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Gender Questioning Children: Consultation on Guidance for Schools and Colleges

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2023

I have been working closely with the Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), on guidance for schools and colleges where a child is questioning their gender. Schools and colleges have been left in a position where they are having to navigate this highly sensitive, complex issue, which is still not properly understood. We appreciate how daunting this is for school and college staff and for parents and children too. The aim of the guidance is to provide clarity for schools and colleges, and reassurance for parents. We will be today publishing the draft guidance for consultation.

The guidance covers how schools and colleges should respond when parents and children ask them to accommodate a child who is questioning their gender. This has been linked to gender identity ideology: the belief that a person can have a “gender”, whether male (or “man”), female (or “woman”), or “other”, that is different to their biological sex. Such accommodation may mean a request to take actions such as changing names or uniforms, or using different facilities to help a child appear more like they are the opposite sex, with the expectation that they will be treated as if they are. This is often referred to as social transitioning.

This guidance is based on a set of five general principles that schools and colleges can use to frame their response to such requests.

Schools and colleges have statutory duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children. They should consider how best to fulfil that duty towards the child who is making such a request and their peers, ensuring that any agreed course of action is in all of their best interests. This may or may not be the same as a child’s wishes. Knowing a child’s sex is critical to a school’s or college’s safeguarding duties.

Schools and colleges should be respectful and tolerant places where bullying is never tolerated. Staff and children should treat each other with compassion and consideration, in accordance with the ethos of the school or college.

Parents should not be excluded from decisions taken by a school or college relating to requests for a child to “socially transition”. Where a child requests action from a school or college in relation to any degree of social transition, schools and colleges should engage parents as a matter of priority, and encourage the child to speak to their parents, other than in the exceptionally rare circumstances where involving parents would constitute a significant risk of harm to the child.

Schools and colleges have specific legal duties that are framed by a child’s biological sex. While legislation exists that allows adults to go through a process to change their legal sex, children’s legal sex is always the same as their biological sex.

There is no general duty to allow a child to “social transition”. The Cass review’s interim report is clear that social transition is not a neutral act, and that better information is needed about the outcomes for children who undertake degrees of social transition. If a school decides to accommodate a request, a cautious approach should be taken that complies with legal duties. Some forms of social transition will not be compatible with a school’s statutory responsibilities.

Dr Cass is clear that social transition is not a neutral act, and that better information is needed about the outcomes for children who undertake degrees of social transition. This means that schools and colleges should take a cautious approach and that decisions should not be taken in haste or without the involvement of parents.

We are now consulting on this guidance and welcome responses from the likes of parents, teachers, headteachers, pupils and clinicians. Nothing is more important than keeping children safe and I am grateful to all those who will help us to get this right.

We are also aware that many schools and colleges have commenced their Christmas break this week and so there is no immediate action to be taken now. We welcome their engagement and responses to the consultation from the new year. The consultation will run for 12 weeks and will close on 12 March 2024.

A copy of the guidance will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.