School trans row becoming a ‘new culture war frontier’ shadow education secretary warns

Bridget Phillipson says issue has become ‘highly politicised’ as she reveals her family’s circumstances meant that as a child she was forced to go to bed ‘fully clothed’ to keep warm in winter

Kate Devlin
Friday 28 July 2023 13:27 BST
Tory minister claims private school costs same as family holiday

The issue of pupils socially transitioning gender at school has become “highly politicised” and about “disputes between government ministers” instead of young people’s wellbeing, the woman on course to be the next education secretary has said.

Labour’s Bridget Phillipson cautioned that at the heart of the debate was “children who may well be experiencing distress, who want to be supported”.

The shadow education secretary said that if Labour was in government parents would be involved “in most cases” and guidance to schools would “depend on the age and maturity of the child.”

In an interview with the Times, Ms Phillipson said: “For me, the starting point has to be young people’s wellbeing and I think we’re losing sight of that. It is becoming all about disputes between government ministers, a highly politicised, headline-grabbing issue, when at the heart of this, you’re talking about children who may well be experiencing distress, who want to be supported.”

On what the guidance would be if Labour were in power, she said: ““I think it’s very hard to give a blanket answer. In most cases, parents will be involved in these discussions — they will know what their child is feeling and they will want to support their child. I think sometimes we lose sight of that and it becomes a kind of new culture war frontier.”

Her comments come just weeks after the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the Independent “we have a government, and a prime minister, who see an opportunity to use LGBT+ equality as a ‘wedge issue’ in an ugly culture war,” comments which prompted a furious row.

Ms Phillipson also reveals in the interview that she was ostracised as a child as her family were so poor, saying “we had no upstairs heating; the windows were rotten. I would go to bed in the winter fully clothed”.

Earlier this month the education secretary Gillian Keegan said schools should handle trans issues "with extreme caution”, as she admitted government guidance would not be published before the end of term.

It had been due to be released in time to be implemented from the start of the new school year in September.

But reports suggest Victoria Prentis, the attorney-general, intervened to warn draft plans were unlawful and would require legislation.

At the time Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said

the delay was “disappointing" and suggested it was "seemingly due to internal government disputes".

In the interview Ms Phillipson also reveals her house was repeatedly burgled when she was a child and when her mum fought back a man came to the house with a baseball bat and their phone lines were cut, ending up “with a police box in the house”.

She also rejects the idea Labour plans for taxes on private schools are a tax on aspiration and says she wants to state schools as attractive as private ones. “I want parents to think that children will get all of that amazing experience without having to even consider a private school.”

She also backs Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the recent controversy over the two child benefit cap, saying “we as a party just can’t make those kinds of detailed, precise commitments right now.”

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