What is the Department for Education's Consultation on “Guidance for Schools and Colleges: Gender Questioning Children”?
In December 2023, the Department for Education (DfE) published a draft of a document called “Guidance for Schools and Colleges: Gender Questioning Children”. Once finalised, this will become non-statutory guidance for schools and colleges. “Non-statutory” means that there is no law saying they will have to follow the guidance, but many schools trust the DfE and will be likely to follow their recommendations.
The draft non-statutory guidance (referred to through the rest of this article as “the DfE guidance”) is supposed to offer help and advice to schools and colleges with what to do when one of their students is trans, non-binary or questioning their gender. For example, it gives recommendations on uniform, toilets, PE lessons and changing names and pronouns.
At this stage, the DfE guidance has been published as a draft for consultation. This means it is not the final version and should not be followed by schools. The DfE is inviting schools, colleges, parents, young people and members of the public to read their draft and say whether or not it is good enough, and if not, how it can be improved.
Anyone who wants to respond to the consultation has until 12th March 2024 to send in their comments.
Why is it harmful?
This draft of the DfE guidance does not acknowledge the reality of trans and non-binary young people’s lives, because it says that people under the age of 18 cannot be trans.
This is not correct, according to The Equality Act 2010. This law says that as soon as a person says that they plan to transition from one gender to another, they have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment”, which is the phrase this law uses to refer to trans people.
The Equality Act does not have a lower age limit. In fact, age is also a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, meaning that it is against the law to treat someone less favourably because of their age.
The DfE guidance also ignores the fact that under The Equality Act, schools and colleges must by law do everything they can to protect trans and non-binary people at their school from discrimination and unfair treatment. This is known as the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Many legal experts (including the government’s own lawyers) have said that they are worried that if some of the recommendations in the DfE guidance are followed, schools and colleges might be breaking the law.
Because the people who wrote this draft guidance document wrongly think that people under the age of 18 can’t be trans, the recommendations in the DfE guidance are not helpful for schools who want to support their trans students. It contains many recommendations which will make life harder for trans young people.
What is it like for trans and non-binary young people in school?
Through our work and our research with trans and non-binary young people, we have heard time and time again that schools are failing them. Last year, we carried out a research study in partnership with the Manchester Metropolitan University, where we heard from 274 young people, 58 parents and 270 school staff and youth professionals.
In this survey, 52% of young people said they were not confident that their school would do well at supporting a student who came out as trans. At the same time, 90% of teachers and school staff said they need more training and support to better equip them to support trans students at their school. This shows a clear need from trans young people for better support and a genuine wish from staff to be able to support them in the best way possible.
One young person we asked said:
“I think it can be difficult for students to come out as there are a lot of homo/transphobic students at our school that often make fun or are mean to others for being different which can make it hard for trans students to feel accepted.”
We have also heard from teachers who want to do the right thing, but don’t know where to start. One teacher said:
“The issue is a cultural ‘hot topic’ and schools are caught in the crossfire in culture wars. Our job is to look after young people, accepting them as they see themselves without judgement.”
That’s why we’re so disappointed in the DfE guidance. The Department for Education has the opportunity and the responsibility to improve the lives of trans and non-binary young people across the country. This draft document does not do that.
What can we do to challenge this draft guidance?
The consultation process is open for anyone to respond to. We want to encourage as many people as possible to respond, in your own words. It’s really important to submit your own individual response to the consultation, so we have collected some useful resources to help you.
We’ve written a quick and easy guide to understanding government consultations. This includes some useful tips for what to include in your response, and was written by someone who has worked behind the scenes on government consultations.
Mermaids has published a fantastic breakdown of the DfE guidance, to help you understand all of the recommendations, alongside the impact this would have on trans young people. Read the full explainer here.
Stonewall has worked with a range of LGBT+ charities to create a step-by-step guide to how to submit your response to the consultation. It includes what to do if you have 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes to respond. Download a PDF of the step-by-step guide here:
‘Gender Questioning Children: Non-statutory guidance for schools and colleges in England’ Information and support on how to respond to the consultationDownload Open in BrowserWARNING: Cannot guarantee this document will only open in browser (it may also download too). If you are on a shared computer and do not want a download, then please email us for a copy instead.
Once you have read all of this and you’re ready to respond to the consultation, head to the DfE website to fill in their online survey by 12th March 2024.
Finally – when you’ve sent in your response, post this to your socials and encourage all of your friends to do the same! Let’s send a message to the government that trans young people are important, and deserve to be supported and respected in school.
Where to go for more help
If you are a young person who uses the Proud Trust’s services, get in touch with your youth worker for information on the workshops we are running to help you submit a response to the consultation.
Our friends at the LGBT Foundation are also running a series of workshops aimed at young people, professionals and members of the public. They are free to attend, but you do need to book in advance. All sessions are held online via Zoom.
How is the Proud Trust responding to the DfE guidance?
At the Proud Trust, we are doing everything we can to make sure the problems with the DfE guidance are fixed, with the hope that it will become a helpful and useful document when the final version is published.
Most important for us is that young trans and non-binary people’s voices are heard.
We are working with our young people to help them submit their own individual responses, as well as creating organisational responses with our staff and young people. When our organisational response is finished and has been submitted, we will also publish it here on our website, so that you can see what we have said.
About The Proud Trust
The Proud Trust is an LGBT+ youth charity empowering young people to be proud of who they are. The Proud Trust delivers youth work and one-to-one support across Greater Manchester and Cheshire. The charity also runs The Rainbow Flag Award national training and inclusion programme for schools, Proud Connections Live Chat, and manages Manchester’s LGBT+ Centre, The Proud Place.