Schools minister refuses to apologise for lack of trans guidance for teachers

The schools minister has refused to apologise for the government’s delay at publishing guidance on trans pupils for teachers and staff. 

The government has been working on the guidance, behind closed doors, which will cover both independent and state schools, and is expected to be published this summer.

Leaks have suggested teachers might be forced to out trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming pupils to their parents under the guidance, which could also ban trans children from using changing and shower facilities that align with gender identity. 

“Triggers” for staff to inform on pupils include things such as a child using a different name at school, changing their pronouns or “a boy wearing a skirt”. 

During oral questions last week, Nick Gibb was scrutinised by fellow MPs over the lack of clear guidance as well as other issues relating to trans pupils in UK schools.  

Throughout the session, the Tory minister repeatedly said the guidance was being finalised and would be published “soon”, followed by a public consultation. However, towards the end of the session he said it had been “drafted and it is in a very good state” and is “ready for publication”. 

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He did not provide a specific timeline for this.  

Anneliese Dodds, the shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, said there have been “rumours” about the guidance for more than a year but “still no delivery”.  

She went on: “The sad truth is that schools are being left in limbo by a government who are, yet again, focused on internal battles. Their LGBT action plan has collapsed, they are at war on banning conversion therapy and they are now squabbling over schools guidance too. 

“Will the minister apologise to the LGBT+ people who have been failed by this playground politics?”

In response, Gibb dodged issuing an apology and instead said there are a “range of views” on the topic, adding the government are “united in our determination to have very high-quality guidance for schools”.

Schools, teachers and pupils have been left in limbo due to the delay. (Canva)

Dodds described how parents, schools and trans pupils themselves are “sick and tired” of reading conflicting rumours about what the guidance will be, based on reports in the press. 

She quizzed Gibb on whether the reason for the delay is because several key members of government – including prime minister Rishi Sunak, women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, education secretary Gillian Keegan and minister for children Claire Coutinho – do not agree with one another on trans issues.  

Gibb flatly denied this, explaining that the Department for Education is working closely with Badenoch and the equalities office. 

“We are consulting experts on drafting comprehensive guidance on a very sensitive matter, and we need to get it right,” he said. “Many schools are dealing with these issues very successfully, day in and day out, but some schools want advice.”

Specifically addressing concerns that teachers will be forced to out pupils to their parents without their consent, and the fact that many homeless youth are LGBTQ+, veteran Labour MP Ben Bradshaw asked the minister if he agrees “to instruct schools to out pupils to their families would be totally outrageous?”

Gibb answered: “There is a difference between advice being given to a child by a particular teacher and decisions about children in which parental involvement is paramount, and it is crucial for schools to ensure that parents are involved in such decisions.”

‘It’s not solving a problem – it’s creating a problem’

When leaks suggested teachers could be forced to out their pupils, school staff and LGBTQ+ activists alike were shocked and concerned. 

While the guidance advised exceptions for children believed to be at risk of “significant harm”, there does not appear to be any nuance in understanding that families could have no safeguarding risks flagged, but still be extremely – and potentially violently – transphobic. 

Speaking exclusively to PinkNews, one teacher – who wished to remain anonymous – said she cannot understand how such guidance would safeguard children and “seems to just be safeguarding Tory interests”.   

She went on: “There are so many vulnerable children in education who need so much support, so much help, and this isn’t something that is needed in the education system, at all.” 

Another teacher, who works at a school in West London called the proposals dangerous.

“Teachers and schools do not have all the information about every child’s home environment, and instead of supporting a pupil to be themselves in school, we could be putting them at risk of harm, ” head of department Matt Adams said. 

“It’s dangerous behaviour. It’s not solving a problem – it’s creating a problem,”

Lukasz Konieczka, the executive director of the Mosaic LGBTQ+ Young Persons Trust, noted that there is often a good reason for a queer youngster deciding not to tell their caregiver that they are trans or non-binary and the guidance could put these children in harm’s way.

“Family rejection is a huge risk, leading to the young person entering an already-stretched care system and, in the worst-case scenario, so-called honour-based violence,” she said.

The alleged guidance has been branded “dangerous”. (Canva)

The director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, Julie McCulloch, called for any guidance brought forth to be underpinned by “fairness, respect and safety”.

She said: “We have been calling on the government to provide guidance for schools about how best to support transgender pupils and pupils questioning their gender identity for many years. 

“It is extremely unhelpful that the government has taken so long to do this, leaving schools to be caught in the crossfire of this polarising issue.

“It is crucial that there is full consultation with school and college leaders and teachers in advance of publication to ensure the guidance is deliverable. A compassionate and practical set of guidelines to help schools navigate this sensitive territory, where every pupil is treated with dignity, is what is required.”