Teachers still as uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics as they were two years ago, new research finds

by Just Like Us
February 2024

Progress has stagnated and teachers are just as uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ topics with pupils as they were two years ago, new research of more than 6,000 teachers by charity Just Like Us has found.

15% of teachers across the UK said they felt “not very comfortable” or “completely uncomfortable” discussing LGBT+ topics with their pupils, with the exact same proportion saying the same in 2021. 

The new survey also found that the majority (84%) of secondary school teachers are “completely” or “mostly” comfortable with discussing LGBT+ topics at school – also the same proportion as in 2021, meaning there has been no significant change in attitudes towards equality over two years. 

This is despite Section 28 being repealed more than 20 years ago, and coincides with the release of draft government guidance on gender diverse pupils, which is chillingly similar to Section 28.

Teachers’ level of comfort with LGBT+ topics varied by seniority level, with headteachers most likely to say they were “completely” or “mostly” comfortable (92%). This gradually decreased along with seniority, with 86% of senior leaders, 86% of middle leaders, and dropped to just 81% of classroom teachers being comfortable discussing LGBT+ topics.

Compared with two years ago, headteachers have become more confident with LGBT+ inclusion (92% vs 85% in 2021), but classroom teachers have become slightly less comfortable (81% vs 83% in 2021).

The age of teachers surveyed also had an impact. In 2023, one in five teachers (20%) over the age of 50 said they were “not very comfortable” or “completely uncomfortable” discussing LGBT+ topics with their pupils, the same proportion as two years ago. 

Younger teachers were less likely to feel uncomfortable, with 16% of those in their 40s, 13% of those in their 30s, and 15% of those in their 20s saying the same in 2023. 

Teachers in their 30s were the most likely to say they were “completely” or “mostly” comfortable with discussing LGBT+ topics (87% in both studies). 

Just Like Us’ research was carried out independently by Teacher Tapp, surveying 6,094 secondary school teachers across the UK in December 2023. The question was a repeated study asking “How comfortable do you feel discussing LGBT+ topics with your pupils?”, which previously surveyed 4,200 secondary school staff in November 2021.

Laura Mackay, Chief Executive of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, said: “It is incredibly disappointing to see that progress on LGBT+ inclusion is stagnating in the frequently transphobic climate.

“LGBT+ young people cannot afford for progress to come to a standstill, and we are so grateful to all the teachers taking part in School Diversity Week, running a Pride Group or simply taking time to listen to, and support, their LGBT+ pupils. LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to be bullied during their time at school, and as young adults, they are three times more likely to face a mental health condition. If those supporting and educating them feel uncomfortable or treat LGBT+ topics as something that is taboo, these barriers will remain.

“Just Like Us’ programmes aim to make LGBT+ inclusion not only comfortable for teachers, but easy, empowering and joyful, and I would urge all teachers to make use of the resources available to them. As we mark 20 years since the repeal of the dangerous and damaging Section 28, we must continue to push for better outcomes for the next generation of LGBT+ young people because, frankly, they deserve better.”

Matthew Knowles, an English teacher in London, said: “In the current climate, support for LGBT+ students in schools is more essential than ever. 

“It is often forcing many students to retreat back into the closet.”

“Because of dialogue amongst politicians and scaremongering in the media, some students seem more emboldened than ever to bully and attack LGBT+ rights.

“This is having an extremely negative effect on LGBT+ students in and out schools. It is often forcing many students to retreat back into the closet. 

“As teachers and school leaders we must continue to safeguard the LGBT+ students within our institutions, and to challenge bullying and hate wherever we encounter it.”