Education secretary grilled over ban on gender identity discussion in schools

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has been asked to provide evidence that new sex education guidance is needed after the politician claimed she has seen school materials showing there are “72 genders”. 

The UK’s education secretary was grilled on BBC Breakfast on Thursday morning (16 May) after it was announced that sex education will be banned for children under the age of nine, while gender identity discussion will be off limits for all students. 

Guidelines on relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) were reviewed in March 2023 after more than 50 conservative MPs wrote to PM Rishi Sunak claiming children were being exposed to “inappropriate content” and “radical and unevidenced ideologies about sex and gender”. 

Keegan was pressed on this claim by the BBC’s Charlie Stayt on Thursday, being asked for the “evidence” that there has been “inappropriate teaching” in schools. 

“The evidence is things like choosing lots of different genders and identities and saying which ones of these are gender identities,” the Conservative MP for Chichester, in West Sussex, replied. “It can be a spectrum, it’s fluid, you can have different genders on different days, or there’s 72 of them, that kind of thing… we’ve received evidence to say that they’ve been taught in classrooms.

An edited image of Gillian Keegan on top of a trans concrete wall.
Gillian Keegan. (Getty/Canva)

“What we’ve done here, and it’s an important part of the guidance, is to say ‘that is a contested view, that should not be taught in our schools, biological sex is the basis of relationship, sex and health education, not these contested views’.”

Asked separately how widespread the issue is by Emma Barnett on the Today programme on Radio 4, Keegan said: “I don’t think it’s widespread, I don’t know… we haven’t done a survey, we’ve listened to reports and concerns.”

While no official changes to RSHE have been made, the new guidance states that discussions of sexual acts – and on issues such as contraception, abortion and sexually transmitted infections – will not be permitted until year nine, when students are aged 13 or 14.

Sexual and domestic violence is also not to be taught until year nine.

The plans have been widely criticised, with several politicians and experts drawing parallels to Section 28, the Thatcher-era legislation banning the “promotion” of homosexuality in classrooms in England and Wales, which was in place from 1988 until 2003. 

Labour MP Nadia Whittome told PinkNews: “Sex and relationship education is vital for helping 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.”