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Trans and Non-binary Children

Volume 733: debated on Wednesday 7 June 2023

3. Whether it is her policy that schools should tell parents if their children are trans or non-binary. (905235)

Our schools, colleges and teachers are committed to helping all pupils and students to thrive and achieve their potential in a safe and respectful environment. Gender can be a complex and sensitive matter for schools, which is why we are working with the Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), to develop guidance for schools in relation to gender-questioning pupils. We will be finalising the draft guidance shortly, and will hold a full public consultation on it.

The hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) appears to think that “drag story time” in Elgin is one of the most pressing issues facing the country today. What signal does the Minister think that sends to vulnerable and bullied trans and other LGBT children?

We know that this is, as I said, a complex and sensitive matter. Many schools already deal with issues relating to gender-questioning children as well as the other issues to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but some schools feel a need for more support to enable them to help pupils and their parents and deal with concerns that are raised, which is why we are producing the draft guidance for schools. That guidance, which we will publish soon, will be followed by a public consultation.

In April The Sunday Times reported that the Government intended to instruct schools to tell parents if students were questioning their gender identity. Given that a third of LGBT young people would not feel confident about coming out to their parents, given that a quarter of homeless young people are LGBT young people who have been chucked out of their homes by their families, and given the statement by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children that no one should ever disclose someone’s gender identity or sexuality against their will, other than in exceptional circumstances involving safeguarding, does the Minister agree that to instruct schools to “out” pupils to their families would be totally outrageous?

There is a difference between advice being given to a child by a particular teacher and decisions about children in which parental involvement is paramount, and it is crucial for schools to ensure that parents are involved in such decisions. As I have said, we will publish draft guidance shortly and there will be a full public consultation on our proposed approach.

We need to trust parents, and we should tell children to trust parents. We are right not to confuse sexual orientation with gender confusion and other things. Schools really do need to say to children and to parents, “You can trust us as a school to let you know if your child is in distress.”

I agree with my hon. Friend. Parental involvement is important in all these matters, and they are sensitive matters, but there is a difference between what the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) spoke about, where a child who is confused about their sexual orientation or other personal problems has a confidential discussion with teacher, and big decisions about gender transitioning, for example, where parental involvement is important. Any decision about such matters needs to be taken with parental involvement.

Last year, a YouGov poll found that around 80% of schools now have pupils who are trans identified, and Policy Exchange recently reported that four in 10 schools are operating policies of gender self-identification. Dr Hilary Cass has said that social transition is “not a neutral act” but a psychological intervention with unknown consequences for children’s welfare. Does the Minister agree that the new guidance for schools must make it clear that teachers are not qualified to make this psychological intervention and that the only safe approach is to protect children according to their biological sex?

As my hon. Friend will know, we are now producing guidance for schools on this sensitive matter. Draft guidance will be available shortly and we will consult on it. In order to provide the clearest possible guidance, we intend to consider pieces of work such as Dr Hilary Cass’s independent review of gender identity services to children and young people, which is ongoing.

There is already very good guidance, written by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and I hope that the Minister will take account of that as he develops the Government’s guidance. Does he agree that this situation has now been highly politicised by particular people, to the detriment of those children and teachers who are trying to do their best in difficult circumstances? Will he explain why on earth it has taken the Government this long to publish the guidance, essentially leaving teachers without Government guidance in this very contested area? When will he support the work that teachers do?

In drafting the guidance, we have taken into account advice from experts such as the NSPCC and Dr Hilary Cass, as I have just mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates), but we have to get this guidance right. This is a sensitive matter. The drafting is happening right now and the guidance will be published shortly in draft. There will then be a full public consultation to ensure that all views are taken into account.

Recent research by Policy Exchange suggests that more than 60% of schools do not reliably inform parents when their children express a wish to change gender. Many parents are concerned about schools keeping them in the dark about such important changes concerning their children, so can the Minister please confirm that parents must be kept informed of such an important change in behaviour in their child?

As I have said, parental involvement is paramount in any decisions about children, and it is important that schools work to ensure that parents are consulted before any decisions are made regarding a child socially transitioning. These are issues that we are thinking about and discussing with experts as we draft the guidance, which will be published shortly and will then be available for public consultation.

Schools, parents and pupils who need guidance on these issues are sick and tired of reading conflicting rumours about the Government’s plans in the newspapers. Will the Minister confirm that the reason for the delay is that the Minister for Women and Equalities does not agree with the Education Secretary, who does not agree with the Minister for Children, who does not agree with the Prime Minister?

No, we are working closely with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities. We are consulting experts on drafting comprehensive guidance on a very sensitive matter, and we need to get it right. Many schools are dealing with these issues very successfully, day in and day out, but some schools want advice. They want good-quality advice, and the guidance on that is being drafted right now. It will be published shortly and made available for public consultation.

We have had noises off and rumours about this in the newspapers for over a year, and still no delivery. The sad truth is that schools are being left in limbo by a Government who are, yet again, focused on internal battles. Their LGBT action plan has collapsed, they are at war on banning conversion therapy and they are now squabbling over schools guidance too. Will the Minister apologise to the LGBT+ people who have been failed by this playground politics?

There is a range of views, as we have seen in the newspapers, but the Government are united in our determination to have very high-quality guidance for schools. This guidance has been drafted and it is in a very good state. It is ready for publication, and it will be published shortly. There will then be a full public consultation to make sure that all the views expressed in the newspapers, by the hon. Lady and by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, can be taken into account as we finalise this important guidance for schools.