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Government Is Pushing A "Cautious Approach" In New Trans Guidance For Schools


8 min read

The government has published its long-awaited trans guidance for schools, and said that a “cautious approach” should be taken if children wish to change their gender identity.

The document, signed by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, lays out how schools in England should keep parents involved and what factors should be taken into consideration if a child wishes to socially transition. 

Opponents have said that the guidance goes both too far or not far enough, and the guidelines will be put to a consultation that will remain open until March next year. 

Here is what the guidance says, and how teachers and politicians have reacted: 

What are the principles underpinning this guidance? 

The guidance covers a number of areas that relate to transitioning, including changing pronouns and name, uniform expectations, and the use of single-sex spaces such as toilets and changing rooms. 

It is set in line with five principles that schools can use to inform their decision making when it comes to children who are questioning their gender or who may want to socially transition - making changes such as a new name or using different pronouns. 

The principles are that schools have a statutory duty to safeguard children, they should be tolerant places where bullying is never accepted, parents should not be excluded from any decisions on social transitioning, schools have legal duties that relate to a child’s biological sex, and there is no general duty to allow a child to socially transition, as there may be parts of that which are not “compatible” with a schools’ legal responsibilities. 

In addition, the guidance says that schools should take a “cautious approach” to social transition. 

All of the guidance released is non-statutory and is a draft for consultation, meaning no changes have to be made as a result of its release. 

What should a school do if a child is questioning their gender identity?

According to the guidance, schools should react differently depending on whether or not a child who is questioning their gender identity has made explicit requests for social transitioning – such as a change in name or pronouns – to go ahead. 

“If there is no change being requested, teachers can listen respectfully about a child’s feelings without automatically alerting parents, but, for safeguarding reasons, cannot promise confidentiality,” it states. 

If requests are made, some time should be allowed to pass before taking any action, and parents should be made aware. Other factors should also be taken into consideration before any requests are accepted, such as the age of the child, the school’s safeguarding obligations, whether or not the child may have been influenced by social media or other factors, and the potential impact on other pupils.  

What does it say about parents' involvement with decisions? 

Decisions relating to a child’s social transition should “never be taken in haste or without the involvement of parents,” the guidance states.  

If a child wants their school to make changes such as changing their name or pronouns then “schools and colleges should engage parents as a matter of priority”. 

This would only not be the case in “exceptionally rare circumstances” where speaking to parents would be considered a “significant risk of harm to the child”. 

What does the guidance say about pronouns and names?

A school agreeing to a child’s request to be referred to by different pronouns is a “significant decision”, according to the guidance. The guidelines expect that there “will be very few occasions” in which a school should agree to such a change. 

Children in primary school should only be referred to by their pronouns of their biological sex. 

Schools can refuse a child’s request to change pronouns. Parents should be consulted, and only if the school believes that the benefit to the child outweighs any impact on the school community should the change be agreed. 

When it comes to names, a child’s legal name must be recorded in admissions registers, however, a ‘known as’ name may be changed after consultation with parents. 

What does it say about single-sex spaces?

Single-sex spaces such as toilets, showers and changing rooms must “always” be protected, the guidance states, and supporting social transition in school “must not include allowing access to these spaces”. Children should use these spaces in line with their biological sex, and if doing so would cause distress, schools should look for alternative arrangements, while also ensuring that single-sex spaces are protected. 

How does this guidance impact single-sex schools? 

Single-sex schools can refuse to accept pupils of the other biological sex to their school, even if that person is questioning their gender identity. 

However, schools cannot refuse a pupil of the same biological sex to their school, if they are questioning their gender. 

What have teachers said? 

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have said that it is “frustrating that ministers have dithered and delayed” on releasing the guidance, but “welcome” its publication. 

Geoff Barton, the union’s general secretary has said that they will now “spend some time discussing the details” with schools before giving a full response to the consultation. 

He added: "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.”

Daniel Kebede, the general secretary at the National Education Union pressed that schools do not need to change any of their policies at this time, and said that it was “typical” of the government to release “important guidance in the last week of term, a very busy period for schools” ahead of the Christmas break. 

Like Barton, he said that the document would be considered and they will take part in the consultation “after looking at the detail of what the government has proposed". 

He added: “‘Schools work hard to be sensitive, practical, and responsive to the well-being of students who are non-binary or questioning their gender identity.”

What have politicians said about the guidance?

Education Secretary Keegan has said that the guidance puts the “best interests of all children first” and makes clear that “safety and safeguarding for all children must always be schools’ primary concern”. 

She added: “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.”

Equalities minister Badenoch – who last week defended her belief in the need for single sex spaces – believes that the new guidance will give schools “confidence” to deal with the issue that she says 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,” she said. 

However, former prime minister Liz Truss believes that the guidance “does not go far enough” and contains “loopholes” that could be exploited.

In a statement, she said: “I fear that activists and others will be able to exploit loopholes in the guidance and the existing legal framework to pursue their agenda, leaving children at risk of making irreversible changes and with single-sex spaces not sufficiently protected.” 

Truss has asked ministers to back her Private Members Bill to change the law around transitioning, to protect single-sex spaces in law, mean that social transitioning cannot be recognised by schools or the state for under 18s, and ban puberty blockers and hormone treatments for under 18s. 

Truss’ bill is due to receive its second reading in March next year, and has been sponsored by a number of other Conservative MPs, including former home secretary Priti Patel, and co-chair of the New Conservatives, Miriam Cates. 

Labour MP and member of the equalities committee Kate Osborne is also unimpressed with the guidance, but because she believes it is “cruel and unworkable” and equates to “trans hate and an escalation of this government’s war on woke”. 

“Schools need to be a safe and supportive place for young people. They should not be a place where pupils’ identities are questioned to the point of putting them at risk,” she said. 

“The government’s guidance could put young LGBTQ+ at risk of harm.” 


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