The government’s new proposed guidance on how schools and colleges should approach gender questioning children has triggered significant backlash from politicians, charities and campaigners.
Originally meant to be published in the summer, the proposed recommendations were meant to provide some clarity around safeguarding young people – but there are now concerns it risks outing LGBTQ+ children to their parents.
It also comes after LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall warned “there is considerable evidence” allowing children to socially transition improves their mental health.
Here’s what you need to know.
What does the new guidance say?
It suggests schools and colleges have “specific legal duties that are framed by a child’s biological sex” and that there is “no general duty” to allow a child to try and change sex through changing names, uniforms, or using different school facilities.
But, the guidance notes schools and colleges do have statutory duties to safeguard children – and “this may or may not be the same as a child’s wishes”.
Parents should “not be excluded” from decisions related to whether or not children want to socially transition and should be engaged “as a matter of priority” – unless that would pose a risk of harm to the child.
It also suggests “watchful waiting” before considering a request of this nature from a child, to consider the age of a child and any clinical information available.
It says schools can decline a request to change a child’s pronouns – and they can only be changed if schools and colleges “are confident that the benefit to the individual child outweighs the impact on the school community”.
It calls for single sex spaces to be protected, too, such as toilets, showers and changing rooms, and suggests biological sex is fundamental to fairness in competitive sports.
How has it been received?
Transgender broadcaster India Willoughby wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that the new guidelines is the “equivalent of the Govs [sic] Rwanda policy for asylum seekers”.
She also described it as “meaningless PR for their Far Right grunts”, and disputed the way the guidance called gender ideology a “contested belief”.
‘Cruel and unworkable’
Labour MP Kate Osborne also responded on X, calling the new guidance “cruel” and “unworkable”.
She said: “It’s upsetting to think of how many trans kids will see this come up as news today when in school and feel unsafe.”
She added that she hopes schools “put their students’ needs ahead of Govts [sic] hate”, and called the guidance “trans hate and an escalation of the Government’s war on woke”.
‘Out of touch and absurd’
Trans youth charity Mermaids told HuffPost UK that the guidance “seeks to prevent” young people being able to be their authentic selves at schools.
It added: “Its approach is unworkable, out of touch and absurd.”
It continued: “Rather than listening to trans young people and reflecting best practice of inclusive educators across the UK, the government has created more confusion for schools and is putting young people at risk.
It is difficult to understand how aspects of this draft guidance, including automatically excluding trans pupils from facilities, sport bans or allowing students to be misgendered are compatible with existing equalities law.
“The overwhelming majority of teachers and parents believe trans pupils should be safe at school and will disregard these discriminatory guidelines, which will be non-compulsory.”
Mermaids called on the public to request their local MP speaks out against the proposed guidance.
Children should be able ‘to come out on their own terms’
Touching on the early reports that the guidance would encourage schools and colleges to contact parents if children wanted to socially transition, LGBTQ+ and HIV activist and writer Philip Baldwin said: “No LGBTQIA+ child should be outed to their parents.”
Guidance still ‘leaves a lot of questions unanswered’
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) hit out at the government for being so slow to publish its recommendations on the “complex and sensitive” issue.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the union, said in a press release: “The ongoing delays to this guidance due to political wrangling have been a source of significant frustration, and it is far from ideal for it to be published right at the end of term, after some schools have already broken up for Christmas.”
He added that the draft proposals would be reviewed, but “upon an initial look it would appear this guidance leaves a lot of questions unanswered, meaning school leaders will continue to be placed in an incredibly difficult position”.
‘Status quo hasn’t changed that much’
In its initial response to the guidance, transgender charity Gendered Intelligence told HuffPost UK: “Despite the hostile language, the status quo hasn’t changed that much.”
The charity noted teachers are “strongly” discouraged from supporting children who want to change their names or pronouns, but “the final decision on how to interpret this rests with the educator”.
“Teachers who want to support their trans students – and we believe this is the vast majority of teachers - are still able to do so. In the summer the attorney-general made it clear that a blanket ban on social transition – changes of name, clothes, and so on - would be unlawful, and that remains true here.
“Ultimately it continues to be teachers who are responsible for looking after their students, and this guidance in no way changes that.”
The charity added that teachers want guidance to help look after the LGBTQ+ community in schools, not to “exclude or disadvantage them”.
‘It is not enough’
Not everyone thought the legislation went too far, though.
Former PM Liz Truss reacted on X (formerly Twitter), claiming that the guidance “does not go far enough”.
She said: “It will be exploited by activists and does not sufficiently protect children.”
Truss said re-iterated the changes she has proposed in her private members’ bill, including requests for the law to define sex as biological sex, stop schools formally recognising social transition and ban under-18s from accessing puberty blockers and hormone treatment for gender dysphoria.
What does the government say?
Education secretary Keegan defended the guidelines once they were published.
She said: “This guidance puts the best interests of all children first, removing any confusion about the protections that must be in place for biological sex and single-sex spaces, and making clear that safety and safeguarding for all children must always be schools’ primary concern.
“Parents’ views must also be at the heart of all decisions made about their children – and nowhere is that more important than with decisions that can have significant effects on a child’s life for years to come.”
Meanwhile, equalities minister Badenoch told GB News the guidance means schools which are “getting very bad advice from organisations like Stonewall – among others – [can] understand what the government believes should be done.”
She added: “And this is based on legal certainty. This is based on what the law says.”
Badenoch continued: “There is no general duty to socially transition a child.
“A lot of schools think this is something they have to do, or should be doing – and we are making sure they understand what the law says.”
No.10 also defended the ministers, saying: “This is a complex and sensitive area.
“We believe though discussion with experts this is the right approach.
“We believe the guidance as used will achieve the aims that schools and parents want.
“It gives clarity and protection to teachers.”