- Ofsted chief said there are ‘safeguarding risks’ in schools surrounding gender
- Amanda Spielman said parents should be told if child is questioning their gender
- She said there is currently ‘very little guidance’ available to schools on the issue
The Ofsted chief has said that it is a ‘safeguarding risk’ for schools to keep parents in the dark if their child is questioning their gender and warned that urgent guidance is needed for teachers on transgender issues.
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.
Guidance on confidentiality from LGBT+ charity Stonewall states that a schoolchild’s ‘trans status’ is private, and schools should not share that information with parents unless there is a safeguarding issue.
‘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,’ Ms Spielman 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.’
Guidance from Stonewall states that someone’s ‘trans status’ is private regardless of age.
‘Schools and colleges should not disclose information – such as details about a transition – that could reveal somebody’s trans status to others, including parents or carers, staff, and anyone outside the school, college or setting,’ its website reads.
‘You may only share this information where there is a safeguarding risk, or if a child or young person has given their permission for specific details to be shared.
‘For example, a child or young person may wish to be known by a different name and pronoun and request for staff and peers to be told.’
The LGBTQ+ charity advises that respecting a child’s confidentiality may require staff to use their legal name when contacting parents or carers — even if a different one is used in the classroom.
A spokesperson for Stonewall told MailOnline: ‘At the heart of all safeguarding practices must be the welfare of the child, to ensure that they are able to have free and happy lives as themselves, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
‘Statutory guidance by the Department for Education makes clear that being LGBTQ+, however, is not a safeguarding issue and it is essential that young people are able to talk to staff confidentiality if they are LGBTQ+ or unsure of their orientation or gender identity.
‘Where a child is at risk of harm, staff have an obligation to report a safeguarding concern.
‘However simply questioning your gender identity is not a safeguarding concern and it is a personal matter for young people. Revealing a young person’s gender identity, or “outing” someone when they do not consent, can have enormously damaging consequences and that is why Stonewall’s guidance is in line with guidance from the Department for Education, The Scottish Government, NSCPCC and other children’s charities.’
Last year an investigation by The Mail on Sunday found three mothers discovered schools had allowed their daughters to be called by boys’ names without first being consulted.
The mothers, who each spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their children, say that their daughters, who are all under the age of 16, were given boys’ names by teachers after saying that they identified as male.
The ‘new’ names were used in the classroom, and on pupil registers and official communications from school authorities.
One claimed to have been told by her daughter’s secondary school when she objected that she had ‘no say’ in the 13-year-old’s decision because it was the ‘child’s right’ to decide their gender.
Describing the experience three years ago, the woman, who is in her 50s and from Scotland, said: ‘The school only phoned us to tell us it was happening and we had no say. They just said it’s the child’s right and you have to follow that.’
She said the school changed her daughter’s name and pronouns on the school’s internal IT records as well as using her new gender identity in letters sent home.
She says that her requests to reinstate the original name on school documents were initially ‘ignored’, adding: ‘It took me a year and three months to get the school to change her records back to her legal name, although they were still calling her by her preferred name.’
Another mother, who is in her 40s and from the South of England, received a call from her daughter’s teacher in October 2020.
‘Just to let you know I’ve had your daughter contact their tutor and they’ve identified as being male,’ the teacher told her. ‘So they’ve asked for a new name and pronouns and I just thought I’d let you know that’s going ahead.’
The woman said her 13-year-old daughter had told her: ‘I’ll get bullied for being a girl but I won’t get bullied for being trans.’
The woman requested a meeting with the school to get the name change reversed but even after doing so, she says two teachers insisted on treating her daughter as a boy. It continued until the mother called them personally to object.
A third mother, aged 42, from London, learned that her daughter was being referred to by a male name when a letter addressed to the pupil arrived at her home in spring 2020.
‘We started receiving correspondence from the school about this other person who was being referred to as our son,’ she recalled. ‘On the request of someone who had just turned 14, they did this.’
Amanda Jones, a barrister specialising in gender law, said in response to the findings: ‘Schools behaving in this way are acting outside their powers. Parental responsibility can be over-ruled, but by court order, not school diktat.’
Stephanie Davies-Arai, who runs Transgender Trend, a campaign group alarmed by the sharp rise in the number of young people presenting as the opposite sex, said at the time: ‘We’ve definitely seen an increase in parents reporting these stories. The schools are simply going along with what the child wants and not telling the parents.
‘It’s partly because they are being advised by transgender school toolkits. They are also scared of accusations of transphobia.’
Speaking today, 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.
Earlier this year, a lack of ‘gender identity’ teaching has been cited among the reasons for several primary schools’ low grades by Ofsted inspectors.
Pre-Covid inspections of two primary schools graded as ‘requires improvement’ in 2019 and 2020 described how the schools had failed to teach pupils about ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender diversity’.
Last year, Stonewall — which encourages teaching methods around gender self-identification — raised concerns with Ofsted that inspectors were not talking about trans issues in the classroom.
The education watchdog has since cut ties with the charity’s diversity training programme, but it spent £5,000 on membership fees in 2019 and 2020.
In October, it was announced that doctors will no longer encourage gender-curious children to use the pronouns of their preferred identity.
New NHS draft guidelines will also discourage the act of children dressing in clothes of the opposite sex.
Last month health chiefs said that ‘social transitioning’ should be no longer be viewed as a ‘neutral act’ due to the significant effects it may have on a child’s psychology.
Social transitioning refers to a person being treated as the gender different to their biological sex but without medical interventions like controversial puberty blockers or hormones.
This can see people change their name, their pronouns and dress in clothes usually associated with their opposite sex.
Their family, friends and school are encouraged to be supportive of this process.
At the extreme end of the scale, social transitioning can see people controversially use the bathrooms or changing facilities of their believed gender identity.
NHS England’s draft approach calls on clinicians to recognise most cases of ‘gender incongruence’ in children are just a phase.
‘The clinical approach in regard to pre-pubertal children will reflect evidence that in most cases gender incongruence does not persist into adolescence,’ it reads.
Stella O’Malley, psychotherapist and director of campaign group Genspect, said last month that medics needed to take heed of warnings over social transitioning.
‘Professionals working with children need to reflect on that and make sure they aren’t inadvertently causing harm by providing short term relief that leads to long term distress,’ she said.
‘At Genspect we believe that children should be free to wear whatever clothes they want, boys should be free to run around waving fairy wands in princess dresses and girls should be free to act however they wish, yet we don’t think changing pronouns helps anyone- it creates more problems than it resolves.’
The NHS England draft guidelines are part of the health service’s plan to close the highly-controversial Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock clinic, the country’s only gender identity service for children.
GIDS is scheduled to shut its doors in the spring after a review ruled that the service was unsafe.
It found that other mental health issues were ‘overshadowed’ in favour of gender identity treatment, prompting accusations that staff rushed children onto powerful drugs.
As part of its response NHS England said GIDS would be replaced with two services one in London and one in the North West.
The new London service will be run by a partnership between Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
In the North West, the service will be a partnership between Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
After these initial two, a further six or seven similar services could be opened in other parts of the country.
Earlier this year the then Attorney General Suella Braverman cautioned schools against a ‘generic misunderstanding of legal duties’ in dealing with children who are gender questioning.
Ms Braverman said she wanted to ‘provide legal clarity to schools and parents’ and ‘free up schools to act in each and every child’s best interest’.
In a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank in London in August, she said: ‘The problem is that many schools and teachers believe incorrectly that they are under an absolute legal obligation to treat children who are gender questioning according to their preference, in all ways and in all respects, from preferred pronouns to use of facilities and competing in sports.
‘All this is sometimes taking place without informing parents or without taking into account the impact on other children. Anyone who questions such an approach is accused of transphobia. In my view this approach is not supported by the law.’
Ms Braverman said: ‘Yes, it is lawful for a single-sex school to refuse to admit a child of the opposite biological sex who identifies as transgender’, adding: ‘This can be a blanket policy to maintain the school as single sex.’
She added it ‘is lawful for a mixed school to refuse to allow a biologically and legally male child who identifies as a trans girl from using the girls’ toilets’.
She said: ‘Schools and teachers who socially transition a child without the knowledge or consent of parents or without medical advice increase their exposure to a negligence claim for breach of their duty of care to that child.’
It ‘can be lawful’, she said, for a school to ‘refuse to allow a biologically male child who identifies as a trans girl to wear a girls’ uniform’ and from ‘participating in girls’ single-sex sporting activities’.
She added that parents ‘have a right under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to request access to teaching materials used in their children’s state-funded schools … Parents do have a right to know what is being taught to their children’.
‘It is therefore wrong for schools to suggest that they have legal obligations which mean that they must address children by their preferred pronouns, names or admit them to opposite sex toilets, sports teams or dormitories,’ she said.
The then Attorney General said schools ‘should consider each request for social transition on its specific circumstances and individually, and any decision to accept and reinforce a child’s declared transgender status should only be taken after all safeguarding processes have been followed, medical advice obtained and a full risk assessment conducted, including taking into account the impact on other children.’
Speaking at the time in a question and answer session after her speech, Ms Braverman said: ‘Ultimately, this is a role for the Department for Education and they are … in the process of issuing detailed and practical guidance which will hopefully be a tool for schools and teachers and parents in how to navigate these issues.
‘That guidance must be applied, it must be clear and when we see instances where it’s not being applied or followed by schools then Ofsted must step in.’