How to improve attendance in school with LGBT+ inclusion

by Just Like Us
April 2024

A display for School Diversity Week

School attendance is a challenging and pertinent issue for schools – and one that can benefit from an inclusive and supportive approach to engaging pupils and reducing absenteeism.

LGBT+ pupils are at increased risk of missing school. In this blog, we’ll share the research behind this link and how you can improve attendance in school through LGBT+ inclusion.

Just Like Us is the LGBT+ young people’s charity. We work with thousands of schools across the UK, helping education leaders to create more inclusive school environments where their pupils can thrive.

How is school attendance linked to LGBT+ inclusion?

LGBT+ pupils face a greater number of challenges and barriers to accessing education. Let’s start there. Just Like Us’ own research has found that:

  • LGBT+ pupils feel less safe in school
  • 91% of LGBT+ pupils have heard negative language about LGBT+ people in the past year (e.g. homophobic slurs)
  • 42% of LGBT+ pupils have been bullied (compared to 21% of non-LGBT+/straight pupils)
  • Trans pupils are five times more likely to be bullied daily than their non-trans/cisgender peers
  • LGBT+ pupils are twice as likely to have depression and anxiety, which the NHS found is linked to lower levels of school attendance
  • LGBT+ inclusion in schools is linked to improved mental health for all pupils (both LGBT+ and non-LGBT+/straight)

The more barriers pupils face to education, the less likely they are to want to attend and be able to thrive.

What do LGBT+ pupils say about their school avoidance and absenteeism?

Numerous studies have found a correlation between poor school attendance of LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans pupils) and a lack of LGBT+ inclusion in schools.

One trans pupil told LGBT Youth Scotland’s survey that: “In primary school my attendance started getting really bad towards the end because of [transphobia]. In secondary I dropped out completely and developed agoraphobia.”

A non-binary pupil said: “I hate coming to school because of my gender…I hate being sorted in certain classes into boys and girls. I’m not a girl, and I’m not quite a boy.”

What does the research tell us about LGBT+ inclusion improving attendance in school?

For LGBT+ pupils, safety, acceptance and support is vital to improving attendance in school. This link is well evidenced in many research studies:

  • A 2021 study, found that a lack of LGBT+ inclusion in schools leads to lowered school attendance. It says: ‘Harassment, absenteeism caused by the absence of protection in schools, and ensuing suicidal thoughts are all dramatically higher among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (or sometimes questioning) (LGBT+) adolescents than among non-LGBT+ adolescents.’
  • When school is an unsafe environment for LGBT+ pupils and they do not feel protected, absenteeism increases. A study in the US also found that trans pupils who experienced harassment were more likely to miss school than their non-trans/cisgender peers, due to concerns over their safety (Greytak et al., 2016).
  • Both being LGBT+ and a pupil’s mental health were found to be ‘important factors to consider when assessing school absenteeism’ another study, conducted in 2015, found. The research found that LGBT+ pupils are at increased risk of missing school because of fear, avoidance and poorer mental health. It concluded that LGBT+ inclusion must be considered ‘when developing interventions to prevent or reduce school absenteeism among adolescents.’
  • Almost 4 out of 5 non-binary people (78%) participating in Scottish Trans’ 2016 research said that they avoid education spaces and opportunities due to a fear of discrimination (Valentine, 2016).
  • LGBT Youth Scotland’s Trans Report also found that as many as one in five trans young people left education because of a lack of LGBT+ inclusion in school. Many felt that the threat of transphobic bullying from classmates had left them unable to concentrate, leading to poor performance in school, the report found.

Three ways you can improve attendance in school

We have three key ways we can support your school to become more LGBT+ inclusive at Just Like Us:

Above all, our independent research shows that LGBT+ pupils say they’d most like their school to have a Pride Group.

Watch how our Pride Groups programme has benefited pupils and staff