In October our spokeswomen Tanya Carter and Tracy Shaw spoke to Liberal Voice for Women, a special interest group of Liberal Democrat members and supporters, aiming to promote the interests of women and girls within the party. You can watch the event here: “Why ‘Girls Only’ is Important: An evening with Safe Schools Alliance UK”.

Tanya and Tracy covered a lot of ground in this talk. After explaining briefly how SSAUK was formed, they responded to questions from the chair, Alison Jenner, and questions from the audience.

Alison started by asking why so many organisations are not implementing safeguarding principles.

Tracy pointed out that schools have been sold a narrative which constantly references alarmist statements such as supposedly high rates of trans suicide. They are also responding to pressure from the children and sometimes their parents. Often schools would welcome robust guidance to counteract this, but they are not getting it from the DfE (who at the time of speaking were Stonewall Champions).

Tracy stated that “Safeguarding has been undermined and deliberately so”. She summarised that what we need is for the Department for Education, Ofsted and the Children’s Commissioner to do their jobs and help schools implement safeguarding.

Alison asked whether Ofsted have a way of addressing this issue.

Tanya explained that Ofsted do inspect on safeguarding. However the problem is that once a school is recorded as outstanding then Ofsted won’t inspect again unless serious concerns are raised. Many outstanding schools were last inspected over 10 years ago. In addition, when concerns are raised, Ofsted ask the county council to carry out a safeguarding inspection – but many of the councils have also been captured.

She added that we need politicians and the law to intervene to untangle this level of regulatory capture.

Alison asked about the SSAUK website resources. Tracy explained that we have many factsheets and letter templates. Some of our most popular factsheets are our recent Advice Note on schools socially transitioning children, and our guide on How to Complain. We have letter templates to help raise concerns about Mermaids, Stonewall, and the Genderbread person among many others. She added that what we would like is for parents to start copying their MP when they write to us. MPs need to start hearing about these concerns.

Alison was interested to know what responses parents usually get from schools.

Tracy explained that we have tried to capture the most common responses in the latest section on our website ‘How to Talk to Schools About Their Resources’. She added that some parents have written great letters themselves which have effected change; for example our letter template on mixed sex toilets was originally written by a parent to her child’s school. Tracy pointed out that if we want to challenge this, it does require parents to take action and put aside that natural discomfort we all feel to challenge the school. Quite often parents may be otherwise happy with the school and like the teachers, but they have to bear in mind that they are not complaining about the teachers, they are complaining about the management.

Alison asked about the links with autism. Tracy explained that the problem is that the affirmation approach gets in the way of exploring the issues autistic children may have. Tanya added that for autistic children especially, it can feel easier for them to find support online, and this is often unmonitored and unregulated. She said that we need to give children space to grow up and be their own person. Tracy pointed out that if schools socially transition a child they are making an active decision which they are not equipped to make.

Alison asked what sort of research is being done into the risks to vulnerable children.

Tanya said that this is currently very difficult: she cited the case of James Caspian at Bath University, who tried to undertake research into detransitioners but was blocked from doing it. So the research generally isn’t being done. The exception is the work of Lisa Littman, who has done valuable research on rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), and even in her case, there was a lot of pressure on the publisher not to release it.

Alison asked if we have resources that we could recommend. Unfortunately there are currently very few. Tanya mentioned that Gail Dines ‘Culture Reframed‘ is good on explaining the impacts of porn, Michael Conroy’s resources for boys are good, and there are some supplementary resources on the UK Feminista website relating to training on tackling sexism. TransgenderTrend also have resources which advise on policy, but not lesson plans.

A parent asked what – if anything – she should do to raise concerns about a friend of her child who is now using they/them pronouns without her parents’ knowledge? Tanya explained that the school will have a published way for parents to raise safeguarding concerns. It is always worth people raising any concerns that they have from the point of view of concern for a child’s welfare as they can’t know what other concerns have already been raised: that may be the missing piece of the puzzle.

A final question was from someone who pointed out that the Gender Recognition Act only allows adults to legally change their sex, so why are schools allowing children to act as if they have done so? Tanya said that this is because they are advised by lobby groups who follow “Stonewall law”. She said that the barrister Allison Bailey is currently bringing a case against Stonewall and many organisations are realising that they are misrepresenting the law. However we do need to unpick further and understand why this happened. Why did Stonewall start misrepresenting the law in 2015? Why did they move from supporting LGB children and adults to a different agenda?

Tracy’s closing comment was that we are feeding back what is going on to various organisations and politicians… but we also need parents to complain!

We would like to thank Liberal Voice for Women for hosting our spokeswomen and chairing such an interesting discussion.

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