Schools ‘urgently’ need guidance on gender ‘minefield’, says Ofsted chief

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said there is a ‘very considerable’ burden on headteachers trying to navigate ‘deeply contested issues’.

Amy Gibbons
Tuesday 22 November 2022 13:20 GMT
Amanda Spielman (Tom Wilkinson/PA)
Amanda Spielman (Tom Wilkinson/PA)

Schools “urgently” need guidance from the Government to help them handle the “minefield” of the gender debate, Ofsted’s chief has said.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said there is a “very considerable” burden on headteachers trying to navigate “deeply contested issues”, given the “evolution in the interpretation” of the protected characteristics in equality law.

There is currently “very limited guidance” available to schools on gender matters, she said, with new advice from the Department for Education expected “some time around the end of the year”.

Ms Spielman said she had not yet seen a draft of this document, but stressed it is “very important” for schools to understand that the “fundamental principles” of safeguarding continue to apply regardless of whether a child is exploring their gender identity.

Appearing before the Commons Education Committee, she said the guidance to “help schools navigate their way through this minefield” is “clearly urgently needed” as the issues have got “way more complicated” over the last few years.

“It is really important that parents understand what their child’s concerns are – if their child is having serious questions or doubts or explorations of gender identity, to keep parents in the dark about that is obviously a safeguarding risk,” she said.

“I think it’s very important for all schools to understand that whether or not a child is exploring gender identities, the fundamental principles of safeguarding continue to apply and biological sex continues to be relevant.”

Ms Spielman also said teachers must be “expert guides through disputed territory” when dealing with general matters of political sensitivity.

“Schools are places where children from all kinds of background, all families, have to be,” she said.

“No parent wants to send their child to school thinking that they are going to be pushed into one set of political views or another.

“So teachers really have to be expert guides through disputed territory.”

She said the Department for Education (DfE) had published some “really good guidance” on political impartiality, and Ofsted inspectors had been given training on recognising the issues when they arise.

But she said there is nothing in existing DfE material on relationships and sex education to advise schools of the “furthest they should go”.

“I have advised at least one secretary of state and possibly more that it would extremely helpful if the guidance could be iterated to place some limits on what schools should reasonably teach as well,” she said.

On the subject of “difficult and contested areas”, she said it would be “worrying” for any school to “withhold” teaching material from parents.

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