Barriers remain for LGBT+ teachers in primary schools

The INTO Equality Committee, working with the INTO LGBT+ Teachers’ Group, surveyed all INTO members across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on their experiences as LGBT+ teachers in primary schools, and as non-LGBT+ teachers about their awareness of LGBT+ issues.

A total of 2,362 responses were received with 90% identifying as heterosexual and 10% as LGBT+. Almost one fifth of respondents were principals.

The experiences of LGBT+ teachers in our schools 

Fewer than 1 in 5 LGBT+ teachers is out to staff, parents and pupils at school (18% ROI, 12% NI).

Coming out at school isn’t easy, with one respondent noting:

I came out very slowly to only one colleague at a time. It was extremely scary and stressful. Being in the closet causes an extreme amount of discomfort and distress. 

Securing a permanent contract is a significant influencer for LGBT+ teachers in making the decision to come out (43% ROI), i.e. having such a contract is positively associated with decisions to come out.

Respondents expressed concerns about potential bias at interview stage, with one respondent commenting:

there is still a lot of prejudice out there. I didn’t want to take the risk that one of these people would be sitting on the interview panel.

1 in 3 teachers responded to say that they felt inhibited from referencing LGBT+ identities in their teaching either directly due to a principal or another school colleague (9%) or to some extend by a school patron or board of management (24%).

Derogatory language among staff is still too prevalent in our schools.

A ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture exists in relation to LGBT+/ gender identity in some schools as a result of their religious ethos or school patron.

The role of school leaders 

Principals and school management play a critical role in creating safe and inclusive schools. The majority of out LGBT+ teachers report high levels of equal treatment from school leaders and boards of management.

Indeed, the majority of out LGBT+ teachers that responded to the survey cite the role of the principal as essential to the creation of an inclusive school. However, many indicated that principals can be constrained by school managerial authorities.

Homophobic and transphobic bullying among pupils

There are low levels of awareness amongst the teaching body on gender non-conformity and gender transition. Many respondents indicated the need for guidelines and training to be made available.

Appropriate training was requested by many teachers to allow them greater confidence in responding to homophobic and transphobic bullying in their schools, with 89% of all respondents reporting they have not received any training, despite the Department of Education and Skills requiring all teachers to implement strategies to educate about and prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

The findings of this survey bring into sharp focus the challenges faced every day by our LGBT+ colleagues and the work still to be done to ensure our schools are safe and inclusive spaces for all. As a union, INTO has and will continue to be an unapologetic advocate for the changes that are needed. Standing up for our members and ensuring that our pupils are treated equally is at the heart of everything we do.

As society changes for the better and we seek to be more inclusive, we must all up our game and ensure we play our part.

On foot of today’s survey, INTO will seek to ensure that all teachers and schools understand and reaffirm their commitment to LGBT+ inclusion and visibility. Comprehensive training and support will be essential for all teachers and our union will be to the forefront in demanding the Government delivers on this front.