Gender questioning children consultation response

Submission from Transgender Trend to the consultation on the Department for Education draft guidance for schools on gender questioning children.

The draft guidance can be read here and the guide to the consultation is here.

Please submit your own response to the consultation here.

Deadline 12 March 2024

Yes

The five principles outlined in point 3 are helpful. However it would be more useful to set out normal principles, standards and duties expected of schools first, without bringing in the subject of ‘social transition’ at the start. For example:

Safeguarding: schools must adopt a safeguarding first approach, every child must be treated within the normal safeguarding framework, no child is an exception; including working together with parents.

Purpose of schools: as establishments of education and learning, schools are expected to teach children facts, promote learning and foster critical thinking.

Equality: schools must consider the rights and protections of all groups of children, there is no hierarchy of rights.

Welfare: best interests of every child must be served, no toleration of bullying; respect and ethos of school.

Rules, policies and regulations: importance of clear and fair rules that everyone understands, creating security.

This would establish a clear reference point of standard safeguarding, education and rights policies that schools can refer to, so that any exceptions can be clearly distinguished. Potential accommodations or exceptions to the rule can then be considered in relation to a clearly set out normal standard.

Accommodations to demands/requests for special treatment (for any reason) must only be considered with reference to the normal principles and purpose of a school, not for any other reason (such as ‘being kind’ or an individual teacher’s political beliefs).  

In this guidance it would be helpful to set out that clear reference point at the start and then refer to it throughout.

No

Following the principles, a section on the Cass findings would be useful information that would give schools the background understanding to enact fair policies. The guidance should explain simply the two approaches to gender questioning children (or alternatively included in Language and Terminology): that ‘watchful waiting’ is the established developmentally-informed approach and that the ‘gender affirmative’ approach is new and experimental:

  • ‘Watchful waiting’ is a neutral approach that supports the individual child (who may be receiving professional help) but does not require therapeutic intervention by teachers or other children in the school.
  • The gender affirmative model requires teachers and pupils to ‘socially transition’ a child, which risks cementing an otherwise transient childhood phase or adolescent identity.

The guidance should explain that school policies and statutory guidance have been developed based on biological sex in order to fulfil schools’ safeguarding duties, and link this to the relevant provisions in the Equality Act. The guidance must make clear that where there are lawful options (for example whether to use the single sex exceptions in the Equality Act) schools MUST choose the option that best safeguards all children.

There should be day-to-day potential scenarios used to illustrate each point in the guidance, and each one should be linked back to the framework set out at the start. This would equip teachers with an understanding of how they should consider scenarios they encounter that differ from those illustrated in the guidance.

No

[ ] How schools and colleges should involve parents in decisions
[ ] How schools and colleges should manage engagement with parents with different
feelings or views to their child
[X ] When schools and colleges should seek specialist advice or support
[ ] How schools should put in place a ‘watchful waiting’ period before acting on a child’s
request
[X ] How schools and colleges can identify what issues may impact the wider school or
college community
[X ] How schools and colleges should handle decisions that impact on the wider school
and college community.
[X ] The law
[X ] Something else

This section is beyond the training and competency of teachers. Although the professional training developed from the Cass report rejects the gender affirmative approach in favour of the watchful waiting model, teachers are not clinically trained and cannot be expected to assess individual children, nor take part in a clinical model of care.

Schools must be consistent with Cass guidelines by not implementing the gender affirmative approach. Although ‘watchful waiting’ is a useful overall principle, teachers are not partners with clinicians and should not be expected to deliver a child’s care through any assessment or intervention.

Dept for Education guidance Mental Health and Wellbeing Support in Schools and Colleges is very clear: “School and college staff are not expected to, and should not, diagnose mental health conditions or perform mental health interventions.” It is also clearly not appropriate to expect other children in the school to perform these interventions. This is a burden and a responsibility children should not be expected to carry while they are in school.

The draft guidance leaves schools in the same position as they are now: unable to withstand pressure from activist staff members, or parents who have found a ‘gender affirmative’ doctor who advises social transition for their child.

It is unworkable. Schools cannot justify calling one girl a boy but not another – every child would be an ‘exceptional case’ –  and are unqualified to make these decisions. Schools must have clear whole-school rules, consistently applied. This provides security for all children.     

No

There should be no procedure to follow that leads to the school pretending that a child has changed their sex. Although it is useful to know the common factors associated with the development of gender-related distress, it is the clinician’s job to assess these, not the teacher’s.

The first step of waiting is sensible, and teachers should be alert to changes of behaviour, or indication that the child is having problems/being bullied, as they would be with any other child. This is within teachers’ area of competence.

At this stage a school would normally alert parents, but this should not be done with the intention of negotiating their child’s social transition.

Clear guidance is needed so that this option is off the table for schools. This is the only way to protect schools from endless negotiation, demands and complaints from parents. There should be no expectation from parents that the school has a duty to treat their child as the opposite sex.

Lying to a child about their sex and concealing a person’s sex from children undermines safeguarding at the most fundamental level.

The guidance should use clear language instead of ‘social transition.’ The Dept for Education does not need to ‘ban social transition’ in schools: a child has the right to ask their friends to use their preferred pronouns (although not demand it.) But teachers must not join in. Teachers have a duty of care towards all children in the school and must not betray their trust.

Yes

This section shows that it is not possible or safe to conceal a child’s sex in school. It is necessary to know every child’s sex for safeguarding purposes, and this need to know extends to the children in the school.

It would be helpful if the Dept for Education could instruct schools and local authorities not to send out admission forms that state ‘gender’ in place of ‘sex’ and give the options male, female or ‘other.’

No

[ ] How schools and colleges should make a decision about a child’s request to change
their name
[ ] When schools and colleges might refuse a request in relation to a child changing their
name
[ ] How schools and colleges should involve parents in a decision about a child’s
request to change their name
[ ] How schools and colleges should make relevant staff and other children aware of any
agreed changes to name
[X] What factors schools and colleges should take into account.
[ ] How schools and colleges should respond to other children and staff who do not wish
to use a different name
[ ] The law
[ X] Something else

If a child wants to change their name to one that is only used for a person of the opposite sex (for example, from Sally to David) the school must consider the psychological impact on the child and the difficulties and confusion this would create for other children. It is very difficult to refer to a ‘David’ as ‘she.’

The resulting cognitive dissonance is not conducive to learning, and this would present problems especially for autistic children, or those with learning or speech and language difficulties. Schools must provide an optimal learning environment as far as possible for all children. A child may be given the option of choosing a gender-neutral name instead, this would be a fair accommodation that runs less risk of consolidating a child’s opposite-sex identity and causing confusion for other children.

No

[ ] When schools and colleges should refuse a request in relation to a child changing
their pronouns
[X ] What factors schools and colleges should take into account.
[ ] How schools and colleges should involve parents in a decision about a child’s
request to change their pronouns
[ ] How schools and colleges should make relevant staff and other children aware of any
agreed changes to pronouns
[ ] How schools and colleges should respond to other children and staff who do not wish
to use different pronouns
[ ] The law
[ X] Something else

A distinction should not be made between primary and secondary schools. The issues are different according to the developmental stage of the child/children, but equally serious.

At primary level, an important developmental stage is the learning of object/sex constancy (the fundamental reality doesn’t change when you hide/disguise it) and immutability (it can never change). Teaching children that a boy is a girl if he wears a dress would delay or destabilise this developmental milestone. Using correct pronouns is an important part of speech and language comprehension at a time of language development.

Adolescence is a critical stage of identity development. Reinforcing an opposite sex identity as a reality interferes with this process of exploration, fixing an identity before a stable adult identity is achieved, foreclosing options and normal developmental changes. Teenagers may access blockers and hormones so encouragement along the ‘gender affirming’ pathway can have serious consequences.

In referring to even one child as the opposite sex, a school is promoting a contested ideology as fact.

It would be unworkable in schools if some teachers and children referred to a pupil as a girl, and others as a boy. The resulting confusion and anxiety is not compatible with the school’s duty to safeguard and act in the best interests of all children.

This section should explain clearly why opposite sex pronouns must not be used by teachers. The school must also be alert to bullying/pressure from children on other children who do not want to use a classmate’s ‘preferred pronouns.’

Yes

[ ] How schools and colleges should make a decision about a child’s request not to use
facilities designated for their sex
[ ] When schools and colleges have to refuse a request in relation to a child using facilities
designated for the opposite sex
[ ] How schools and colleges should involve parents in a decision about a child’s request not
to use facilities designated for their sex
[ ] What factors should be considered when deciding whether to offer alternative facilities
[ ] Toilets
[ ] Changing rooms
[ ] Boarding and residential accommodation
[ ] The law
[ X ] Something else

The guidance must make clear that ‘individual toilets in fully enclosed rooms’ does not mean ‘individual cubicles within a toilet block’ and that a row of girls’ toilets and a row of boys’ toilets on either side of a shared washing area does not meet the Schools Premises Regulations.

The guidance should set out clearly that toilets are separated on the basis of sex, not identity, for the privacy, dignity and comfort of all pupils and the safety of girls.

Children should not be encouraged to believe that it is normal to feel uncomfortable using the facilities for their own sex or be given unrealistic expectations that society will accommodate this discomfort outside the school.

“These alternative arrangements SHOULD NOT compromise the safety, comfort, privacy or dignity of the child, or of other pupils” should be changed to MUST NOT.

The guidance for alternative facilities is unworkable. Changing-rooms for sport in a school are used constantly, one group in, one group out. It would be impossible to access a changing room at an alternative time, and it would also be a loss of curriculum time for the child who is changing before or after other children: twice for a P.E. lesson, several times a week. It would also require extra supervision, as would a child changing alone.

Schools cannot accommodate this and this should be made clear. Many children dislike getting changed even in front of their same-sex peers, but they are not indulged in this by being offered alternative provision. All children are expected to follow the rules and to be able to put up with a certain amount of reasonable discomfort or things they dislike throughout school life. It is not helpful to treat one group as especially delicate. Schools should not give the impression that identifying as ‘trans’ earns you special privileges denied to other children.

No

[ ] How schools and colleges should make decisions about requests to access boarding
and overnight accommodation designated for children of the opposite sex
[ ] When schools and colleges should refuse a child’s request to use different boarding
and overnight accommodation while on a school or college trip
[ ] How schools and colleges should involve parents in a child’s request to use different
boarding and overnight accommodation while on a school or college trip
[ ] The law
[X ] Something else

As above, it is better for all children that the rules are clear and non-negotiable from the start. A child should be supported in overcoming their anxieties, to prepare them to fully participate in adult life. It is not fair to have such low expectations of one group of children. (It is a separate matter if the child is experiencing bullying, in which case the school would follow normal anti-bullying policies).

If a child suffers severe anxiety or mental health problems, alternative facilities should only be provided as part of a SEND plan as a short-term measure with a view to helping the child re-enter full school life.

“These alternative arrangements SHOULD NOT compromise the safety, comfort, privacy or dignity of the child, or of other pupils” should be changed to MUST NOT. “No child SHOULD be allowed to share a room with a child of the opposite sex” should be changed to MUST.

Yes

[ ] How schools and colleges should make a decision about a gender questioning child
who makes a request in relation to uniform
[X] When schools and colleges might refuse a request in relation to a child wearing a
different uniform

[ ] How schools and colleges should involve parents in a decision about a gender
questioning child who requests an exception to uniform requirements.
[ ] How a school or college might accommodate a request within their uniform policy
[ ] How schools and colleges should make relevant staff and other children in the school
or college aware of any changes agreed.
[ ] The law
[X] Something else

If a school has a uniform policy, all children should be expected to follow it. Different rules for different groups undermines the reasons for having a uniform: to create a shared sense of identity and pride in your school, for discipline, for equality, to unite pupils and to establish habits that will equip children for the adult world.

The purpose of uniform is not to express personal style or identity, but to foster a shared identity. There may be variations within the girls’ uniform or the boys’ uniform that a child could choose, but not move between the two.

If a school has different uniform for boys and girls, wearing the uniform for the opposite sex consolidates an identity for the gender-questioning child and informs other children that the child is really the opposite sex. Visual messages are registered instantaneously at a deeper, more unconscious level than words and would create confusion for other children and teachers as it takes extra work to mentally process which sex the child is.

In a school environment where the uniform is sex-differentiated, some children wearing the opposite sex uniform would undermine discipline, ease of communication of rules and the safeguarding of girls.

If a male pupil is referred to as ‘Sally’ and is wearing the girls’ uniform it would be impossible to refer to him using the correct pronouns. Allowing a child to wear the uniform of the opposite sex because they ‘identify’ as the opposite sex is ‘gender affirmation’ in schools.

Yes

[ ] How schools and colleges should make a decision about whether a child can take
part in a certain sport or activity
[ ] When schools and colleges should refuse a request in relation to a child taking part in
a certain sport or activity
[ ] How schools and colleges should involve parents in a decision about a child’s
request to participate in a certain sport or activity
[ ] How schools and colleges should make relevant staff and children aware of any
changes agreed
[ ] The law
[X] Something else

“Schools and colleges SHOULD provide equal sporting opportunities for girls and boys” should be changed to MUST.

“For all sports where physical differences between the sexes threaten safety schools SHOULD adopt clear rules which mandate separate-sex participation” should be changed to MUST.

“Schools and colleges SHOULD aim to ensure all children participate in sport safely” should be changed to MUST.

“Even for sports where safety is not risked by mixed-sex participation, schools and colleges SHOULD ensure that sports are fair” should be changed to MUST, and it should emphasise ‘sports for girls’ so schools are in no doubt.

Yes

(This should say page 17, not 15). Examples of individual sports, where the issue is not safety, but fairness for girls would be helpful, eg. athletics, swimming. This needs emphasising as girls’ right to fairness in sport is generally not taken as seriously as safety. It should be emphasised that these rules are important for ALL schools to follow, to ensure that inter-school competitions, including team sports, are always fair and safe for girls. It is important that parents can trust that there will be no exceptions. It would be the school’s duty to inform parents of girls if a boy is playing on an opposing team from another school.

Yes

[ ] The law
[X] Something else

Needs clarification that single-sex status is based on biological sex, not ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity.’ In cases where for example, boys are admitted to a girls’ school in exceptional circumstances, they are admitted as boys, not girls.

All children, on the basis of age, are adversely impacted by policies that treat them as adults, with the same level of understanding and experience as adults. Such expectations placed on children may be considered emotional abuse, and a safeguarding risk. The ‘gender reassignment’ protected characteristic must not be used in a way that adultifies the child (and by extension all other children in the school.) Children, by definition (no matter how ‘mature’) are not at the life stage where they can fully understand the implications and consequences of ‘gender reassignment.’

Consideration of the age and developmental stage of children and adolescents must underpin interpretation of laws designed to protect them. Impact assessments must not exceptionalise one group of children by placing them outside normal standards of care and safeguarding. The children put most at risk by ‘gender affirmation’ policies are adolescent girls, autistic children, lesbian and gay adolescents, children experiencing mental health problems and those in the care system.

Loss of single-sex spaces and sports clearly adversely impacts on girls to a greater extent than boys, as does withholding knowledge from girls about sex-based protections in law and why these protections are necessary and fair. Teaching children that some males are girls or women is more of a safeguarding risk for girls than for boys, within the school environment and outside.

The overall approach of the guidance is well-intentioned and informed. In its draft form it will support those Head teachers who are aware and concerned about the issues to implement sensible policies. However, the draft version is not strong enough to change the present situation of schools where activist teachers or parents have been permitted to dictate policies, and will continue to put pressure on schools to make exceptions while the Dept for Education permits this.

The guidance leaves loopholes that will be exploited for ideological or political reasons. The pressure on ordinary teachers to ‘affirm a child’s gender identity’ and support them to ‘transition’ is overwhelming. These teachers need greater support from the Dept for Education.

The risks of ‘gender affirmation’ are too great, both for the gender-questioning child and the other children in the school. There should be no loopholes and no exceptions to normal standards of care.

The guidance needs to be clear and unequivocal, backed up by a legal analysis and framework, and a model EIA. Any resulting legal action (which is inevitable if the Dept for Education departs in any way from the advice of Stonewall) should be taken against the Dept for Education, not individual schools. The draft guidance does not go far enough to provide that reassurance and protection for schools.

The Language and Terminology section should include ‘gender reassignment’, setting out the Equality Act definition. The guidance should clarify that although some children may be protected from discrimination under this protected characteristic, it does not give a child extra rights or give leave to treat them as adults.

Allowing for exceptions would create problems for all children experiencing gender-related distress or adopting a different ‘gender identity’, as it personalises the response to these children and will be experienced as a personal judgment. Some children will pass the test and some will fail. A whole school rule is the only approach that does not personalise the response to individual children, rewarding some and punishing others. A clear rule is kinder as it cannot be taken personally.

It will inevitably be the most serious cases that schools will feel pressured to ‘support’ through social gender affirmation. This is the very group that risks the most harm from this approach, through diagnostic overshadowing and by closing the child’s mind to the therapeutic exploration they most need (as outlined in the Cass interim report).

Section 5 states: “Following the process for decision making will ensure that all members of staff are supporting the child in a consistent way.” This is inconsistent with the statement following, that different protected beliefs held by pupils, parents and teachers must be respected.

Whole-school sex-based rules are there for a reason and must be maintained. A case-by-case approach will not help those children it is designed to help.

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