Children’s commissioner calls for urgent clarity on schools’ trans policy after Sunak ‘U-turn’

Dame Rachel de Souza says teachers, families and pupils are “crying out for” guidance for schools

Tara Cobham
Thursday 14 September 2023 05:06 BST

Related: Leaked video appears to show Rishi Sunak mocking trans people

The Children’s Commissioner has called for urgent clarity on trans policies in schools after Rishi Sunak was said to be considering scrapping plans to ban children changing gender in the classroom.

Dame Rachel de Souza said teachers, families and pupils are “crying out for” guidance so there is a uniform approach across the country and called for it to be published as soon as possible.

It comes after the prime minister was last week reported to be considering ditching a proposal to bring in a new law to impose a social transitioning ban in schools over worries it would open up a new rift in the Tory party.

Dame Rachel said the long-awaited guidance must ensure there was fairness and consistency on how gender self-identification is handled across England.

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza has urged for urgent guidance on trans policies for schools

Draft guidance was previously reported to state that children should be allowed to socially transition – by, for example, choosing another pronoun – with their parents’ consent, but ministers later considered bringing in a new law to ban it.

However, recent reports suggested that such a bill will not be introduced in the King’s Speech, which sets out proposed legislation for the year ahead.

A government source told The Times that such a draconian move could be seen as a new Section 28 – the law brought in Margaret Thatcher to ban councils from promoting homosexuality. “It would leave us on the wrong side of history,” they said.

Downing Street said last week that “no decisions have been taken”, with Mr Sunak’s spokesman saying that “more information is needed about the long-term implications of a child acting as though they are the opposite sex”.

The spokesman added: “And we need to take care to understand how such action affects other children in the school or college. That’s why we’re taking this additional time.”

They declined to put a timeline on when the guidance will be published, but Dame Rachel urged them to be produced “as soon as possible”.

She said: “I think headteachers, families and children are calling for it, crying out for it. They’re all talking to me about the need for this clarity, so I think we need to see it as soon as possible.”

She said that while, from her past experience as a headteacher, schools always try to do their “pastoral best”, there is a need for clear guidance on what the standard approach should be.

The prime minister was said to be considering scrapping plans to use legislation to ban children from changing gender at schools

Education unions have described delays to the guidance as frustrating and said they leave schools in a difficult position.

Dame Rachel said: “First we need to take real care with safeguarding – that has to come first. Consistency is so important, and also clarity.

“There are 23,000 schools. We can’t have everyone doing different things, it’s got to be fair for all children.

“As children’s commissioner, that’s the perspective that I come from. So I absolutely need that guidance out to children, families and schools as soon as possible, for clarity, for fairness and for good safeguarding.”

Asked what she feels the guidance should contain, she said: “As a headteacher of many years, (I’ve been) in schools for 32 years, I’ve worked with children and families with a number of cases around the trans issue, and what you try to do is your pastoral best and your care for any individual child, but I think now, where the situation is, we need absolute clear guidance and that’s what I want to see.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has previously said schools “should always involve parents in decisions relating to their child, and should not agree to any changes that they are not absolutely confident are in the best interests of that child and their peers”.

She added: “They should prioritise safeguarding by meeting their existing legal duties to protect single-sex spaces and maintain safety and fairness in single-sex sport.”

The issue has become more of a focal point since the publication of a report in March by the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, which suggested a number of secondary schools are not informing parents as soon as a child questions their gender identity.

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