We are asking supporters to take action regarding the promised trans guidance from the Department for Education (DfE).
In May 2022, the then Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, announced in an interview with The Times that the DfE would be drawing up guidance for schools on how to support children who identify as transgender. He stated that it was important that schools understand what the law says about both protecting minorities and safeguarding children.
In August 2022 the then Attorney-General, Suella Braverman, gave a speech on equality and gender-questioning children at the Policy Exchange. Braverman stated that “Schools have a duty of care in relation to the health, safety and welfare of their children and they risk breaching this duty when they encourage and facilitate a child’s social transition as a blanket policy; or take the decision to do so without medical advice.”
However, The Guardian then reported that some teaching professionals and teaching unions were reluctant to follow the advice given in this speech and wanted clarity from the DfE. Therefore, it is important that the forthcoming guidance is written clearly and unambiguously.
The guidance for schools must specifically cover as many different eventualities as possible. It should contain examples and clear direction that will enable parents and lawyers to hold schools to account if they do not follow it.
The DfE confirmed in a Times article on the 24th of September that it would consult on this guidance “this autumn”. We call upon the DfE to begin the consultation as soon as possible.
Write to your MP about the DfE trans guidance
We do not know what format the consultation will take nor who will be consulted. Therefore please ask your MP to write to the Secretary of State for Education, Kit Malthouse MP, asking him to ensure that the forthcoming DfE trans guidance is clear and includes the following points, in addition to those made by Suella Braverman in her speech:
Language: Using the term ‘transgender child’ or ‘trans child’ pre-supposes a particular pathway that the child is likely to follow. It creates a mindset both within school staff, and for the child themselves, that forecloses other possibilities. The guidance should use ‘gender questioning child’ and ‘child with gender-related distress’ to mirror the Cass Interim Report.
Excluding children from standard safeguarding: Reinforce that no child should be excluded from normal safeguarding processes. This includes decisions about whether to involve a child’s parents or not – teachers are not able to unilaterally decide to keep secrets from parents. If they have concerns that sharing information would be a safeguarding risk to the child, this needs to be raised through the standard safeguarding procedures.
Transgender policies: Schools do not need specific “transgender” policies; the safeguarding policy, anti-bullying policy and equality policy should be sufficiently clear that policies affecting gender-questioning children and children that don’t believe in gender identity ideology are already clear. For example, bullying or harassment of a child because they don’t conform to stereotypes about how someone of their sex should look or behave, is sexist and may be homophobic. If a separate policy is used by a school, it should use the language of the Cass review as stated above.
Preferred pronouns: We have many complaints from parents that children are being told they must use ‘preferred pronouns’ both for other children and for members of staff. In some cases this is written into schools’ anti-bullying and behaviour policies. Schools must be told that they cannot require this. It is essential that schools are also told they must not utilise social shaming to coerce children into adhering to gender identity ideology.
Suicide: Schools are linking adherence to gender identity ideology by all as a necessary factor to prevent gender-questioning children and adults from suicidal thoughts. This is extremely dangerous. For example, this Childline video is used in schools to tell children that it is ‘unkind’ not to use preferred pronouns and linking this ‘unkindness’ or ‘lack of respect’ (explained by not being able to use opposite-sex toilets) with the self-harm and suicide of trans-identified children and adults. This is both very dangerous to gender-questioning children, and a breach of the rights of all children. It also creates an implicit threat of social shaming and social exclusion by peers, such that children will not feel able to disagree.
Teachers with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment: The DfE trans guidance must also be clear on what happens if teachers and other staff declare a trans identity. Currently some children are being told in school that a teacher has changed sex, or is now male, or is male and always has been, or is neither male nor female. They are also being told that they must use the teacher’s preferred pronouns and would be disciplined, possibly criminalised, and/or socially shamed if they don’t. Schools must consider the safeguarding implications of making children lie about the sex of adults, and the impact of this on all children but particularly on children who have been or are being sexually abused (which school staff may not be aware of); and of the rights of children to freedom of belief.
Where the school invokes single sex exemptions for staff – for example, for supervising changing areas or for carrying out intimate care – the guidance must be clear that the single sex exemptions remain even where a teacher has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, and that it would be a breach of safeguarding to allow an opposite sex person to carry out same-sex roles and functions.
Single-sex spaces: Asking children to agree to the removal of single sex spaces, e.g. by asking girls if they agree to share a room with a gender-questioning boy, is not acceptable. Safeguarding decisions cannot be made on a ‘case by case’ basis in this way, and children cannot be expected to make their own safeguarding assessments. Policies must be carefully thought through and risk assessed and they must apply to all.
Examples of solutions for gender-distressed children: Gender-questioning children who would be caused high levels of mental distress by having to use the facilities of their own sex should be accommodated by the provision of single-user facilities; they should never be accommodated in opposite-sex facilities. This is both to protect the child themselves from solidifying their current, potentially transient, feelings, and to maintain single sex facilities for all children. This should be treated in the same way as supporting any child who experiences high levels of mental distress e.g. a female child who would be distressed at using shared girls’ changing facilities should be accommodated to use an individual cubicle within the girls’ changing room; she should never be asked or allowed to use an individual cubicle within the boys’ changing rooms; or alternatively she could be offered an individual single-user unit separate to both boys and girls changing rooms.
Toilets: Explicit guidance is needed on what the legal requirement for single sex toilets means in practice, as many schools have the following:
- Cubicles with toilets only, with shared sinks and no separation for boys and girls.
- Cubicles with toilets only, without floor to ceiling walls and door on each cubicle, that are labelled for boys on one side and girls on the other, but no physical barrier between them. Shared sinks. In our view this is still mixed sex and does not allow for privacy.
- Cubicles with toilets only, with floor to ceiling walls and doors on each cubicle, that are labelled for boys on one side and girls on the other, but no physical barrier between them. Shared sinks. In our view this is still mixed sex and does not allow for privacy.
None of the above examples are sufficient to provide for the privacy, safety and dignity of girls. Some concerns regarding sharing of sinks or having no physical barrier between boys’ and girls’ toilets are:
- Girls being shamed for their periods if boys hear them open period product packaging.
- Girls being shamed for their periods if they need to wash blood off their hands.
- Girls who wear hijab have nowhere to adjust it out of sight of boys.
Appropriate use of social media by school staff: The DfE trans guidance should cover this as we have seen numerous examples of teachers sharing their political views on this subject on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. All school staff should be mindful of their responsibilities and should not share inappropriate content on social media, nor attempt to undermine normal safeguarding procedure and the law.