Shadow chancellor and head of the Conservative Party's general election campaign has today expanded on the party's policies to tackle homophobic bullying first outlined in an article by party leader David Cameron on PinkNews.co.uk yesterday. The plans come despite the Conservatives forcing the Government to drop plans to reform sexual education teaching in schools, that experts argued could lead to a reduction in homophobic bullying.
George Osborne today said: "The Conservative Party will give headteachers the final say over the exclusion of homophobic bullies and give teachers the power to stop violent homophobic incidents.
"We would also change government guidance on behaviour and exclusions to make it clear that bullying aggravated by prejudice – including homophobic bullying should result in tougher punishments. And in order to improve the level of information we have, we would include a new category in exclusions data specifically for 'homophobic abuse.'"
Yesterday Mr Cameron wrote on PinkNews.co.uk: "Homophobic bullying in schools is a massive issue and we've absolutely got to root it out. I think the first thing teachers need to deal with it is more power to tackle homophobic bullying. Under Labour, homophobic bullies excluded from schools can be returned to the classroom by a bureaucratic appeals panel, and teachers are often unable to break up violent homophobic bullying because of “no touch” policies that prevent teachers from intervening. I know Michael Gove has plans to deal with homophobic bullying with new powers for heads and improving teacher training in a way that gives teachers the tools they need to deal with all sorts of prejudice – from anti-semitism to homophobia."
Mr Osborne says the Conservatives will free headteachers to be able to exclude homophobic bullies. At present the party says pupils expelled for homophobia can be returned to schools under appeal panels. The party say they will scrap appeal panels, although teachers point out that they have been promised this in the past.
The party say they will give teachers the power to stop violent homophobic attacks. They argue that half of schools have forms of a 'no touch' policy which can prevent teachers from intervening in incidents. Mr Osborne said teachers would be given absolute clarity over use of reasonable force to prevent violence.
The Tories say they would issue guidance to schools on behaviour and exclusions for non-violent bullying based on homophobia as well as gender, disability and race. The guidance will emphasise that prejudiced based bullying is serious than other forms of disruptive behaviour.
The party will also force schools to record incidents of homophobic abuse in the way they currently do for sexual misconduct and racism. Teachers warn that this may result in form filling and box ticking.
Ben Smith, a teacher in an inner-London, Catholic school told PinkNews.co.uk: "There is nothing that new about the Conservative's policies. They've spoken before about abolishing appeals panels, this is a reactive policy. As a gay teacher, I can see that what is needed is to teach about homosexuality across the curriculum, in the same way that race and gender is."
Jonathan Bartley of the progressive religious think tank Ekklesia wrote that the policies "are geared around further exclusion and based on 'tougher punishments. There is nothing restorative in the proposals. Indeed, their stated aim in promoting exclusion is to avoid contact between victim and offender. Contact can actually be helpful if managed properly and both parties consent to it.
"Nor do they do anything to tackle the indications that there is more bullying in faith schools than in others, which we highlighted in a letter to the Times recently. There is nothing in the proposals to tackle, for example, the exemptions that faith schools have in sex and relationships education, which some feel lie close to the root of the problem."
Last week, the Conservative Party forced the Government into a climbdown over plans to make sex education compulsory for all pupils over 15. Lisa Power of HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust called the climbdown "disgraceful" and claimed it could lead to more homophobic bullying.
"We will see the impact on young people who haven't had decent sex and relationships education. The girl who gets pregnant because the only education she got was in the playground, the people who use the word 'gay' as an insult," she said.
"This isn't just about sex – it's about relationships, it's about bullying, it's about a whole raft of things."
The announcement today follows a meeting with gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who held 'David Cameron coming out party' outside the Conservative Party's London headquarters.