity of all relationships. That is how we will tackle stigma and hatred and how we will show every young person that they are valued.
Some curriculum for excellence resources are LGBT-inclusive, but as we know, they are just not reaching most classrooms. LGBT relationships are too often reduced to a brief mention—if they are mentioned at all—in personal and social education, which unfortunately is an area of the curriculum that pupils too often dismiss or do not take seriously. I have been pushing for action on PSE through the Education and Skills Committee because, from the evidence that the committee has gathered, it is quite clear that PSE is not being delivered consistently across the country. It is a postcode lottery whether a pupil will learn about consent, get an LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education or learn about mental health, employment skills and a range of other issues. That is just not good enough.
Teacher training, both initially and throughout teachers’ careers, will go a long way, as will an effective record of all incidents of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. However, we need action to ensure that every young person is guaranteed an inclusive education.
A number of members have mentioned the role of local councils. The council elections are coming up; it is one thing for those of us taking part in the debate to give our voice and support to the TIE campaign, and for a majority of MSPs to have signed the TIE campaign pledge, but we are not yet at the stage at which we can say that every party in Parliament is not putting forward candidates who will oppose the equality agenda. There will be people on the ballot paper in three weeks who will oppose the agenda in their local authorities. That is unacceptable, and it is something that every party in Parliament must take on.
We need to learn from the success stories out there and from the likes of Vale of Leven academy in my region, which is leading the way on LGBT inclusion not just in its curriculum, but in every aspect of school life. I look forward to seeing some concrete proposals from the working group that is being set up on how the aims will be achieved, because our LGBT young people cannot afford to wait any longer.17:46
I first came across the TIE campaign shortly after arriving at the Parliament last May. Admittedly, I was rather cautious at first. As members might know, I am overwhelmingly in favour of many LGBT causes, but the guys in the TIE campaign took a very different approach that manifested itself in a steely determination that might make a politician naturally—if cautiously—listen to them. I had marched a few feet behind them at Glasgow’s pride march, and I had no doubt about their good intentions, but I did not really know much about what they were trying to achieve.
I would say, therefore, that this has been a personal journey for me. In the world of lobbying, bandwagons are often too easy to jump on and off, and being seen to do the right thing is very different from wanting to do the right thing. However, I want to do the right thing, and after a very thoughtful assessment of the TIE campaign’s aims, I am very pleased and proud to have put my name to its pledge.
We have so little time this evening to get into the nitty-gritty of what an inclusive education system might look like or mean, and there are very difficult questions to be answered. However, they ought to be answered. We must be honest with ourselves. For example, how do we take faith schools into account in this discussion? I went to a Catholic school, and neither sex nor relationships were very high on the agenda there. It is true, though, that times have changed; in fact, when I drove past my local high school—Kilwinning academy—the other day, I was pleased to see a rainbow flag flying outside it. I would never have dreamed of such a thing happening when I was young.
I hope that we can engage positively with schools of all faiths and none to ensure that we win this argument on the strength of its being the right—not a reluctant—outcome. Besides, one can be gay and still have faith. I was bullied at school for being gay, but I do not think that there is any point in sharing my story, given that it is almost identical to the experience that my colleague Ross Thomson described of what happened to him when he was young. In many way, that is quite sad, and it is also sad that, 20-odd years later, this is still an issue.
To give the TIE campaigners credit, I have to say that they came to the table with ideas, but those ideas now require robust action. There are certainly issues to address. How do we ensure that teachers are adequately equipped and trained to deal with the subject matter? Who pays for the training and the materials? When will they find the time to do the training? What do we say to teachers who are reluctant to do it? Who will monitor progress? How do we measure bullying? Where in the curriculum will it comfortably sit?
I am under no illusions that there are difficult obstacles to overcome, but we must overcome them. We will continue the discussion at this evening’s LGBTI cross-party group meeting and I offer an open invitation to any MSP or Government minister who is interested in the subject to join us if time permits. They would be most welcome this evening or at any time in the future.
I wish the TIE campaign every success in its quest and I implore the Scottish Government to take heed of the fact that more than 50 per cent of MSPs signed TIE’s pledge, which cannot be ignored.17:50
I thank Monica Lennon for bringing this important debate to the chamber.
The First Minister has said that inclusion is the guiding principle for everything that we do and, as we heard in the moving and passionate speeches from members around the chamber, the TIE campaign is doing an amazing job of following that principle in tackling the discrimination and bullying of LGBTI people in schools. I congratulate Jordan and Liam, whose commitment blew me away when we first met.
As well as extensive campaigning, TIE offers free assemblies, teacher training and seminars around Scotland to promote LGBTI inclusion in schools. I am absolutely delighted that the Scottish Government has agreed to work with TIE to promote inclusive education in schools, which will have a huge impact on future generations.
Sadly, our schools are still a focal point of LGBTI discrimination and bullying. Many LGBTI children in Scotland are terrified of going to school, where they are terrorised for simply being themselves. Children are harming themselves as a direct result of the abuse that they receive in school. When they should be planning their future, some are planning their deaths.
Stonewall Scotland’s research has found that one in four of LGBTI children who are bullied in school have attempted suicide. No one should be subjected to that. In conjunction with TIE, we can now bring more inclusivity into education to discourage the ignorance and the bigoted views that are at the heart of the discrimination. It is the least that we can do for our children and it is overdue.
Discrimination and bullying does not just affect life in school. The experience of being emotionally and physically abused, and of children being forced to reject their identity to try to assimilate, has long-lasting effects. Ninety-five per cent of LGBTI people believe that their experiences in school had long-lasting negative effects on them.
Scotland is regarded as the best country in Europe for LGBTI equality. That is an incredible success and, by pledging to promote inclusivity, we will be the world leader. To monitor and ensure progression, TIE’s pledge calls for information on the steps taken to increase LGBTI inclusivity to be collected at local authority level and I totally agree with Jeremy Balfour’s words on that.
At a time when children should be building and developing their confidence, many are being broken down. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that that never happens to any child. The TIE campaign uses the hashtag #bethatvoice. Together we need to be one voice to change the completely unnecessary and immeasurably damaging discrimination in Scottish schools. That is why I am delighted that our Government has agreed to work with TIE and others to promote education in schools, and I look forward to that happening as soon as possible. We must end that horrible discrimination and get it right for every child now—we cannot wait any longer.17:53
I thank Monica Lennon for bringing the debate to the chamber today. She is absolutely right to say that we should not be a Parliament of bystanders. That is true for any issue, but particularly for equal rights. We have a proud record on such issues, but there is much more work to do and tonight’s debate testifies to that.
I have listened carefully to the debate and I whole-heartedly agree that a fully inclusive approach to education for all is essential. Monica Lennon’s point that we need to be mindful of those LGBTI children and young people who are just home from school or who are preparing to get on the school bus tomorrow is correct. They should be in our thoughts as we go through the debate and as we move forward to action.
I congratulate everyone who is involved in the Time for Inclusive Education campaign for successfully raising the profile and the priority of issues that are fundamental to our children’s and young people’s wellbeing.
Jordan and Liam have been congratulated many times during the debate. I know that their work will continue long after the debate has finished, but I hope that they take time to reflect on and take pleasure from the work that they have done and what they have achieved so far.
The principle that every child and young person has the right to grow up to be the person they are and want to be is absolutely crucial. They have the right to expect to be supported to do so, too, and to be treated fairly and equally by adults and their peers alike. I reiterate this Government’s support for the aims of the campaign. I welcome the fact that TIE has achieved something that is rare and has been elusive in this Parliament since last May—namely, near-unanimous cross-party support on a key policy issue. That is something from which we can all learn.
Inclusive education is a key component of relationships, sexual health and parenthood education. RSHP education is an integral part of health and wellbeing within the curriculum in Scotland. The health and wellbeing of our children and young people is fundamental. That is why it is at the heart of our children’s learning and at the centre of our curriculum. It is also a central focus of the Scottish attainment challenge and the national improvement framework for education. Along with literacy, it is one of the core areas that are the responsibility of all staff in a school.
The national policy guidance leaflet, “better relationships, better learning, better behaviour” contains priority actions that support local authorities and schools to further improve relationships and behaviour in their learning communities. That is central to the delivery of curriculum for excellence and the implementation of getting it right for every child.
The main area of importance for today’s debate is relationships, sexual health and parenthood education. As I have said, it is an integral part of the health and wellbeing aspects of our curriculum in Scotland. Children and young people should gain knowledge appropriate to their age and stage in education. RSHP is intended to enable children and young people to build positive relationships as they grow older. The learning experience should be delivered in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and with an awareness of the law on sexual behaviour.
In 2014, the Scottish Government published guidance on the conduct of RSHP education in schools, which clearly states how important it is that RSHP education addresses diversity and reflects issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex young people or children. However, we recognise that we can and must do more, which is why we have given a commitment to work with the TIE campaign. That is why this Government announced just an hour ago the creation of a new LGBTI-inclusive education working group to help bring key educators together with TIE to identify where improvements can be made. The new working group will be chaired by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and will include membership from across the education and third sector spectrum, including of course TIE, LGBT Youth Scotland, Stonewall Scotland, the Scottish Catholic Education Service, the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. I am confident that the group has the right expertise and understanding to explore in detail where we can improve the education experience for our LGBTI young people and move forward to action.
Ross Greer asked for further details on the group’s remit. It is not for me to go through that in detail as it will be discussed at the first meeting, which I understand should be in early May. The group will look to work together to identify how we can improve the education experience for LGBTI young people in Scotland. It is not useful for a Government minister to give a working group a particular timescale for its conduct. The group needs to be given the time and space to look at the issues that are important, but I do not see it being a long, drawn-out process; the young people we discussed earlier deserve better than that. Given the way that the campaign has gone to date, I do not think that the work would be done in such a manner anyway.
I appreciate the announcement to which the minister drew attention. Given that many experts will take part in the group, is it the Government’s intention to implement any recommendations that are forthcoming at the end of its work?
I will not prejudge the work of the working group before it has its first meeting, but we will consider closely and carefully everything that comes from it and keep a close eye on the work as it develops to ensure that we can take aspects of it forward; I am very aware that we require action, rather than just a working group.
Members will also be aware that the recently published mental health strategy includes an action for the Scottish Government to undertake a national review of personal and social education. Initial planning work on that review is under way and we will make sure that the two review areas work together closely.
Alongside that work, we should remember that the Scottish Government’s refreshed anti-bullying national guidance is at an advanced stage. The Equalities and Human Rights Committee is considering it as part of its work on bullying. We will carefully consider the committee’s advice on that and any suggestions on what more could be done before we publish the revised guidance.
In addition, we provided funding to LGBT Youth Scotland to work collaboratively with respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, to develop an online resource and deliver practice seminars to address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in Scottish schools. The seminars recently delivered in Ayr and Edinburgh were well attended and delegates reported a significant increase in their knowledge and confidence about addressing prejudice-based bullying. Following the publication of the anti-bullying guidance later this year, we plan to update the document “Toolkit for Teachers: Dealing with Homophobia and Homophobic Bullying in Scottish Schools”.
That brings me on to a critical area in our quest to address bullying. The skill and dedication of our teaching workforce and their intensive knowledge of their school communities will ensure that those guidance documents are embedded in school policy throughout Scotland.
I am conscious of time and aware that my speech has focused on policy and procedure, as ministerial responses often have to do. However, the essence of the debate was highlighted most eloquently by other speakers. Monica Lennon’s discussions of her friend, James Dornan’s of his brother and his office manager’s family and Ross Thomson’s and Jamie Greene’s speeches summed up why the issue and action on it are so important.
Christina McKelvie rightly said that we need to stress that everyone is loved. That is what it boils down to. I welcome the cross-party support in the Parliament on the issue and want us to work together to deliver our shared commitment to an inclusive education. We all have a responsibility to support our children and young people to be confident and proud of who they are, to know that they are valued and loved and to know that they will be treated equally and fairly. We should settle for nothing less.Meeting closed at 18:02.