The Department for Education has issued guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, and the Daily Mail started a culture war. “Teachers are told to stop pushing tomboys to change their gender”, it said. “Tomboys must not be encouraged to think they should change sex just because of the way they like to dress or play, schools have been told.”
I agree. I don’t like the word “tomboy”- girls ask, “Why call me a ‘boy’?” Just because they don’t like pink, or skirts, or even worse because they climb trees as well as liking ballet, does not make them any sort of “boy”. I disagree with all gender stereotypes, and find the adjective “harmful” tautologous. Oddly enough, neither the Statutory Guidance, nor the separate Guidance, uses the word. Where schools depart from statutory guidance, they “need to have good reasons”. Guidance is less binding. The Mail is wrong to call it “instructions”.
The Mail quotes out of context, from the Guidance.
You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material.
I don’t know whether that was written out of ignorance, or with the intention of permitting Mermaids to continue to provide resources. Mermaids never suggested that non-conformity was synonymous with having a different gender identity, only that some children really do have a different gender identity and they will flourish if allowed to transition. Trans people exist. We should be worried, if the guidance echoed transphobe organisations, suggesting that gender identity is a falsehood, the product of gender stereotypes, but it does not.
The Mail quotes the “Safe Schools Alliance”, so I looked them up. They are a transphobe organisation, currently taking legal action to get the Crown Prosecution Service to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, and against Oxfordshire County Council because they believed the council’s guidance was too accepting of trans people. The first thing they say about themselves is that they are against gender identity policies they find too pro-trans. They do not disclose their funding. They are happy to damage Britain’s leading LGBT charity because of their loathing of trans. They object to “trans lobby groups push[ing] policies which allow males into female spaces”. Well, they call trans girls “males”. They want to prevent transition.
Enough of the propaganda. What do the Guidance and Statutory Guidance actually say?
The Guidance. Under the heading “Creating an inclusive classroom” it says,
You should consider what it is like for a diverse range of pupils to be taught about these topics and how individual pupils may relate to particular topics, including complex and sensitive subjects that might personally affect them. These topics should help all pupils understand their physical and emotional development and enable them to make positive decisions in their lives.
That includes trans children. There is nothing in the guidance to suggest transition is wrong. There may be “targeted sessions for some pupils”. The guidance reminds schools of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which protects children who have decided to transition. “Fostering good relations” between those children and cis children does not mean excluding trans girls from girls’ changing rooms.
Under the heading “Ensuring content is appropriate” comes the section quoted by the Mail, but the bits missed out are relevant:
We are aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive matters to navigate… While teachers should not suggest to a child that their non-compliance with gender stereotypes means that either their personality or their body is wrong and in need of changing, teachers should always seek to treat individual students with sympathy and support.
Sympathy and support, that is, including for those who have the courage to speak about their gender identity and their desire to transition. That precludes mocking or challenging transition where the child shows a clear desire for it.
Elsewhere: “Conversations within your lessons should not lead to any type of bullying, ostracising or other forms of social or emotional harm. Pupils should be aware of this and lessons should be delivered in such a way to ensure this does not happen.” That means modelling and requiring respect for trans children.
Parents have the right to withdraw children from sex education, but not from relationships or health education. Insisting that transgender is different from sex, as the transphobes do, means there is no right to withdraw from education about trans.
Teachers may be triggered, says the guidance, and should be supported, but must still comply with the Equality Act which includes the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Other quotes show the need to support trans children:
All pupils should receive teaching on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships during their school years. Secondary schools should include LGBT content in their teaching. Primary schools are strongly encouraged, and enabled, when teaching about different types of family, to include families with same sex parents.
Can schools use external agencies? Well, not any of the anti-trans campaigners, as the agencies must comply with the Equality Act.
By the guidance, schools cannot use Quaker materials, as schools should not use agencies which promote “extreme positions”, defined to include “teaching that requirements of English civil or criminal law may be disregarded whether for political or religious reasons or otherwise”. Quakers teach that conscience may require law breaking. Most people would agree that Hitler’s Nuremberg laws should have been broken. The guidance is unsettling, tending towards authoritarianism, as if being “English” is sufficient protection from being wrong, but that does not mean that the Tories yet manage to make it actively hostile to trans children, or to Mermaids.
What about the Statutory Guidance? Again it refers to the PSED. The Equality Act allows schools to take positive action to deal with particular disadvantages affecting a protected group. The SG does not say this, but the school could take particular measures to support trans children because of Liz Truss’s statement and media culture war. A school should “challenge perceived limits on pupils based on their gender or any other characteristic”. “we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point”. Note the T.
Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way. All pupils should feel that the content is relevant to them and their developing sexuality. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be explored at a timely point and in a clear, sensitive and respectful manner. When teaching about these topics, it must be recognised that young people may be discovering or understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity. There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships. This should be integrated appropriately into the RSE programme, rather than addressed separately or in only one lesson.
Pupils should be made aware of the relevant legal provisions… [on] gender identity.
So, use Mermaids!
The SG contains little barbs- “Schools should be alive to issues such as everyday sexism, misogyny, homophobia and gender stereotypes and take positive action to build a culture where these are not tolerated.” Well, I think transphobia should be barred too; but this does not mean that schools must bar Mermaids. And I agree misogyny is a problem, and schools should oppose it.
On working with external agencies, such as Mermaids, the SG says schools should ensure the agency meets pupils’ needs, but nothing to exclude trans-positive organisations.
Conservative ideology is infecting these guidelines, and that is worrying. Fortunately, the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act, even though not brought up to date, protect trans children. Don’t use the Daily Mail to learn about anything. On schools, I recommend Schools Week, which addresses the guidelines from the perspective of what a teacher needs to know, so gives a balanced view. That wrote about teacher training on Respectful Relationships, which includes this disturbing instruction:
Explain the harm caused by ‘cancel culture’ and the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of association to a tolerant and free society. Teach that censorship and ‘no platforming’ are harmful and damaging. Explain that seeking to get people ‘cancelled’ (e.g. having them removed from their position of authority or job) simply because you disagree with them, is a form of bullying and is not acceptable.
Well. All the time, trans people are being cancelled: their employer gets wind that they plan to transition, and finds an excuse to sack them. Tweets “cancelling” someone only show the powerlessness of the tweeter. I have no power whatsoever to affect JK Rowling’s freedom of speech. “Don’t punch up,” says the training, though punching down appears OK to them. The Guidance objects to “divisive or victim narratives that are harmful to British society,” which also censors punching up.
Schools Week also quotes this:
In this module ‘girls’ refers to those whose natal sex is female. Similarly, ‘boys’ refers to those whose natal sex is male. However, teachers should be aware of the individual needs of all pupils and use inclusive language where possible.
It’s not all bad, and the Mail has to distort the position to continue its culture war.