Last week the Scottish government released updated guidance for Scottish schools called ‘Supporting Transgender Pupils In Schools‘. Safe Schools Alliance are very concerned by this document, which promotes only the ‘affirmation’ method of offering support to trans-identified children. Advocating for a culture in a school where staff keep children’s secrets in order to develop a more ‘trusting’ relationship with the child goes against basic safeguarding.
Our spokeswoman Tanya Carter talks further about our safeguarding concerns in this interview with GB News.
“This is 70 pages of damaging ideology” Carter explained. “It doesn’t appear to have been written by people who are experts in either child development or safeguarding.” Referring to the many teachers who contact Safe Schools Alliance, she said that these teachers know that keeping secrets from parents is against basic safeguarding. “And yet” she added “if they speak out they are concerned for their livelihoods”.
Carter was asked whether there is a place for this guidance in secondary schools, where older children and their parents may not agree. She responded. “You have always got to look at what is in the best interests of children. And generally, it is in the best interests of children if parents and schools work together”. She talked of the importance of looking at what else is going on in these young peoples’ lives. Testimony from Tavistock whisteblowers has shown that issues such as previous trauma and internalised homophobia are often ignored.
“They are still children. They still have a right to be safeguarded.”
Safe Schools Alliance have seen many similar documents written for local authorities in England. We were involved in challenging the ‘Trans Toolkit’ released by Oxfordshire County Council, a Stonewall champion, which was withdrawn in 2020 after a judge found that it was arguable that it was unlawful. Many other local authorities have since withdrawn their guidance.
It is very concerning that the Scottish government have ignored all concerns raised about the safeguarding of children in relation to these toolkits.
Culture of Secrecy
A section of the guidance called ‘Confidentiality, information sharing and child protection – Good Practice’ says that the parents need not be told if a child is identifying as trans:
This promotes a culture of secrecy which is antithetical to safeguarding. Many teenagers feel that their parents do not understand them. This is a normal part of development. The child’s feelings on this matter should not be allowed to override the parents’ ability to safeguard their child.
Teachers are also told that they should not discuss a trans-identified child’s status with other teachers:
Teachers should under no circumstances be encouraged to be the one person that knows a child’s secret. They should not be a position where they are the one person trusted by the child. Children should not be having conversations with adults who will keep a child’s secret to encourage a child to trust them. No teacher should want to be part of something which teaches children to do this. This is a huge safeguarding red flag and is tantamount to grooming.
Privacy law and safeguarding
According to the Scottish government, the ‘legal requirement’ which justifies this culture of secrecy is the Data Protection Act. This is referred to several times.
We are appalled that the Scottish government considers that data protection law should be used to override child welfare in this way. Nothing should trump child safeguarding.
The Scottish guidance also backs up its position with reference to article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
This interpretation of Article 16 implies that the child’s right to privacy can justify withholding information from parents relating to a child’s wellbeing. This is certainly not immediately apparent from the text of the UNCRC:
This interpretation by the Scottish government de-prioritises child safeguarding in favour of treating the child as an adult. It removes them from the oversight of their parents and of all but a few chosen adults.
The Scottish government’s approach appears to be based on the position that “being transgender is not a child protection issue or wellbeing concern in itself”.
This statement is found in many trans guidance packs. It is intended to persuade schools that excluding parents from their children’s lives is not only justifiable, but the right thing to do. In reality, affirmation of a trans identity by schools is the first step on a pathway. This pathway may lead to binders, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and possible mastectomy and genital surgery. All of these things would be viewed by most parents as significant wellbeing concerns. On the other hand, if a child identifying as trans is left to go through the puberty of their biological sex, they will usually desist.
In addition, children who identify as transgender are often themselves asking to be treated differently and in a way which should raise wellbeing concerns. It is a safeguarding risk for a trans-identified female student to share a changing room with the male students, and schools should not be enabling this. It is a potential safeguarding risk if a female pupil binds her breasts, and parents should be made aware of it.
The Scottish government is careful to say that this guidance is non-statutory, and that the responsibility still lies with schools to ensure that their policies comply with legislation:
Therefore, despite the confident references to legal documents such as the UNCRC and the GDPR, the Scottish government are not taking accountability for this guidance. If a child is placed at risk, or harmed, as a result of policies recommended as ‘best practice’ by the Scottish government, it is schools that will be held responsible.