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Schools: Transgender Guidance

Volume 827: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they intend to publish their official transgender guidance for schools.

My Lords, we recognise that issues relating to sex and gender can be complex and sensitive for schools to navigate. That is why we are developing guidance to support schools in relation to transgender pupils. It is important that we are able to consider a wide range of views to get this guidance right, so we have committed to holding a public consultation on the draft guidance prior to publication.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but schools need this guidance now. There is much confusion in schools, children are suffering, and teachers and headteachers are struggling. Also, the experience of NHS gender dysphoria services points towards future class actions, brought by former pupils. Some of those who want to detransition fully will be unable to do so. Will the Minister assure this House, and headteachers and their staff, that this guidance will be definitive enough to protect schools legally?

The guidance to support schools in relation to transgender pupils will set out schools’ legal duties and aim to provide clear information to support their consideration of how to respond to transgender issues. However, the guidance will not create new laws or be able to pre-empt the decision of a court on any specific case that might be brought.

My Lords, discrimination is on the rise, and I welcome this Question because it is clear that we have to do something. A YouGov poll commissioned by GALOP and published today indicates that one in five LGBT people has been coerced or face conversion out of their sexual orientation and gender identity. From this, coupled with the staggering rise in hate crime against trans people, it is clear that we need action. No one should feel isolated at school, feel that they do not belong, or feel that their families or parents do not belong. Therefore, does the Minister acknowledge that we need inclusive relationship and sex education, especially for those misrepresented, stereotyped and marginalised groups? Will she ensure that any strategy is both evidence-based and based on the needs of pupils, including trans pupils, and their families?

The noble Lord obviously brings extensive experience and wisdom in these areas. As he is aware, the Government will publish a draft Bill to ban conversion practices, and we are committed to protecting all who are at risk of harm from them. On listening to the voices of all pupils, including trans pupils, I stress that the Government are committed to a very full and open consultation so that the guidance we produce reflects the views of all those affected.

My Lords, puberty is a difficult time, especially for young women. For example, a dread of sexualised stereotypes can lead to anxiety about the body, sometimes expressed as dressing as a tomboy and sometimes pathologised as anorexia. Therefore, can the Minister ensure that schools do not automatically affirm the fashionable gender dysphoria as a catch-all solution, which is particularly difficult for young lesbians? Can she assure teachers who do not endorse social transitioning associated with gender ideology that their employment and reputation will be protected from false allegations of transphobic bigotry?

The noble Baroness raises important points, but she paints a picture that I do not fully recognise. The vast majority of schools realise that these are incredibly sensitive issues for staff, pupils and pupils’ parents, and do their absolute utmost to keep that level of trust with all in their care and for whom they are responsible.

My Lords, as the Minister says, this is clearly a sensitive and complex issue, and schools are clamouring to know what to do. All kinds of stories abound about “woke policies” and “political correctness gone mad”, but the Cass review said that “doing nothing” for a child in distress is not a “neutral act”. Pending guidelines arriving, will the Minister agree that all school policies should be as sensitive and inclusive as possible?

We absolutely want our policies to be sensitive, and we need them to be practical, clear and trusted. The noble Baroness quoted one element of Dr Cass’s report, but I did not hear her also say—forgive me if I missed it—that any decisions about social transition are not neutral either.

My Lords, is not imposing the use of preferred pronouns on teachers and pupils an attack on freedom of speech?

As I say, I do not think it is helpful to generalise and talk about imposition of pronouns. We will address these issues in our guidance, and will draw on the widest range of views to inform it.

My Lords, I think most people agree that guidance is needed for schools, and they will welcome the Minister’s comments that this must be done with sensitivity and respect to all pupils, including, of course, trans pupils. But does she acknowledge that the lack of certainty over the timing of this is furthering anxiety and concern and that, notwithstanding what she has correctly said about consultation, the sooner we can get this guidance published and out to schools the better?

I agree, and I hope I did not give a sense of foot-dragging on the part of the department. What I wanted to share with the House was a sense of how important we see this guidance being and how seriously we are taking it.

My Lords, there is evidence that children as young as seven are being asked whether they are male, female, bisexual and trans in schools. Parents appear to have no say in these matters. Does my noble friend agree that this cannot continue? This is now, in my view, bordering on child abuse. Will she look into this matter with the utmost urgency and report back to this House as soon as possible?

If my noble friend or any Member of this House has specific examples, it would be really helpful for them to share these with the department so that we are able to respond. Certainly, if one looks at the data on, for example, children who have been referred to the NHS GIDS clinic, it shows that there are very, very few children as young as seven. I appreciate there are a number of other issues involved, but the more we can have practical examples, the more we are able to respond effectively.

My Lords, I need to declare an interest as chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I completely endorse the department’s intention to consult widely on this; it is important that it does so. The Minister will also be aware that this matter has been tasked to her department since 2021, and parents, who are incredibly anxious, as well as children affected, really need her department to come to a speedy resolution. It cannot be right to let it stay out there in the ether, year after year.

By my calculations, it has been only a year and a bit since 2021. More seriously, I say that one of the important elements in our considerations is the work that Dr Cass is doing in her review. Her interim report did not touch on the implications of these issues in relation to education, but we want to draw on important resources such as her work.

My Lords, on 5 July last year, the Minister wrote to me saying:

“We are in absolute agreement over the principle that parents should know what their children are being taught, especially in relation to sensitive topics”.

That is an important matter and, in subsequent correspondence and meetings, I was told that a letter would be sent to all schools instructing them to show parents who asked for it the material from which their children were being taught, and not to assert commercial confidentiality or copyright issues. To date—unless it has happened today—no such letter has been written. When will it be sent?

I recognise my noble friend’s concerns on this point. The department remains absolutely committed to sending the letter. He will appreciate that, with various ministerial changes, we have to get sign-off from the current ministerial team. There is no block to the letter going, and it will be sent shortly.