Many schools ‘routinely disregard’ safeguarding principles on gender identity

Some secondary schools are not informing parents as soon as a child questions their gender, a report by Policy Exchange suggests.

Eleanor Busby
Thursday 30 March 2023 00:01 BST
Around 28% of secondary schools are not maintaining single-sex toilets, the report says (PA)
Around 28% of secondary schools are not maintaining single-sex toilets, the report says (PA)

A number of secondary schools are not informing parents as soon as a child questions their gender identity, a report suggests.

Safeguarding principles are being “routinely disregarded in many secondary schools” when it comes to gender identity, according to a paper by centre-right think tank Policy Exchange.

Some schools suggested that informing parents when their child questioned their gender identity, or expressed a wish to change gender, would breach the child’s confidentiality, the report says.

The research by Policy Exchange, which sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to more than 300 secondary schools in England, suggests that some schools do not maintain single-sex toilets or changing rooms.

It says: “While many schools believe they are acting in a child’s best interests, there is no circumstance in which safeguarding norms should be compromised. Nonetheless, this is happening across the country.”

Safeguarding should always be a prime concern for schools and it is deeply concerning that this Policy Exchange report suggests that this is being undermined in some cases

Robin Walker, chairman of the Commons Education Committee

The analysis from the think tank comes as MPs and education leaders have called on the Government to publish safeguarding guidance to schools in relation to transgender issues as soon as possible.

The paper, which makes a series of recommendations, says schools should automatically inform parents when a child questions their gender unless there is a compelling reason for them not to be informed.

In a foreword to the report, Labour MP Rosie Duffield said: “Policy Exchange exposes the reality that this ideology is widespread across secondary schools.

“This Government has failed children by allowing partisan beliefs to become entrenched within the education system. Meanwhile, the Opposition has failed to pull them up on it.”

She added: “The safeguarding of children is fundamental to a civilised society. Policy Exchange here demonstrates there to be a systemic failure in the school system, caused by an ill-considered embrace of gender ideology.”

FoI requests were submitted to 304 secondary schools in England in December last year, and 154 schools responded, either fully or in part, to questions asked by the think tank about gender policies.

The research suggests that only 28% of the secondary schools, who responded to the FoI, are reliably informing parents as soon as a child questions their gender.

According to the report, around 28% of secondary schools are not maintaining single-sex toilets and 19% are not maintaining single-sex changing rooms.

The Government has still not produced guidance for schools on supporting pupils who identify as trans or who are questioning their gender identity, despite this having been under discussion for several years

Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders

The report concludes: “Our research reveals there to be a safeguarding blind spot when it comes to the issue of sex and gender.

“Safeguarding principles are being routinely disregarded in many secondary schools, which are neglecting their safeguarding responsibilities and principles in favour of a set of contested beliefs, in ways that risk jeopardising child wellbeing and safety.

“In doing so, schools are compromising both the law and statutory safeguarding guidance.”

Conservative MP Robin Walker, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said: “Safeguarding should always be a prime concern for schools and it is deeply concerning that this Policy Exchange report suggests that this is being undermined in some cases.”

He added: “Parents need the reassurance that they will be properly informed and supported to safeguard the best interests of their children and should never have to worry about contested ideology being imposed or medical decisions being taken without their knowledge.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Schools work very hard to be sensitive to the needs of pupils questioning their gender identity, and all their pupils, by providing a supportive and caring environment, and teaching children sensitively about respectful relationships in a diverse society through RSE lessons.

“Unfortunately, they are endeavouring to do this in the context of a public minefield of strongly held and opposing views, of which this report from a think tank is yet another example.

“Meanwhile, the Government has still not produced guidance for schools on supporting pupils who identify as trans or who are questioning their gender identity, despite this having been under discussion for several years.

“This is clearly needed so that schools are able to draw on an established set of guidelines rather than constantly being caught in the crossfire between opposing views and beliefs.”

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: “Our priority will always be the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. The Education Secretary is working closely with the minister for women and equalities to produce guidance for schools which we will be consulting on shortly.

“In the meantime, we are clear that schools should make sure they work with parents, pupils and public services to decide what is best for individual children.

“Parents have a right to view teaching materials and copyright law does not prevent a parent from viewing external resources on school premises.

“We have brought forward the review of the relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) statutory guidance, which will give us the opportunity to consider the evidence and provide clarity on what is appropriate to be taught in schools, alongside ensuring that schools know they must be transparent with parents.”

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