The government’s guidance for schools on transgender pupils was finally published this morning – prompting an immediate backlash which demonstrated why it had been delayed so many times. For years, with increasing numbers of pupils questioning their gender, ministers have grappled with the thorny issue of whether children ought to be allowed to ‘socially transition’. This involves them choosing their preferred pronouns, names and type of uniform while at school.
The guidance from the Department for Education today clarifies that teachers in England ‘do not have to and should not’ accept all requests for ‘social transition’. When a school considers a request, they should ‘take a very cautious approach’, with parents ‘fully consulted’ before any decision is taken. It also makes clear that teachers and pupils should not be pressured to adopt a child’s chosen pronouns – and should not be punished if they get them wrong. Schools are also told to protect single-sex spaces, such as toilets and changing rooms, and to keep boys out of girls’ sport.
Yet within minutes of the guidance being published, it received criticism from across the political spectrum. Liz Truss was among those arguing that the draft guidance ‘does not go far enough’. She said that ‘non-statutory guidance will provide insufficient protection and clarity’ with ‘a change in the law of the land’ required instead. As if to demonstrate her point, some school leaders declared that they will shun the guidelines – which are only advisory, rather than having any legal weight.
The debate will continue to rumble on until the end of the consultation in March. For ministers, there will no doubt be relief at the failure of some Tory MPs to secure a last-gasp Urgent Question on the subject before parliament rises later today.