Welsh schools and trans guidance – hung out to dry

Merched Cymru’s research shows how schools in Wales are compromising children’s safety and well being, and exposing themselves to the risk of legal challenge. In the absence of clear, legally compliant guidance from Welsh Government on making decisions regarding gender distressed or questioning pupils, schools are taking widely varying approaches, and often reaching for toolkits from transgender campaigning organisations that have already been withdrawn following legal challenge.

Download the full report:

“Hung Out To Dry: The impact of Welsh Government inaction on gender distressed children, their families and their schools.”

The report is based on Freedom of Information requests to a representative sample of schools across Wales, and one-to-one interviews with parents, teachers and other school staff.

What are schools doing?

In the absence of clear guidance, schools’ approaches include:

Affirming trans identities Every single school that responded to the FoI request said that yes, they would facilitate a gender transition.

Concealing information from parents A majority of schools (68%) would not necessarily inform parents if a child announced a wish to transition gender. 29% said they would only inform parents if the child gave their permission to do so.

Allowing access to opposite sex facilities A significant minority of schools support children to use opposite sex toilets (15%), changing rooms (15%), sports and even sleeping accommodation if they want, with concerning implications for children’s safety and privacy.

Forced or coerced speech Three-quarters of schools said they oblige, or put strong pressure on pupils to participate in a social transition by using preferred pronouns and adopted names of peers.

These approaches violate safeguarding principles and fail to respect the privacy, safety and dignity of other children. They also ignore the right to belief of children, teachers and other school staff as protected under the Equality Act 2010. They are doing real harm to children and their families, as the parents and teachers quoted in the report show.

The school have referred us to social services three times now because we’re not affirming our daughter’s trans identity. It’s caused a huge rift in our family.”
Parent

They put teachers in the position of making decisions for which they are not trained or qualified – as Dr Hilary Cass observes in her review of gender identity services:

…it is important to view [social transition] as an active intervention
because it may have significant effects on the child or young person in terms of their psychological functioning,

They put children at risk, both those who identify as trans and others, and leave schools open to the risk of costly legal challenges. As one teacher we spoke to commented, they are being “hung out to dry”.

In schools we have policies and guidance for everything. But not this. You come to this and there’s no policy, no guidance at all. Noone wants to take responsibility. We’re being hung out to dry.
Teacher

[My daughter] was their first non-binary student and there were no guidelines at all at that time. Everyone wanted to support her and that meant just going along with everything.
Parent

Our report includes testimony from parents and teachers on the harms being done by these approaches.

When we raised concerns about mixed sex sleeping arrangements for the trip, the safeguarding officer told us that ‘Under the policy, normal safeguarding rules do not apply to transgender students.’ It’s like all common sense goes out of the window as soon as you mention ‘trans’.
Parent

 

It was clear that it [social transition at school] was happening whatever I said. They’d rather we were on board, but it was happening either way. I can’t believe that experienced teachers are just nodding all this along.
Parent

 

As a teacher, it’s very frustrating. The one thing you’re not allowed to do is sit these kids down and ask ‘why’, because that makes you transphobic. Anything but ‘yes, that’s great’ is assumed to be just like  homophobia.
Teacher

What needs to happen?

Welsh Government

Welsh Government must publish draft guidance that is in accordance with extant law and not political aspirations. The consultation process must be transparent and meaningful, with a genuine openness to considering the views of individuals and organisations beyond the usual stakeholder groups. All responses should be published in full.

Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales

EHRC Wales must issue technical guidance for schools in Wales with urgency. There appears to be no reason for further delay since the equality legal framework is the same in England, Scotland and Wales and guidance has already been published in England and Scotland.

Local Authorities

Local authorities must take responsibility for developing policies for schools in their area and ensuring that they are fully compliant with relevant legislation, do not breach schools’ duties of political impartiality, and offer children and young people struggling with issues of gender identity the same level of safeguarding from harm as their peers.

These policies should also stipulate that schools do not work with or use materials provided by external agencies that take or promote the political/ideological position that ‘gender identity’ is a fact and not a highly contested belief with no basis in science or law.

In the short term, local authorities should contact all schools in their area to ensure that the status of any toolkits or guidance in circulation is clear. Schools should be reminded of the need to comply with all relevant legislation, of the need to balance the rights and best interests of all learners and to prioritise safeguarding.

Schools

Schools should review and revisit any toolkits, policies or procedures they are currently using and not take it for granted that something provided via a local authority, or even a local safeguarding board, has been quality assured and legally checked. The resource produced for schools in Wales by Sex Matters may be useful during this process.

Schools should not under any circumstances work with or use materials provided by external agencies that present the contested belief of ‘gender identity’ as fact, or where the same standard of safeguarding is not assured for all learners.

A legally compliant model policy, which can be edited to meet the needs of individual schools, and which takes account of the rights and welfare of all members of the school community is available to download on the Sex Matters website.