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Schools Guidance Released

Long-awaited guidance for schools on how to support transgender students has been published today. The guidance was first promised in 2018, but repeated delays and conflicts within the government left educators waiting over five years.

Some of the language in the guidance is likely to be distressing to trans people - particularly our young people - and to educators and families of trans pupils.

To our young people we want to say:

Don’t lose hope. This guidance will be stressful and difficult for many, but it is non-statutory. This means it does not change the rights and protections you are guaranteed by law, and it does not stop your teachers, your friends, or your families from supporting you. You can still have, and you still deserve, a happy, fulfilling, and supportive school experience.

To families and educators we want to say:

You can still look after the trans children in your care. The guidance states that there is no duty to allow pupils to socially transition. The opposite is also true: schools who want to support their trans pupils still can. Parents and carers who want to work with schools to support their trans children still can.

We agree with some of the fundamental principles of this guidance.

We agree that trans pupils - much like all pupils - must be treated respectfully, compassionately, and equitably.

We agree that students with questions or concerns about gender identity or sexuality must have the opportunity to discuss this with their educators in a safe, knowledgeable, and, above all else, outcome-neutral environment.

It is crucial to safeguarding that educators are not made to shut down or delay these conversations, because this will break down trust with pupils at what may be a difficult time.

We also support schools helping trans pupils to have healthy conversations with their families and their peers.

What everyone wants is to help students who want to socially transition do so with the support of their parents, carers, friends, and others around them. In fifteen years of experience supporting young people we have found that families are overwhelmingly supportive. The only time when there would not be a presumption of family involvement is if there is a risk to the young person’s wellbeing, which must, as the guidance suggests, be left to the interpretation of school safeguarding leads.

The guidance repeatedly asserts that social transition in schools should be very rare. This is already the case. Transgender people are a very small minority, in schools and in general. Teachers are unlikely to see vast numbers of pupils seeking to socially transition.

Those few pupils who do, however, deserve appropriate pastoral support and guidance from their teachers. Despite this guidance’s presumption against social transition, we believe the guidance is not incompatible with schools supporting students who want to socially transition to do so in a healthy and fulfilling way.

We are, however, concerned by this guidance’s position on toilets (and other gendered facilities) and sport and physical activity.

It says that trans pupils must be excluded in these cases, but is unclear about how this interacts with schools’ Equality Act obligations, how alternatives will be provided for students who are excluded, or what schools who are unable to provide alternatives are expected to do.

What we can say with certainty is that this guidance does not change any of the rights and protections to which trans pupils are already entitled under the Equality Act, including equal access to facilities and activities.

The guidance will be open for public consultation for twelve weeks, and we will be responding to voice our concerns in due course. We will produce guidance to help you respond early in the New Year. We echo the Department for Education’s call for parents and teachers to respond.

What strikes us most about this guidance is the tone of cruelty and contempt towards children and educators throughout.

Teachers have been asking for support for years. Trans and gender questioning children and their parents have been asking for help. The Department for Education helps no one by pressuring educators to humiliate trans pupils in front of their peers by ignoring their changes of name or pronouns or refusing to accept their explorations of gender. This rhetoric reminds us of the Minister for Equalities’ recent description of trans children as an ‘epidemic’.

In all the discussion that this guidance will no doubt incur, we must remember that we are talking about children. Children who deserve an equal chance at a happy and fulfilling school experience. Children who, at an already challenging time in their lives, are asking important questions. Children who need to be listened to.

We are talking too about educators who want to help the children in their care. We don’t presume, as the government appears to, that educators in this country are looking for excuses to exclude or punish trans or gender questioning children. We believe that teachers want to do the best for every student in their care.

We will continue to work with schools, families, and our young people to ensure that trans pupils have the school experience they deserve.

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