Content Note: these proposals are upsetting and scary for our community, particularly those with lived experience of transphobia in school. Please take care when reading.
The Government is consulting on its proposed trans guidance for schools and colleges in England, closing on Tuesday 12 March.
All young people deserve an accepting and supportive school environment to learn and be their authentic selves. Not only would this guidance make schools unsafe for trans children and young people, it actively seeks to deny their existence.
At no point does the guidance offer any advice on how to include and support trans young people – its sole focus looks to be making schools hostile and exclusionary for trans students.
The proposed guidance seeks to stop young people from coming out as trans through actively discouraging ‘social transition’ and it strips them of autonomy by requiring teachers to forcibly ‘out’ students as trans to their parents. Two thirds of trans pupils experience transphobic bullying and this guidance is very likely to make things worse.
It is important to note that these are proposals, not final guidance, which will take months to produce – schools have no duty to apply this guidance now. Many legal experts, including the Department for Education’s own lawyers, believe that the guidance may be illegal.
We have summarised our understanding of the draft guidance. If you find this difficult and need support, please contact our helpline on 0808 801 0400. We’re here for you Monday to Friday, 9am – 9pm.
What the guidance says about… Coming out as trans at school
The guidance states that to come out as trans at school, be referred to using your chosen name and pronouns and allowed to wear your preferred uniform (referred to as social transition in the guidance) will require a three step process:
- Schools must wait for an unspecified period of time after a young person says they want to come out at school.
- Inform Parents
- The only exception to this is where forcibly outing a young person to their family carries a “significant risk of harm”.
- Consider other ‘factors’
- Schools are encouraged to consider a range of reasons why a young person should not be supported to socially transition including:
- Whether parents agree (their views should be given ‘great weight’)
- Age (greater caution for young pupils)
- If a pupil’s decision is related to being LGB, neurodiverse or “influenced” by peers and social media.
- Unspecified ‘impacts’ on the student and wider school community.
The draft guidance states that schools should only support a pupil to socially transition in “exceptional cases”.
Schools should listen to all young people, respect their autonomy and prioritise their best interests.
The decision to come out as trans is a brave one and rarely taken lightly, with many fearing they will be met by rejection or ignorance. Enforcing an unspecified period of delay is needlessly cruel and remains unjustified in the guidance.
Requiring young people to be forcibly ‘outed’ to their parents will damage trusting student/teacher relationships in schools, and potentially put students at risk of harm or abuse.
Meanwhile, the ‘other factors’ teachers have to consider before affirming a trans pupil are absurd – falsely implying that being trans might be “caused” by social media for example, and could result in undetermined “harms” to the wider school community.
We welcome the improved legal protections, awareness and resources in recent years that have allowed more trans young people to be open about who they are.
What the guidance says about… Using your chosen name, pronouns, uniform and gender/sex markers
Even after the above process, the draft guidance imposes additional barriers to trans pupils to be their authentic selves at school.
- The draft guidance states that primary aged children should not change their pronouns at school.
- For older pupils, even after completing the process outlined above, teachers will not be required to use their chosen pronouns.
- Schools will be required to record a pupil’s legal name on their systems and can only change an informal (‘known as’) name after having first consulted with a student’s parents.
- Gender/sex markers
- Schools will be required to record a young person’s sex assigned at birth and should share this information with all ‘relevant staff.’
- Where schools have gendered uniforms, it is proposed that students should have parental consent before being allowed uniform changes.
- However, schools will not be able to allow trans pupils to wear swimwear consistent with their gender identity.
All students deserve to have their basic human rights and dignity upheld at school.
Preventing trans students from being themselves may lead them to avoid school altogether, depriving them of an education.
A trans young person’s name, pronoun and clothing is their choice and that must be respected. Those aged 16 and over can already change their legal name without parental consent – why should this be any different for their ‘known as’ name at school?
Schools that follow this guidance may be at risk of legal challenge – deliberate misgendering may be considered unlawful discrimination, while disclosing a person’s trans status without permission may violate their right to privacy. We find it concerning that the Government has prioritised its anti-trans agenda over offering schools legally-rigorous, supportive guidance.
What the guidance says about… Using facilities and playing sport consistent with your gender
Many schools have gendered facilities, like toilets and changing rooms, and will separate pupils by gender for overnight residentials or PE and sport. The guidance suggests an exclusion-first approach, saying that schools should take the default approach that trans pupils be treated according to their sex assigned at birth, unless it will ‘cause them distress to do so.’
- Toilets and Changing Rooms
- Where trans pupils do not want to use a toilet or changing room aligning with their sex assigned at birth, they can be provided an alternative that can be locked from the inside and for use one at a time.
- Where ‘physical’ sports are separated by gender, the guidance states pupils must participate based on their assigned sex at birth.
- Schools are advised to consider guidance issued by each sport’s national governing bodies on including trans participants.
- The guidance states that trans pupils can only stay in rooms aligning with the sex they were assigned at birth i.e. a trans boy cannot stay in the boys’ dorm.
- Single Sex Schools
- Single-sex schools are only able to admit students whose sex assigned at birth differs from the school’s usual cohort in exceptional circumstances. For example, a trans boy could be admitted to a boys’ school, but this is not guaranteed.
Schools have a duty to provide a supportive and inclusive environment for all students, including facilities that enable trans young people to feel comfortable
Forcing trans young people to use separate facilities will further isolate pupils who already experience disproportionate harassment and bullying. Equally, for many trans young people, being told they cannot play in sports teams consistent with their gender identity will be an effective ban on participation.
It is typical of the Government’s approach that the guidance provides no advice on how to support and include trans young people in schools, with its sole focus on justifications to exclude and even humiliate trans students.
We would encourage those concerned about these changes to respond to the consultation, which we will be publishing advice on soon. In the meantime, you can write to your MP asking them to speak out against this proposed guidance and support our campaign to create safe, supportive schools.
Our dedicated supportive schools page also provides resources for inclusive educators, including best practice toolkits and information about training and support.
No matter how the Government decides to proceed, Mermaids will continue to campaign for schools where trans young people can thrive, and provide support to all those affected by rising transphobia.