The Government has briefed the press on the imminent release of its so-called ‘Transgender Guidance’ for schools, which has been long-awaited by many who are concerned about ad hoc ‘social transitions’ taking place – sometimes conducted without parents knowing and in ways that compromise single sex spaces and safeguarding. To date, these transitions relate to pupils’ pronouns and the school uniform they’re expected to wear, and sometimes apply to who can use the school toilets and changing rooms or join the sports lessons and overnight accommodation of the opposite sex.
Despite the current lack of regulation, I have always hoped that such ‘guidance’ would never be issued at all, fearing that when it does its contents (and even just its mooted title of ‘Transgender Guidance’) will create a new paradigm in which the state officially ratifies the belief that some children are ‘transgender’ and need special accommodation in the education system, something that has never previously been affirmed by a government and for which there is no actual proof nor a cast iron legal definition.
It will also, no doubt, introduce a verbose new document that permits interpretation and is open to radical revision – something that the policy-writers at the Department for Education (DfE) seem to specialise in as a method to steer policy in their preferred direction. A far better way to address this issue would be to include it in the Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance, but identifying as transgender remains absent from this crucial safeguarding framework, despite it becoming increasingly clear that the majority of children identifying as trans have other mental health issues and are vulnerable.
On the face of it, though, the Government is keen to sound as if it is taking a hard line against transitioning, with one Whitehall source reported in the Telegraph as saying, “The guidance has been toughened recently… effectively, it means there is a presumption against social transitioning.” But very obviously, a ‘presumption against’ implies the matter is nevertheless to be weighed in the balance by the school and on some occasions the decision will be in favour of social transition. We have yet to hear what factors might affect this decision.
What criteria can a school possibly use to make such a profoundly affecting psychological intervention for just a few children who are apparently thought to be ‘truly transgender’, but not for others? And how will those whose request is rejected react? Will they protest, withdraw from school or jump through whatever hoops are presented as being sufficient proof, e.g. hormone therapy? And what will then be asked of the other children and teachers around them to accommodate the rare instances of supposedly necessary transition? Will it be deemed necessary for them to use pronouns they don’t agree with and collude in the idea that another child is effectively the opposite of the sex from the one they know them to be? The idea seems unworkable in practice and law.
The Government has attempted to reassure that when such a transition does happen, “parents should be informed. It’s wrong that such decisions appear to have been taken without parents being involved.” Some would say that “such decisions” should not be made by a school nor circumscribed by the DfE at all, and they might also note that being ‘informed’ is not the same as having a veto. Will a parent now be unable to prevent their child being socially transitioned at school if they meet the Government specifications in this guidance, but which the parents think is unwise?
Conversely, just because parents will now be told, that should not mean that if they do give permission (or even demand that their child should be transitioned) that their views ought to be the determining factor. Parents make many mistakes and projecting things onto their children can be one of them. The Government and its public services would not support a parent in facilitating anorexia in their child, so why should they adhere to the wishes of a parent who wants the school to facilitate their child’s transition as a response to their gender dysphoria?
The question is not really one of notification or permission, nor of a parent or school’s belief in a child’s gender identity – it is not about being ‘tough’ either. It is a matter of principle, evidence and safeguarding. Should a child ever be facilitated by their school to think they were ‘born in the wrong body’, when there is no clear proof that is true, nor that affirming that belief is the right thing to do – especially given the current availability of online persuasion, injurious breast binders and life-changing medications, which have been shown to follow social transition when desisting would otherwise be the most likely outcome? I would argue the answer is ‘no’.
Apparently, the guidance also discusses “Gillick competence”, which is a test to determine when a child is old enough to consent to medical treatment. This suggests that medical advice might be sought when a school is assessing whether a child is ‘truly transgender’. But that offers little reassurance of there being a precautionary approach, since I have seen RSHE lessons that advise children directly that, according to Gillick, they are likely to be able to access healthcare in secret from around the age of 13. Likewise, there are plenty of doctors prepared to affirm a child’s transgender identity.
So, while the guidance apparently will say that toilets and some contact sports lessons should definitely be single sex, it still seems that, for the first time, there will be a narrow, government-approved route to socially transition children in schools with name changes and new pronouns. And that matters a great deal for society, but especially for the families that have vulnerable children who might be severely negatively affected by having their chosen identity affirmed in this way. Social transition is, after all, a significant psychological intervention that can sway a child’s self-perception and tear families apart and trample on other people’s rights and protections. This is especially true when those affirming the child are their teachers, whom children are expected to respect as authority figures.
The projection of ‘toughness’ by the Government on this issue is telling. They know this dangerous trend is unpopular with most parents and they therefore considered preventing the practice altogether, but feared they could not achieve that without stimulating legal challenges or creating new legislation. Consequently, they seem to have opted for what they perceive to be the next best thing, a fudge that at least dampens the trend, but which still allows for a few mythical ‘true trans’ kids to be abandoned to the gender identity fantasy. For some families that will be a heavy price to pay for the Government’s failure to stand up to the trans lobby (including the believers in their own party).
This fudge is not an incremental step in the right direction it’s advertised as being – it is a leap in favour of official recognition of ‘transgender children’. Worryingly, this might even work against any much-needed legal cases that seek to establish that the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment under the Equality Act should never be applied to a minor, given that the Gender Recognition Act pertained to adults only. Now, the slim case law that exists in favour of the protected characteristic applying to children has been bolstered by a Government document and the blessing of the Attorney General.
This compromise also takes no account of vulnerable children who are fixated on a trans identity and have already unwisely been affirmed by some teachers, but who might now have that trans status withdrawn under the presumption against transitioning. These pupils don’t need ‘toughened’ guidance; they need a considered and caring safeguarding plan to exit the untenable situation of pretending to be the opposite sex and having supposedly responsible adults agree with them. It might even be psychologically risky to suddenly change a genuinely confused child’s identity according to whatever criteria the DfE tries to lay out and however schools then interpret it.
The Government surely has to realise – indeed finally admit – that they can’t eke out any more of the unprincipled compromises required by our appallingly ill-conceived equalities law, which is too easily harnessed by activist civil servants – and their activist allies in the charity sector – to secure their preferred political outcomes. The DfE and the third sector together have spent nearly two decades funding and ratifying educational schemes aimed at promoting transgender ideology and socially affirming vulnerable kids. And so that is what has happened en masse.
The resulting damage has long been done to many children and embedded in the culture of schooling, and so the Government cannot hope to safely overturn this status quo with just one unclear, non-binding guidance document, overseen by the same Department that has promoted unofficial social transitioning all along. This is to treat the side effects of the Department’s flawed Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) guidance with yet more flawed ‘trans’ guidance.
Instead, the government-sponsored indoctrination that led to this ghastly mess needs unpicking with a public inquiry. And when the truth is formally established – namely, that the DfE created this disaster in schools with unlawful RSE and dodgy ‘equality’ schemes, based on the unworkable combination of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010, administered by the Government Equalities Office and Equalities and Human Rights Commission and signed off by a rapid turnover of foolish and ill-briefed Ministers. Only then can a proper plan of action be applied with the pragmatic and ‘safeguarding first’ approach that is needed. But that will require a far-reaching body of new legislation and the enforcement of existing education law, delivered by a much braver, stronger and more principled government than the one we have in office today.
Clare Page is a parent concerned about indoctrination in education. She is currently fighting a legal case to establish transparency in schools, especially with regard to Relationship and Sex Education classes. You can donate to her CrowdJustice fundraiser here.
Stop Press: The Times has more detail on the ‘Transgender Guidance’ for schools. According to this report, medical advice will not be sought when schools are assessing whether to affirm a trans-identifying child’s self-diagnosis and the Attorney General has decided that the Equality Act’s protected characteristic of ‘Gender Transitioning’ does apply to children. Worth reading in full.