Vale of Glamorgan: Transgender inclusion toolkit

Merched Cymru responded to the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s consultation on a new ‘Transgender inclusion toolkit’, highlighting safeguarding and legal risks with the recommended approach. See our response here [PDF].

Recent news coverage has highlighted a range of ways that schools in England are compromising safeguarding and violating children’s rights by facilitating children to access changing rooms, toilets, sports and sleeping accommodation intended for the opposite sex, by changing children’s names and pronouns without informing parents. We know the same is happening in Wales.

The Westminster government has said that it plans to issue new guidance, which will be for England only. The Welsh government stated in its LGBTQ+ Action plan that it intends to issue new guidance for schools for consultation in summer 2023.

We’re calling on the Welsh Government to put safeguarding first, and to acknowledge and protect the rights of all pupils, particularly girls, by ensuring that sex-segregated spaces and activities such as toilets, changing rooms, sports and sleeping accommodation remain single sex.

‘Inclusion policies’ that put children at risk

The Vale of Glamorgan has decided not to wait for the new national guidance, issuing a new inclusion toolkit for consultation in January this year – while the consultation period is now over, you can read the new draft trans inclusion guidance here.

This new draft replaces an inclusion toolkit adopted, with some controversy, in 2018, with a promise to review it in one year.

Similar toolkits, based on a template provided by trans advocacy organisation Allsorts, were widely adopted across the UK. This guidance misrepresented equality law, and disregarded the rights of other pupils. In Oxfordshire a legal case represented a girl speaking out about how her rights were affected by a male child being allowed to use the girls’ toilets. And in Rhondda Cynon Taf a parent took out a judicial review against the school for socially transitioning his son without informing his parents. In both cases, the toolkits were withdrawn before the cases came to court, but the toolkits were withdrawn by other local authorities in Wales (Merthyr, Ceredigion, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham) and in England (Barnsley, Birmingham, Derbyshire, Doncaster, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Leicester, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset and Warwickshire).

Until now, the Vale of Glamorgan has declined to do so, continuing to instruct schools to affirm trans identities on children’s request, to hide this information from parents unless the child agrees to share it, and to allow children access to the toilets, sports, dormitories and changing rooms of their choice.

New inclusion guidance

The Vale of Glamorgan council is consulting on a new transgender inclusion toolkit, tacitly admitting in the process that their previous guidance was not in line with the law, as the information included on equality law is radically different.

The new draft is a big improvement in many ways – it acknowledges that other people have rights, and correctly represents the law, making it clear that there is no legal obligation on schools to give children access to spaces and services dedicated to the opposite sex.

However, it still encourages schools to present contentious ideas about gender as if they were fact, and suggests that children may be allowed access to toilets, changing rooms, sleeping accommodation and sports for the opposite sex on a ‘case by case’ basis.

Distorting facts in the name of inclusion

For example, as part of a ‘whole school approach to tacking transphobia, it suggests that RSE lessons should label human genitalia by

stating that most, rather than all, boys have a penis and testicles and most, rather than all, girls have a vulva and vagina.

This suggests that stating simple facts about biology could be ‘transphobia’. It is confusing, misleading and will lead to harm. Sex education that undermines children’s understanding of human bodies and what they can and can’t do (menstruation, pregnancy, impregnation etc) puts them at risk. All children need to understand that their bodies are male or female, whatever they feel about their internal gender, otherwise they cannot make good decisions and keep themselves safe.

Schools need to prioritise all children’s need for (and right to) accurate information over subjective feelings.

‘Case by case’ – hanging schools out to dry

The new draft guidance does acknowledge that social transition (changing a child’s name, pronouns or mode of dress to present as if they were the opposite sex) is a significant intervention, quoting the interim Cass Review. And it also acknowledges that not every child who adopts a trans identity will necessarily persist in that identity.

However the guidance then goes on to assume that schools will in fact socially transition children at school, including access to opposite sex spaces and sports on a ‘case by case’ basis. On what possible basis could a school do this for one child and not another? What are the criteria against which a trans identified child would be judged in order to decide whether a boy can use the girls’ toilets, or a girl can sleep in the boys’ dorm on a trip? Once a precedent has been set for one child, how would you refuse for the next one?

Teachers are neither trained nor qualified to make complex, specialist, far-reaching assessments of this kind and no school should be accepting or acting on self-diagnosis, or a parent’s diagnosis. Schools may be held accountable for these decisions and their consequences.

Good guidance for schools

There’s no question that schools need guidance on how to support children struggling with their gender identity, protect them from harassment and bullying and ensure they can access education.

We support the approach proposed by the guidance from Sex Matters and Transgender Trend – this compassionate and clear approach recommends challenging stereotypes and reducing divisions based on gender where possible (eg gender neutral options for school uniform), protecting and respecting boundaries of sex where it matters (toilets, changing rooms, sports, sleeping accommodation) and offering additional alternative provision where possible.

You can read the full Merched Cymru response to the Vale of Glamorgan consultation here.

We will of course be taking part in any consultation process for Welsh national guidance. If you have expertise in this area, or experience of how Welsh schools are currently handling trans inclusion, please get in touch.