Plan to ban gender identity discussion in schools branded ‘new Section 28’

Schools in England will reportedly be banned from teaching children about gender identity and trans issues under planned new education guidance.

The government confirmed on Thursday (16 May) sex education for children under the age of nine and education about trans issue for all pupils will be banned following updates to legal guidance.

The statutory guidance on relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) is currently under review by the government, though no official changes have been announced at the time of reporting.

Prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said in a statement that the amendment would “act swiftly” and that the changes were made to “protect our children.”

“This new guidance will do exactly that,” he said. “While supporting teachers to teach these important topics sensitively and giving parents access to curriculum content if they wish.”

The BBC heard from a government source prior to the announcement that the guidance would force teachers to say that so-called “gender ideology” is contested if asked by a pupil, and to say that there are only two biological sexes.

Conservative education secretary, Gillian Keegan.
Conservative education secretary, Gillian Keegan. (Getty)

“Most schools are doing a great job [teaching sex and relationship education],” a source told The Guardian. “However, there have been many concerning reports, and these limits are based on advice from an expert panel.”

The plans have been widely criticised by politicians, activists, and experts as the “new Section 28” – a reference to the Thather-era legislation banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in classrooms in England and Wales from 1988 until 2003 (it was repealed in Scotland in 2000).

Greens MP Caroline Lucas accused the government of “politicising sex education,” which she said is “unforgivable, dangerous and reactionary.”

Speaking to PinkNews, the former Green Party leader said: “It would appear there are no depths to how low this Government will sink to stoke its reckless culture war.

“It is always age appropriate to teach children how to stay safe, kind and respectful. Rather than demonising information as ‘ideology’, it is Tory ministers themselves who need to get back in the classroom and learn better.”

Labour MP, Nadia Whittome, similarly criticised the decision, saying to PinkNews: “Sex and relationship education is vital for helping to keep children and young people safe and healthy. It is already taught in an age-appropriate way by schools.

“The Tories claims about what children are learning are designed to fuel hysteria and build support for Section 28 style policies – which is what this latest guidance seems to be harking back to.”

Labour MP Diane Abbott also chimed in, describing the proposed guidance as “stupid and wrong”, adding that sex education is a “key part” of children’s “necessary protection.”

Domestic and sexual violence not to be taught until year nine, sources claim

Current RSHE guidance, which schools must follow by law, makes it compulsory for primary school pupils to be educated on relationship dynamics.

This includes being taught about healthy, respectful relationships and families. Pupils also learn about physical health, parts of the body, boundaries online and offline, and puberty.

Same-sex relationships and different family models are also strongly recommended to be part of sex ed curriculum.

The revised guidelines go into much more detail about what can and cannot be said during sex education and will have an emphasis on the importance of families.

Discussions of sexual acts will not be permitted up until year nine, when students are aged 13-14, which will include subjects like contraception, abortion, and STIs.

Sexual and domestic violence is also not to be taught until year nine, according to the guidance.

RSHE guidelines were brought into review in March 2023 after more than 50 conservative MPs wrote to Rishi Sunak claiming that children were being exposed to “inappropriate content” and “radical and unevidenced ideologies about sex and gender.”