Mark McGlashan, from Lancaster University, said pupils as young as five should be introduced to texts that "challenge homophobic bullying and encourage inclusivity in schools". There is evidence that giving young children access to picture books that show gay and lesbian characters in a good light can have “positive benefits” and promote equality, it is claimed.
His comments come before a conference in Westminster next week aimed at understanding how homophobia and homophobic bullying can be challenged through the use of resources in primary schools. Earlier this year, the National Union of Teachers urged staff to use “anti-sexist” materials designed to challenge common gender stereotypes.
The union has designed lessons using such books that are being used in schools Norfolk, Portsmouth, London and Nottingham. It recommends books such as Bill's New Frock, The Boy With Pink Hair, William's Doll, The Different Dragon, Girls Are Best and Dogs Don't Do Ballet. Last week, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, also called for fresh action to stamp out the use of the word “gay” as an insult in schools.
Mr McGlashan, who has done extensive analyses of representations of same-sex parents in picture books, said next week’s conference would “look at children's literature as a means to challenge homophobic bullying and encourage inclusivity in schools”. “Part of that aim could include increasing the availability of LGBT literature to educators,” he said. "There is evidence that promoting cultural inclusivity in early years education has positive benefits with regard to challenging homophobia and this will also be discussed at the conference.
"Research has shown that resources such as picturebooks can be positively implemented in primary schools to tackle homophobia at its roots. "Ofsted now specifically looks at homophobic bullying as an issue in schools and it really is a significant problem. “The idea is that LGBT-inclusive literature could help schools address an issue that really is negatively impacting the lives of young people but the resources aren't there - there just isn't enough good literature available.”
The event, which will be attended by academic experts, publishers and politicians, including Stephen Twigg, Labour's shadow education secretary, aims to generate debate on how literature featuring same-sex parents can be used to break down prejudices and challenge stereotypes prevalent in schools. The conference – funded by Lancaster’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Enterprise Centre – will be held on July 16 at Westminster Hall.
The event has also been created in association with Lancaster's Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Mr McGlashan said: "The consultation should result in the production of a number of recommendations to make better quality resources available to educators.
"Bringing together people to discuss the need to grow the LGBT-inclusive children's literature market, we hope will address some of the shortfalls that exist and produce a number of recommendations for the use of these books in schools as well as discuss their status in retail." He added: "Homophobic bullying in schools is a significant and prevalent issue. A Stonewall report in 2012 revealed 55 per cent of LGB children in British schools experience bullying.
"Children's literature is a key educational source in creating an inclusive culture. LGBT-inclusive books are yet to become a staple of school libraries. "But, why not integrate or produce LGBT-inclusive resources that help our schools prevent homophobic bullying? There is work in the area but not enough and this is what this conference is hoping to address. "There is a growing recognition of the need, want and support for resources aimed at young people to promote inclusive, anti-homophobic practices but there is still little being done to address the lack of resources."
Article: 11th July 2013 www.telegraph.co.uk