Response to the Department for Education Schools' guidance for trans and non-binary students

The UK government is expected to publish guidance for schools in England on how to accommodate transgender and non-binary students. However, leaked drafts of the guidance are concerning.

The UK government is expected to publish guidance for schools in England on how to accommodate transgender and non-binary students.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had promised to deliver this guidance before schools broke up for the summer holidays. However, this deadline has now been broken after the Attorney General for England and Wales advised the government that part of the guidance may be unlawful. The Education Secretary Gillian Keegan confirmed the delay, but no new deadline has been set. This is not the first time the promised guidance has been delayed.

While there are no official estimates on how many trans, non-binary and gender-fluid pupils are in the UK, a survey of 7,000 teachers in England for BBC news in May 2023 suggested that about 8% of primary-school and 75% of secondary school teachers taught trans or non-binary pupils. 

Creating clear guidance for schools could be embraced as an opportunity to ensure safer, happier experiences in education for trans and non-binary children and young people – ensuring they are treated with respect by staff and students alike, and helping schools navigate what may be new territories for them such as school uniforms, gender-neutral bathroom options, and countering bullying.

However, the indications from the government, and a leaked draft of the guidance, indicate that the UK government has not taken the safeguarding risks to LGBTQ+ youth seriously in their approach. The latest indications are that, under the new guidance, schools would be obliged to ‘out’ gender-diverse students to their parents, and teachers would not be allowed to call students by different names or pronouns unless their parents agreed to the change.

The suggestion that schools should ‘out’ trans and non-binary students to their parents means that children and young people who do not feel safe to be themselves at home would also be unable to be themselves in school. The guidance would remove young people’s ability to confide in trusted teachers – removing almost any psychological safety net at a crucial time.

This is even more worrying given that the UK government has still not banned conversion therapy, despite promising to over five years ago. The addition of this leaked guidance means that schools would be obliged to ‘out’ students to  potentially transphobic parents, who could then pressure their child to undergo harmful conversion therapy.

MP Kemi Badenoch, Minister for Women and Equalities has also stood by the leaked guidance, stating "what is right is that parents know what is going on with their children at school."

Education Minister Gillian Keegan has also backed the leaked guidance, stating: "In the meantime, schools and colleges should proceed with extreme caution. They should always involve parents in decisions relating to their child, and should not agree to any changes that they are not absolutely confident are in the best interests of that child and their peers."

This is of serious concern to many groups who work closely with young people, including ourselves.

Tracey Dwamenah-Barnett, our Head of Mental Health & Youth Services said:

"I am disappointed and appalled to read the guidance that has been leaked. There are many safeguarding risks that can arise through the form of outing a young person without consent to their parents/guardians due to their gender identity.

"Young people have the privilege of being able to define themselves throughout their adolescent years and schools are deemed to be safe spaces to safeguard them from harm. Any form of non-consensual disclosure could endanger young people's lives, and could potentially put them at risk of abuse and transphobia.

"We have seen first-hand through a large majority of young people we support that home is not a safe, or accepting space."

We urge the Government to rethink its approach and protect trans, non-binary and gender-diverse young people in schools, placing their safety, ability to confide in trusted teachers, and freedom to explore their gender identity freely at the heart of their guidance.