19 December 2023

New transgender schools guidance ‘could isolate some pupils’

19 December 2023

Young people questioning their gender identity could feel further isolated by new draft guidance for schools, according to two parents of transgender children.

One of the parents, who is also a teacher, said schools never want to “cut parents out” of conversations and information around their child, but that the guidance means there will no longer be a guaranteed “safe space” for students.

The guidance, which is non-statutory and will be subject to a 12-week consultation, states that teachers and pupils will not be “compelled” to use a child’s preferred pronouns, and that schools and colleges should make parents aware if their child requests a change.

If this means that a child doesn’t tell anyone (they are questioning their gender identity) then I feel that is a worse situation to be in

An exception to the latter is the “very rare situation” where parental involvement may raise a “significant risk of harm” to the child.

Rebecca Knights, a teacher of 12 years and mother to a transgender son, said she fears that “pupils who desperately need somebody to talk to will have no-one”.

Ms Knights, who works in south London, is an LGBTQ+ district officer for the National Education Union (NEU).

She said: “The minute students get wind that we (teachers) are feeling under pressure to phone home or that we can deliberately misgender, then there is not a safe space, that’s gone.”

Ms Knight said schools “do not want to cut parents out” and are generally “desperate to work with parents”.

Of the new guidance, she said: “If this means that a child doesn’t tell anyone (they are questioning their gender identity) then I feel that is a worse situation to be in.

“Schools do not deliberately withhold from parents, schools work incredibly hard to work with parents and if we can gain the trust of a child to work with that child in linking up that relationship to telling the parents and support them through that I think that is where we can help young people.”

Heidi Mavir, whose son is transgender, previously gathered thousands of signatures on a Change.org petition expressing concern over the contents of the new guidance.

The author, based in West Yorkshire, described the draft guidance as it stands as encouraging “trans-exclusionary practice” which she said “will result in a far greater safeguarding risk for all children, furthering the isolation”.

She claimed the draft guidance makes it clear “that social transition should be effectively ‘blocked’ by schools and colleges in all but very rare circumstances”.

The guidance to schools states that there is “no general duty” to allow children to change their gender identity and they should take a “cautious approach” when considering social transition requests.

Ms Mavir added: “The guidance ignores the reality faced by LGBTQ children and young people – that they feel under attack and unsafe.”

She said it “cuts off a vital lifeline for support” for children, making it “practically impossible for trans, non-binary and gender-questioning children to seek support in school”.

She added: “The impact will be bullying, isolation, and the removal of dignity for our children.”

Philip Wood, a specialist in education law at Browne Jacobson, said while the guidance will be helpful for schools “in dealing with what is a complex issue”,  they might be “disappointed with the lack of detail” in some areas.

He added: “The draft guidance seeks to draw the line between not forcing other pupils to use a preferred pronoun and not tolerating bullying.

“In practice, it will be difficult line for schools to tread, largely coming down to intention on the part of other pupils.”

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