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Sector Reaction to Transgender Guidance for schools and colleges

Transgender letters

DFE Announce Parent First Approach at the Core of New Guidance on Gender Questioning Children

  • Schools and colleges told that parents should be involved in decisions affecting their children
  • Single-sex spaces must be protected for the safeguarding of all children
  • Sea change in approach on social transition, with schools and colleges told they do not have to, and should not, accept all requests for social transition
  • Parents and teachers urged to have their say in 12-week consultation

Today the Department for Education has published comprehensive guidance for teachers on how best to support pupils questioning their gender in schools and colleges.

This includes requests from pupils for ‘social transition’ which can include requests to change pronouns, names, and uniform.

In response to the complex phenomenon of the increasing number of children questioning their gender, the Government has taken the time to carefully and robustly address the challenges and issues involved.

The guidance will assist teachers in ensuring that they are acting in the best interests of children.

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan said:

“This guidance puts the best interests of all children first, removing any confusion about the protections that must be in place for biological sex and single-sex spaces, and making clear that safety and safeguarding for all children must always be schools’ primary concern.

“Parents’ views must also be at the heart of all decisions made about their children – and nowhere is that more important than with decisions that can have significant effects on a child’s life for years to come.”

Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch said:

“This guidance is intended to give teachers and school leaders greater confidence when dealing with an issue that has been hijacked by activists misrepresenting the law.

“It makes clear that schools do not have to accept a child’s request to socially transition, and that teachers or pupils should not be pressured into using different pronouns.

“We are also clear how vital it is that parents are informed and involved in the decisions that impact their children’s lives.”

Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman

“I have long called for clear guidance for schools who face difficult choices around how to help pupils who are gender-questioning. This guidance is therefore welcome and will help schools do their best both for gender-questioning pupils and for all other pupils in their schools.”

Guiding principles from DfE on Transgender Guidance

This guidance has been developed with the expert clinical view and interim conclusions from the Cass Review in mind. That review set out that social transition is not a neutral act, and that better information is needed about the outcomes for children who undertake degrees of social transition. It also set out that it could have significant psychological effects on a young person.

In recognition of this, proper use of this guidance means social transition, in practice, should be extremely rare when the appropriate safeguards are put in place and the child’s best interest taken into account. 

Importantly, the guidance places beyond doubt the fundamental principle that parents should be involved in decisions about their children’s lives, and that significant decisions affecting a child’s future should not be taken without parents being involved.

In regard to single-sex spaces and sports, the Government sets out the principle that biological sex is fundamentally important when it comes to protecting safety and ensuring fairness in competitive sports.

Requests for social transition

The draft guidance clarifies that schools and colleges do not have to, and should not, accept all requests for social transition. Where a school considers a request, they should take a very cautious approach, including watchful waiting periods, and ensuring parents are fully consulted before any decision is taken.

From the outset, schools and colleges should also consider the context and seriousness of the request including whether social influence is involved.

In exceptional cases where a request to social transition is agreed, children, teachers or staff at a school should not be required to adopt the use of preferred pronouns and there must be no sanction, verbal or otherwise. Where a teacher or child does not adopt the new pronouns, they should use the child’s preferred name. Schools should ensure that bullying is never tolerated.

Single-sex spaces, admissions and sports

Where safety is a consideration – for example in physical sport or single-sex spaces – the guidance is categoric that it must never be compromised by allowing a child of the opposite sex to participate in those activities or use those facilities. Schools should also make sure competitive sport is fair, which will almost always mean separate sports for boys and girls especially in older cohorts.

The guidance also reaffirms that single-sex schools can refuse to admit pupils of the opposite sex, regardless of whether they are questioning their gender.

Parents, teachers, and school leaders are encouraged to respond to the 12-week consultation.

The guidance provides clarity on how to approach a range of issues when it comes to supporting gender questioning children and responding to requests for changes known as “social transition”.

This includes:

  • Registration of name and sex – Every school must record the name and biological sex of every pupil in the admissions register. It is not accurate to record a male child as female or a female child as male, or to record a male child as a girl or a female child as a boy.
  • Safeguarding – In all cases – apart from where the law says schools must do something, for example providing single-sex toilet facilities for children 8 years and older – schools and colleges must consider whether there is a safeguarding or welfare reason to make an exception to the approach outlined for individual issues below.
  • Changing names – Pupils may be allowed to informally change their names if it is in the best interests of the child and parents have been fully consulted. The new name should be communicated to relevant members of the school.
  • Changing pronouns – Schools can decline a request to change a child’s pronouns and primary school aged children should not have different pronouns to their sex-based pronouns. Schools and colleges should not compel teachers or pupils to use new pronouns, except where necessary to safeguard and all other options have been exhausted, such as addressing the child by their first name.
  • Single-sex spaces – Schools must provide sex-separated toilets for pupils aged eight or over, and suitable changing accommodation and showers for pupils who are aged 11 years or over at the start of the school year. If a child does not want to use the toilet, changing room or showers designated for their biological sex, schools and colleges may wish to consider alternative toilet, changing room or shower facilities for the child, however schools and colleges cannot allow a child to use a space solely designated for use by the opposite sex.
  • Boarding and residential accommodation – Sleeping arrangements like dormitories, tents and shared rooms should be sex separated. In the event that a child questioning their gender requests alternative arrangements, these should be considered but should not compromise the safety, comfort, privacy or dignity of the child, or other pupils.
  • Uniforms and clothing – In general, a gender questioning child should be held to the same uniform standard as other children of their sex. When making a decision relating to a child’s request to change a uniform, schools may agree changes or exceptions to the standard school uniform for most items, but not for swimwear. Many schools already operate a uniform with some flexibility.
  • Physical education and sport – Schools and colleges should prioritise the safety and wellbeing of all children when implementing policies. This means for sports, allowing a gender questioning child to participate in sport with the opposite sex will not be appropriate if it risks safety or fairness.
  • Single-sex schools – Under the Equality Act, single sex schools can refuse to admit pupils of the other biological sex, regardless of whether the child is questioning their gender. A school cannot, however, refuse to admit a child of the same biological sex on the basis that they are questioning their gender.

Sector Reaction

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:

“This consultation on transgender guidance for schools and colleges is tricky territory. Colleges will always put the needs of their students first and we all know that there are very strong and divergent views about what that means in practice, so it is essential to have a meaningful and inclusive consultation.

“Colleges are often the first safe place where young people can truly start to work out who they are, and to express themselves freely. We are proud of that and of the brilliant work colleges do in supporting students of all ages. It is important that any guidance therefore has the wellbeing of students at its core, helps colleges in practical ways to support all students, and recognises what students tell staff about their identities.

“Colleges prepare students for life as well as employment in diverse workplaces; in both they will encounter people with a range of identities. So it benefits all students to learn in an environment in which the full diversity of staff and students is respected and celebrated.

“It’s absolutely essential that the government engages fully with colleges on this. We are encouraging our members to respond to the consultation and AoC looks forward to working with the government to develop guidance.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We have been asking the government to produce guidance for schools and colleges on this complex and sensitive issue for many years. It is frustrating that ministers have dithered and delayed for so long, but we welcome the fact that draft guidance has now been published.

“However, getting to the stage of publication is only one part of the equation – the other important consideration is whether it is actually helpful. We’re now going to spend some time discussing the details with school and college leaders before responding in full to the consultation. In particular, we’ll be reviewing whether the guidance is clear and deliverable and whether it places extra workload on education staff who are already working at full stretch.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools in England, said:

“Decisions about how best to support transgender pupils can be complex and sensitive. NAHT has long called for clear government guidance to support schools and pupils, so that leaders are not left to navigate sometimes difficult issues in isolation.

“The ongoing delays to this guidance due to political wrangling have been a source of significant frustration, and it is far from ideal for it to be published right at the end of term, after some schools have already broken up for Christmas.

“NAHT will be reviewing these draft proposals to ensure they provide useful information and support for school leaders and will submit a response to the government’s consultation on behalf of our members. Upon an initial look, it would appear this guidance leaves a lot of questions unanswered, meaning school leaders will continue to be placed in an incredibly difficult position.

“It is important to remember that it is individual children and young people at the heart of all this, and schools are focused on making sure every child in their care is both safe and treated with compassion and humanity.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“This is typical of Government to put out important guidance in the last week of term, a very busy period for schools.

‘We need to remember that what is under discussion is a piece of non-statutory guidance, which is still in draft and out for consultation for 12 weeks. It is also important to underline that schools do not need to change their current policies at this stage. The NEU will consider the document fully and take part in the consultation in January, after looking at the detail of what the government has proposed.

‘Schools work hard to be sensitive, practical, and responsive to the well-being of students who are non-binary or questioning their gender identity. But there’s also a much wider picture beyond this guidance from which the Government is hiding– teachers need time for training on relevant parts of the curriculum, schools can’t fund much needed pastoral support posts, and where LGBT+ students face mental health issues they experience very long CAMHS waiting lists”.   

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“The timing of publication of this guidance is unfortunate on the day that Parliament adjourns for the Christmas break.

“It is right that there should be a thorough period for consultation to ensure that the guidance provides schools with the support they need as they navigate these important and sensitive issues. Ministers need to demonstrate that they are willing to engage in discussing these matters openly and sensitively.

“We will be considering carefully the draft guidance and hearing from teachers and headteachers on whether this guidance will provide the clarity that schools and colleges need.

“We would caution against schools seeking to pre-empt the conclusion of the Government’s consultation. It is clear that Ministers have found it difficult to issue this guidance which has been beset by countless delays.

“It is essential that this guidance contributes to ensuring that schools and colleges provide safe and inclusive learning and teaching environments for all pupils and staff.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘The draft guidance published today is the latest instalment in a cruel culture war that punches down on the most vulnerable in our society. It offers little of use to institutions that are seeking to navigate complex realities, and it seeks to deny children and young people basic respect. It does nothing to create safe and inclusive learning environments for all. Just like this callous and divisive government, it is not fit for purpose.’

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