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Promoting Equal Opportunities in Education - Project Two: Guidance On Dealing With Homophobic Incidents: Phase 1 Report and Recommendations

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2: Methodology

It was recognised that consulting with Education Authorities and schools about issues related to homophobia and sexual orientation was a new, sensitive and methodologically problematic task. Potential issues such as non participation and low response rates were a concern and emphasis was placed on close collaboration with contacts in SEED and various EAs.

Over the course of the research, three meetings were held with a Project Advisory Group. The PAG included representatives from LGBT Youth Scotland, CERES, ChildLine Scotland, Parent's Enquiry, Lothian and Borders Police and Dumfries and Galloway Council. The PAG used their experience, expertise and knowledge to inform the shape and direction of the research.

2.1 Research Methods

The following approaches were used to gather evidence for analysis. The different stages of research are illustrated in the chart at the end of this section of the report.

2.1.1 Literature Review

A review of literature was conducted in order to contextualise this research and understand current thought regarding the nature, extent and effects of homophobic incidents in schools. The literature review provides an overview of relevant academic, government and voluntary sector research into homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools. It also highlights examples of good practice in the UK, and in other countries with comparable populations and education systems, which might be employed in Scottish school settings.

Literature searches were carried out on a variety of Social Science databases ( e.g. IngentaConnect, Emerald, Science Direct), Internet search engines, relevant websites and the LGBT Youth Scotland library.

2.1.2 Postal questionnaire to Education Authorities and schools across Scotland

The survey method was selected to obtain standardised and measurable data from a large number of respondents. It was envisaged that the survey would provide a broad mass of quantifiable information from schools and EAs across Scotland, some of which could then be explored in greater depth with a smaller sample of EAs and schools at the interview stage of the research.

Survey questions were designed with reference to the project's objectives and also to additional key themes emerging from the literature review. Questions focused on issues such as policy, practice, awareness and confidence amongst schools and EAs. The questionnaire was piloted with a number of professionals who work with young people.

A questionnaire was sent to the Director of Education in all 32 Scottish Education Authorities ( see Appendix 1). The cover letter requested that the survey be completed by the member of staff responsible for Equal Opportunities, Equalities or Pastoral Care.

A spreadsheet of Scottish schools was provided by SEED: schools were selected randomly and the same questionnaire was sent to the Head Teachers of 9 schools in each Education Authority area: 5 Primary Schools, 3 Secondary Schools and 1 Special School ( see Appendix 2). In those EAs which do not have a Special School another Secondary school was selected.

Independent schools and denominational schools were interspersed throughout the sample to achieve a representative sample of schools in Scotland. 6 Independent schools and 23 Roman Catholic schools (16 Primary and 7 Secondary) were chosen at random across the EAs and included in the final sample.

A three week deadline was set for the return of the survey with a reminder email and phonecall to the EAs which had not replied one week post deadline. A reminder email was not sent to the remaining schools as there had already been a good response rate.

2.1.3 Survey Sample

As mentioned previously, the Research Team was aware that the subject area was sensitive and that a low survey response rate from EAs and schools was likely. In the original proposal a likely response rate of 10-15% was projected and therefore the actual percentage return rate, illustrated in the tables below, was a welcome surprise.

Table 2.1: Education Authority Postal Survey Response Rate

Education Authority Postal Survey Response Rate

Surveys Sent

Number of Responses

% Response Rate

32

31

97%

Table 2.2: Schools Postal Survey Response Rate

Schools Postal Survey Response Rate

School Type

Surveys Sent

Surveys Received

% Response

Primary

160

50

31%

Secondary

96

32

33%

Special

29

10

34%

Response Rate

285

92

32%

Returns from denominational schools were lower than average and of the 23 surveys sent to Denominational Primary and Secondary schools, 4 were returned (17%)

6 Independent schools were included in the survey, 33% of which returned the survey.

One Special school emailed to state that due to their pupils' profound learning difficulties the issues addressed in the survey were not applicable to the school. This may have been an issue for other Special schools who did not respond.

2.1.4 Interviews with EA and school representatives in six EAs

Six Education Authority areas were selected for the interview stage of research. This stage was conducted in order to discuss in greater depth the themes which were emerging from the survey responses.

Three EAs were located in predominantly rural areas of Scotland and 3 were based in cities in order to provide as geographically representative a picture as possible.

Interviews were carried out in the first instance with representatives from each EA with Pastoral Care, Equalities or Quality Improvement remits, each nominated by their Director of Education. These representatives then nominated four schools in the EA to contact for interview: 1 Secondary, 1 Special and 2 Primary ( questions for schools included in Appendix 3).

Although it had originally been planned that a number of interviews would take place in each school with different members of staff it soon became clear that this was unrealistic due to other priorities and time pressures amongst school staff. Therefore, in the majority of cases, senior management decided to take sole responsibility for responding and interviews took place with senior members of staff such as the Head Teacher, Depute Head Teacher or PT Guidance/ Pastoral Care/ Pupil Support. An interview with a class teacher was only possible in one school.

Table 2.3: Number of Primary, Secondary and Special School Interviews

EA and School Interviews

Location

Number of Schools in Area

EA

Primary

Secondary

Special

Urban

287

1

2

1

1

Urban

158

1

1

1

1

Rural

189

1

2

1

-

Rural

220

1

2

1

-

Rural

131

1

2

2

-

Urban

45

1

2

1

1

Total

6

11

7

3

There were fewer than anticipated interviews with representatives from Special schools. This, in one instance, was because there were no Special schools in the EA. However in another EA, the HT declined to be interviewed stating that pupils in this particular school would not have the ability to grasp the concepts of homophobia or sexual orientation.

As only one of the 6 EAs nominated a Denominational school for interview, only one Denominational school representative from was interviewed.

2.1.5 Online Survey

Previous research into homophobic incidents has relied on retrospective interviews with individuals who were homophobically bullied at school. However, this project provided the ideal opportunity to carry out research into the perspectives of young people currently attending school.

An online survey ( see Appendix 4) was conducted in order to gain an understanding of the perceptions and experiences of young people at school in relation to homophobic incidents. This has provided much needed Scottish data which will inform and add value to work within Phase 2 of this project.

The survey considered the specific experiences of young people who identify as or are perceived to be LGB or T, as well as gaining the views and experiences of non- LGBT young people. The survey was targeted towards young people in Scotland who were currently attending school or who had recently left school

An online survey was selected for a number of reasons:

  • Increased access to respondents Online survey research provides access to groups and individuals who are traditionally 'hard to reach' and whose identities are often stigmatised offline (Wright, 2005)
  • Disregard for geographical limitations The online nature of the survey meant that any eligible young person in Scotland with Web access was able to complete the survey; a broad geographical sample of young people would have been difficult to otherwise achieve.
  • More open and honest responses when researching 'sensitive' topics As online responses are anonymous and involve no interaction with the researcher there is a greater likelihood of participation, honesty and open ended responses.

Survey questions were developed by the Research Team and three of LGBT Youth Scotland's ProjectScotland 2 volunteers, all of whom have recently left education and are aged between 18 and 19. Sections of the survey responses were coded for analysis by a young Project Scotland volunteer. ProjectScotland volunteer involvement in this stage of the research was included not only to develop their research skills and experience, but also to access their knowledge and outlook about key questions and issues which affect young people in education.

The questionnaire was placed on the LGBT Youth Scotland website at the end of September 2005 and was publicised in the monthly LGBT Youth Scotland E-News which is distributed to a range of professionals and young people across Scotland. An explanation of the project and a link to the survey on the LGBT Youth Scotland website was also posted on the following websites.

A total of 77 young people responded to the online survey. These responses represented a cross section of geographical locations, genders and sexual orientations. Although the survey yielded useful quantitative data it also included valuable qualitative stories which respondents chose to disclose and suggestions which young people themselves made for improvements in schools across Scotland.

When the survey was removed from the LGBT Youth Scotland website at the end of October 2005 it was replaced with signposts to accessing support and links to further useful information on the LGBT Youth website and elsewhere.

2.1.6 Focus Group with Young People

The Research Team conducted a focus group interview in October 2005 which sought to explore the issues emerging from the online survey in greater depth with a group of LGBT young people. A focus group approach was chosen because of the opportunity to reflect in depth on the specific experiences and opinions of LGBT young people currently or recently attending school.

The group consisted of four Female and four Male participants aged between 15 and 19. Five of these young people were accessing LGBT Youth Scotland services and three were working at LGBT Youth Scotland as ProjectScotland volunteers. These volunteers helped to organise and co-facilitate the focus group interview.

Six of the participants had recently left school while two were still attending school. All identified as Lesbian or Gay and six out of the eight focus group participants had been homophobically bullied at school.

Chart 2.1: Guidance on Dealing with Homophobic Incidents Research Process and Methods

Chart 2.1: Guidance on Dealing with Homophobic Incidents Research Process and Methods