DFE Draft Transgender Guidance for Schools

Sam Preston (Safeguarding Director) & Sara Spinks (SSS Author and Former Headteacher) 22 December 2023 2 min read
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The Department for Education (DfE) has recently released its much-anticipated draft guidance Gender Questioning Children Non-statutory guidance for schools and colleges DRAFT for schools and colleges regarding transgender matters. In this article, we summarise the key points that educators and stakeholders should be aware of:

Pronoun Use
According to the proposed guidance, teachers and pupils in England will not be obligated to use a child's preferred pronoun. The draft explicitly states that at the primary school level, children 'should not have different pronouns to their sex-based pronouns used about them.'
Social Transition Requests
The draft guidance emphasises that schools do not have a 'general duty' to allow children to change their gender identity. If a school receives a request for social transition, i.e. when someone changes their gender expression and/or social identity, it should approach the matter with caution, including watchful waiting periods and full consultation with parents before making any decision. The document cites the Cass Review, highlighting that social transition is not a neutral act, and better information is needed about the outcomes for children undergoing social transition.
Involvement of Parents
Parents are considered integral to the decision-making process, especially in matters related to a child's request for social transition, including name, pronoun, and clothing changes. While the draft guidance stresses the importance of parental involvement, it also allows schools to choose not to inform parents if there is a belief that doing so might pose a significant risk of harm to the child. However, this is described as an 'exceptionally rare circumstance.'
Single-Sex Spaces
The draft guidance highlights the necessity for schools to safeguard single-sex spaces, including toilets, showers, and changing rooms. It emphasises that responding to a pupil's request for social transition should not include granting access to these spaces. The document suggests that pupils should use facilities designated for the sex assigned at birth unless it causes distress, in which case alternative arrangements should be sought while maintaining single-sex spaces.
Pronoun Changes and Bullying
Schools are advised not to agree to a child's request to use different pronouns in primary school. In secondary schools, there is no requirement to specify pronouns for each pupil, and schools can decline requests to change a child's pronouns. Any pronoun changes should only be made if the school is confident that the benefits to the individual child outweigh the impact on the school community. Notably, the guidance acknowledges that there will be very few occasions when a school or college can agree to a change of pronouns. Importantly, no teacher or pupil should be compelled to use preferred pronouns. Bullying is strongly discouraged, and the guidance emphasises that schools and colleges should be places of compassion and consideration. It acknowledges that mistakes may occur as individuals adapt to new ways of interacting, and no child should be sanctioned for honest mistakes.
School Sports
The draft guidance recommends that schools establish clear rules mandating separate-sex participation in sports where physical differences between sexes could jeopardise safety. It explicitly states that it would not be safe for a biological boy to participate in certain sports as part of a teenage girls' team due to potential physical differences. The draft guidance advises schools to consider the child's age when making the request, the safety of mixed-sex participation, and the fairness of allowing it.
Single-Sex Schools
Single-sex schools are allowed to refuse admission to pupils of the opposite biological sex, irrespective of whether the child is questioning their gender. The guidance clarifies that the Equality Act does not prevent single-sex schools from admitting pupils of the opposite biological sex in exceptional cases or if their numbers are small and limited to specific classes or courses.
Criticisms and Concerns
Some educational leaders have criticised HM Government for timing the draft guidance's release at the end of the term, potentially adding a significant workload for school leaders and causing confusion for staff and families. The Confederation of School Trusts' chief executive, Leora Cruddas, has expressed concerns about the timing and indicated that legal advice is being sought to understand the position of academy trusts and schools.

In conclusion:

In conclusion, the draft guidance from the DfE provides a comprehensive framework for schools and colleges to navigate issues related to transgender students. As educators and stakeholders engage in the 12-week consultation, the guidance aims to balance the rights of individuals questioning their gender with the responsibilities of schools to create safe and supportive environments for all students.

The consultation is now open.

Sam Preston (Safeguarding Director) & Sara Spinks (SSS Author and Former Headteacher)

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