The UK’s government-backed projects tackling bullying of LGBT students in England’s schools has had its funding pulled.
The decision came despite an earlier pledge to continue investing in school programmes targeting homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.
The Government Equalities Office had funded several well-received programmes costing at least £4m, which specifically targeted LGBT bullying, since 2014. Many had been extended and given further government support.
Initially called The Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic Challenge Fund, the government programme was not compulsory for schools, but it allowed teachers, staff and students to receive free training and workshops.
Providers of workshops, as well as parents, students and teachers, had been expecting the funding to continue.
The government acknowledges the serious impact anti-LGBT bullying can have on educational attainment, absence levels, emotional wellbeing and mental health.
But they say the funding was always due to come to an end.
The Government Equalities Office said: “The anti-bullying grant fund, which provided 2,250 schools across the country with materials and training, was always due to end in March 2020.”
However, this is the first time that the funding has not been extended since it was originally announced in October 2014 by the then Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan.
There was shock among providers of workshops, as well as parents, students and teachers who had expecting the funding to continue.
One provider of LGBT inclusion workshops, who wanted to remain anonymous as they feared that speaking out would jeopardise any future possible funding, said schools and programme providers had been expecting a further extension.
Her organisation was waiting for another funding announcement at the beginning of November, inviting new applications for grants.
She said she felt “sick” that schools would not be able to continue their work, and claimed her organisation had been “ignored” and “shut out” by the government, even though its programmes were well-received.
“This decision will only serve to further marginalise LGBT young people,” said Tulip Siddiq MP, shadow minister for children and early years.
“The government itself has admitted that young people who identify as LGBT have higher risk of bullying and long-term harm to their education, health and wellbeing, so to be pulling away financial support from those fighting this abuse is especially callous.”
The equalities charity Stonewall noted that the news had emerged during anti-bullying week, and a day after the anniversary of the repeal of section 28, a notorious clause in the Local Government Act 1988 that banned local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”.
Nancy Kelley, the chief executive of Stonewall, said that young LGBTQ+ people still face significant problems in England’s schools and the organisation’s 2017 School Report had revealed that nearly half of LGBTQ+ pupils (45%) were still bullied for being themselves.
“We know LGBT people are disproportionately affected by poor mental health, and some of this is because of the way they were treated at school,” she added. “This is why it’s crucial this government invests money in funding anti-LGBT bullying programmes across England. We can’t leave students to suffer in silence.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Bullying is never acceptable in any form, and we must all take a stand against bullying to create a safe place for all children in the classroom and online.
“Our new relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) guidance and training resources will give schools the confidence to construct a curriculum that reflects diversity of views and backgrounds, whilst fostering respect for others and the understanding of healthy relationships.”
Nevertheless, the release of messages to mark anti-bullying week and a video in which the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, spoke about the issue were met with criticism by others who took issue with the ending of the LGBTQ+ funding.
The Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto for government included a pledge to continue to help teachers tackle bullying, including homophobic bullying. Civil servants were evaluating the grant fund programme “to increase our evidence base on what works in schools,” according to the Government Equalities Office.
Metro, a charity that delivered training in schools and colleges under the fund, tweeted that its work to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying funded was “hugely impactful” but added that continued funding was needed.