Let’s make all our schools Safe Schools

The AEU NT supports NT schools having access to professional educators who can deliver appropriate training to address homophobia, transphobia and bullying based on gender identity. In 2015 the Department of Education and NT Government joined the Safe Schools Coalition Australia.

What is the Safe Schools Coalition about?

Safe Schools Coalition Australia is a national coalition of organisations and schools working together to create safe and inclusive school environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families. It is funded by the Australian Government.

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) is the national convenor of Safe Schools Coalition Australia and has partnered with experienced organisations in every state and territory to directly support schools.

In 2010 La Trobe University provided the Victorian Government with the impetus to fund Safe Schools Coalition Victoria. Its findings identified an alarming level of homophobia and transphobia in the lives of young people, with 80% of the abuse identified as happening at school.

In 2014, Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) was rolled out nationally, convened by the Foundation for Young Australians. The program is currently working with primary and secondary schools in all states and territories to raise their capacity to create environments more inclusive of sexual diversity and gender diversity.

Supportive and inclusive schools can make significant and positive differences for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse young people. Training provided by Safe Schools Coalition also helps schools and teachers with some practical strategies to address homophobia and transphobia and to consider the impact of discriminatory practice.

Evidence is mounting to show that schools with programs supported by SSCA “do better” in all areas of school wide behaviours and achievement.

Some of the national and local support for the work of the SSCA is from the peak parent’s body for government schools, Headspace, Human Rights Commissioner and many of the professional mental health organisations. You can read what some of the supporters of the program have said about its importance.

How can teachers support these programs to make schools a safer place for all students and staff?

Teachers and educators have an important role to play in combatting discrimination. SCCA has three recommended tips for teachers to use in their classrooms to make them more inclusive for same sex attracted, gender diverse and intersex young people.

1. Challenge all homophobic or transphobic language and behaviours

Ignoring homophobic or transphobic language can be distressing for same sex attracted, gender diverse and gender non-conforming students in your classroom and can send the message that you and the whole school are saying that this form of discrimination is okay. LGBTI students report to us that addressing this type of language is the number one thing they wish they could change at their schools.

Homophobic language can include things like ‘That’s so gay’ and other more obvious forms of discriminatory language. Many people use the word ‘gay’ to describe a positive part of who they are and therefore using it in a negative way is highly insulting.

Transphobic language, such as ‘he-she’ and ‘tranny’ should be addressed as inappropriate immediately. Providing an explanation that a person’s gender identity is defined by them and that it isn’t respectful to question someone’s gender identity would be an appropriate response.

Some schools have initiated a language blitz; a coordinated approach to shut down the use of homophobic and transphobic language at school. A strong message as to why this language isn’t tolerated by the school is communicated to all students, for example, at the beginning of a term. Teachers can then simply refer to this when they hear homophobic and transphobic language in a way that doesn’t slow down their lesson.

2. Give positive examples of sexual diversity, gender diversity and physical diversity

Providing your class with positive examples of sexual diversity, gender diversity and diverse bodies is an incredibly important and effective way to signal that these forms of diversity are normal, natural and worthy of recognition. Doing this also cultivates a safe and inclusive space for everyone.

These moments in the curriculum provide ideal opportunities to challenge stereotypes and include gender identity, sexual diversity and intersex status.

3. Take the pressure off gender

There are many times as educators that we either divide our students along gender lines, speak to them in gendered ways or make assumptions about them based on gender stereotypes. It’s important for us to ask the question ‘What is the educational purpose of gendering my students in this way?’ If there is no answer to that question then there is no valid reason to do this.

Getting students to line up in girls and boys lines and dividing project groups along gender lines are just two examples of unnecessary gendering that can cause significant distress to gender diverse students who don’t experience their gender as either male or female or who are not supported to be with the group that aligns with their gender identity. There are many other ways to divide students that have nothing to do with gender including things like odd and even birthdays.

The future of Safe Schools

Recent attacks on the content and purpose of Safe Schools Coalition programs in schools led to a federal parliamentary review. There are now some restrictions on the content of SSC materials and school councils have to give approval for schools to opt in to the programs.

The AEU NT supports schools and staff having access to the information and resources of Safe Schools Coalition Australia. We have pursued this matter with the NT Department of Education, and the Chief Executive has told the AEU NT he remains committed to supporting the Safe Schools project for middle and secondary schools that wish to take part. The review delayed the process but a program provider will put in place to provide assistance to schools.

Actions you can take

If you’d like more information, contact the AEU by emailing or phoning us.