Single sex schools ‘failing in their legal duties to accommodate transgender pupils’

Transgender pupils report being refused admission by schools or made to feel ‘anxious’ and ‘unsupported’ in the classroom

Miles Dilworth
Sunday 09 April 2017 12:06 BST
Campaigners said problems often arose from a lack of knowledge around the law and gender reassignment
Campaigners said problems often arose from a lack of knowledge around the law and gender reassignment (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Single-sex schools are failing in their legal duties to accommodate transgender pupils, according to leading charities that specialise in supporting transgender children.

Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids UK, told The Independent a growing number of same-sex schools are refusing to admit transgender pupils, despite this being discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010.

Campaigners are now calling for greater education on trans issues both as part of teacher training and the national curriculum.

“Some schools are discriminating against a cohort of society that has already received a great deal of prejudice,” said Ms Green.

“Parents are telling us that schools are refusing to allow their pupils to come into schools or access facilities.

“Recently we worked with a girl who had transitioned from male to female and had wanted to get into an all girls’ school, but was refused admission because they said she was biologically male,” she added.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for a school to discriminate against a pupil, or a potential pupil, because of a “protected characteristic” such as gender reassignment.

The Act does not require someone to undergo medical treatment, one only has to “propose to undergo” gender reassignment, which could potentially include social transitioning, such as being called by another name.

Ms Green said that although a lot of schools were devoting significant time to understanding gender diversity with encouraging results, others were struggling to keep pace with the increasing number of out transgender pupils.

“We often get schools that don’t have any knowledge of what they should be doing,” she said.

“It’s down to the school’s leadership. You can have schools that are a mile down the road from one another that are at opposite ends of the scale. One is amazing and the other is awful.”

One transgender pupil who attended an all girls’ school told The Independent that a lack of awareness of trans issues within schools had negatively affected his own experience:

“I knew something was not quite right from the age of about 14, but I didn’t realise I had gender dysphoria until I was 16,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.

“I ignored it because it was scary and confusing. It took longer to realise what was wrong because I was not aware of it even as a possibility.

“I can remember once in class, aged 15 or so, we watched a film about a little boy who thought he was a girl, but that was coincidental. I can’t remember if there was any subsequent discussion, it just made me extremely anxious,” he added.

Fay Weldon says trans people become women 'for the fashion or the clothes'

Labour MP and member of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Tracy Brabin, admitted the picture remained mixed.

One school, she said, had been “exemplary”, changing names on registers and accommodating changes in bathroom usage and games lessons.

“Sadly that is not true of all schools. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) found that 91 per cent of trans boys and 66 per cent of trans girls experience bullying and harassment. The last thing these young people need is their school – a place of safety – taking an unsupportive position,” said Ms Brabin.

Ms Brabin said that problems often arose from a lack of knowledge around the law and gender reassignment. She called on schools to “take the initiative to inform and educate”, adding that the ECHR “must provide greater clarity” on the law.

Campaigners are calling for the Government to be firmer in ensuring both schools and their pupils are educated on LGBT and trans issues.

Dr Jay Stewart, CEO of Gendered Intelligence, a charity that works with young trans people, told The Independent that sex education was “too heteronormative” and that LGBT and trans issues were still “seriously underrepresented” on the curriculum.

Last month, the Government tabled amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, which will make relationships and sex education mandatory in all secondary schools in England, but are yet to decide on how LGBT and trans issues will fit into curriculum requirements.

Earlier this week Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT and trans rights group, published its five-year plan to achieve equality for trans people.

Dominic Arnall, Head of Projects and Programmes at Stonewall, said: “If a child transitions while attending a single-sex school, they should be able to decide whether to remain at their current school or transfer elsewhere and their decision should receive the full support of the teaching staff involved.”

In February St Paul’s Girls’ School in London introduced a “gender identity protocol”, allowing pupils to use boys’ names and wear boys’ clothes should they wish to, but the school maintained that it was “only able to educate students who are legally and physically female.”

The concerns raised by activists echo those made by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers at a conference last April, which declared that single-sex schools were “ill-prepared” to accommodate transgender pupils and voted to lobby for better training on the issue for school staff.

An Ofsted report in 2013 found 40 per cent of schools required improvement or were deemed “inadequate” in their provision of sex and relationship education.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the only NHS centre for children and adolescents with gender-identity issues in England and Wales, received 1,419 referrals in 2015-16, up from 468 just two years previously.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in