EDUCATION Secretary John Swinney has come under fire from LGBTI campaigners who say the Scottish government is not doing enough to ensure schools are tackling homophobic bullying.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald, Swinney, who is also Deputy First Minister, revealed that schools are not required by law to teach pupils about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues - although updated curricula recommends they do so.

In 2014, the government revised their Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) guidance to include LGBTI, however Swinney said it is up to the schools whether or not they teach it in their classrooms. His comments come amid a growing campaign, supported by many MSP, for the teaching of LGBTI issues to be made mandatory in Scotland in order to deal with bullying and discrimination. In the worst incidents, homophobic bullying has led to teenagers taking their own lives.

A recent report by The Terence Higgins Trust, the leading charity which helps people affected by HIV and promotes sexual health, revealed that 95% of young people they spoke to confirmed they did not have LGBTI education in school.

The trust spoke to around 1000 people across the UK. Around 13 per cent of their respondents were from Scotland. Only 2 per cent rated the sexual health and relationship education they received as ‘excellent’, while 50 per cent rated it as ‘poor.

Swinney told the Sunday Herald that the updated guidance may still be “working its way through the system”.

He said: “When it comes down to the wider understanding of LGBTI issues, we don’t have a curriculum which prescribes. We don’t have a curriculum where we say ‘oh we can just put that in’.

“The Curriculum For Excellence is structured in such a fashion to equip young people to be responsible citizens. It is a broad, general education which you create. It has the facilities to embrace all of these messages.”

When questioned on whether schools were compelled to teach the updated RSHP guidance, he said: “What I would accept is that guidance was put in place in 2014, so it may still be working its way through the education system.

“I am confident that these issues are now reflected in the guidance that the Government makes available. The judgement is there on the part of schools. The Curriculum For Excellence is founded on the principal of teachers’ professionalism and teachers using their own judgement.”

LGBTI campaigners have criticised the Government’s lack of action, and have accused ministers of “ticking boxes” rather than making vital changes.

Jordan Daly, co-founder of the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) Campaign, which is calling for the teaching of LGBTI issues in schools, said the Government is not doing enough to help tackle discrimination and bullying.

He said: “Despite the rhetoric, the truth is that there is no requirement for schools to actually practice anything that has been outlined in the 2014 RSHP guidance and, without this key step, it is impossible to properly address the issues facing LGBTI learners.

"Further, RSHP unfortunately fits with the Scottish education system’s tradition of issuing guidance and never monitoring its delivery, or training teachers alongside it.

“Leaving the delivery of such vital education to the discretion or judgement of individual institutions simply falls short, and only allows for particular parts of the guidance - namely LGBTI issues - to be dismissed by schools or faculty who do not think that they should be discussed, regardless of what parents or pupils believe.”

Members of the SNP Youth are siding with TIE campaigners in the row. A spokesperson said: “We need an education system that is a safe, equal and accepting environment for all of Scotland's young people.

“At our Spring Conference this year members of the SNP unanimously agreed to an SNP Youth resolution in support of TIE, which called for schools across Scotland to provide inclusive education for our young people. The SNP Youth remain committed to helping the TIE Campaign achieve their goals.”

Robert McKay, National Director for Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, said there are “attempts in some schools to deliver" LGBTI education, but added: “It is not consistent or non-existent in most. The implications are that young people are leaving school with little to no information on essential issues...RSHP that focuses only on aspects of heterosexual sex and relationships means that thousands of young people miss out on vital knowledge on how to value themselves and others and how to keep healthy – emotionally, sexually and physically.

“Our experience shows that young people turn to less reliable sources such as the internet or their peers as they navigate life outside the classroom.”

McKay said the Scottish Government “must work in partnership with local authorities and the Scottish Catholic Education Service (on behalf of the Bishop’s Conference) to ensure all schools, including denominational schools, teach LGBTI+ inclusive RSHP.”

He said: “This would give young people the tools to make positive and informed decisions, and to have healthy relationships, which they are ready for, want and deserve – wherever they go.”