Debbie Epstein, Roger Hewitt, Diana Leonard, Melanie Mauthner and Chris Watkins
MM: Does the school have any particular focus on racist, sexist or homophobic bullying?
Teacher: Yeah, not homophobic. I would say that the policies on homophobia, that is an issue as well, homophobia as a cause of violence. I mean, quite often violence may start because of homophobic insults between boys. The school's policy on acceptance of people's sexuality, not discriminating against people, understanding. Quite honestly, I mean, that's not an issue that you make a lot of noise about in schools ever since the Tories. You know, you would be criticised, possibly. Maybe even the head teacher as well would be uncomfortable with pushing an issue like homosexuality or sexuality in a school like this.
The quote above, from an interview with the head of history in a large comprehensive school in London, is drawn from our ESRC-funded project entitled 'The "Violence-Resilient" School: A Comparative Study of Schools and their Environments'. 1 In this project we sought to understand how different approaches to the management of schools could have the effect of reducing or producing violence in broadly similar neighbourhood contexts. What we were interested in, then, was not so much the amount of violence in any particular school, but how that compared with levels of violence in schools in similar areas with similar levels of reported neighbourhood violence. We were particularly concerned to trace the impact on those forms of violence related to 'differences that make a difference' (racist, sexist and homophobic violence and bullying, for example) of different regimes, cultures and approaches by the senior management teams of the schools we looked at. One of the key findings from our study was that, amongst these different forms of violence, harassment and bullying, schools found it most difficult to handle homophobic abuse and were most likely to ignore it. In this chapter, we explore the evidence of this, and consider some of the implications for schools, social justice and identity formation.