by Julie Maxwell
The belief that it is possible for someone with the body of a boy to be a girl, or vice versa, is not based on evidence but on feelings. It runs counter to our most basic biological knowledge. It wilfully sets aside obvious truths about the way God created us.
Yet this belief in gender identity has become widespread in some sections of our society, even while many people privately do not believe it they frequntly feel no choice but agree. In the process, vulnerable people, especially children, are trapped in a damaging way of thinking that considers feelings around gender to be more important than biology . In too many cases this leads to irreversible harm to their bodies and future relationships.
The concept of gender identity has made its way into popular culture, initially through social media platforms. It has particularly affected teenage girls who reinforced one another’s beliefs away from adult influence, sometimes actively discouraging each other from discussing their ‘trans identity’ with parents. From there, it has spread further, aided by well-funded activists working behind the scenes in government and the media.
Schools, which after all do teach Biology, should have been places where these beliefs could be calmly examined in the light of reason and evidence. Schools are used to making decisions that are in the child’s best interests, even when it’s not what the child wants. They have well-established safeguarding procedures that forbid teachers from promising confidentiality to a child, require working in partnership with parents, and being alert to risks of harm. That should have made them places safe from this ideology. Yet it seems education (together with the NHS) is a sector that has been captured more than most, and many schools have abandoned these important principles once a child declares they are transgender. In some cases, schools have become the very places where gender confusion is promoted the most and often supported by medical professionals
Back in 2017, work started on drafting guidance under the influence of actvist groups like Mermaids. It would have further established this damaging approach in more schools. But at the time, opposition to trans ideology was already growing, and when a draft of the guidance was leaked online, enough controversy was generated to stop it being published. Political changes brought a new approach. Feminists, parents’ groups and other campaigners, including Christians, pushed for guidance that would improve the situation in schools. After her election in 2019, Christian MP Miriam Cates spoke out boldly. Over time, other MPs have felt able to join their voices to hers. After much internal debate and many delays, a draft of new guidance was released for consultation on Tuesday. It is a significant step in the right direction.
Though often referred to as ‘trans guidance’, it helpfully does not refer to ‘transgender children’: it is guidance for schools and colleges on how they should respond to requests from ‘gender questioning children’. It makes clear that there is no general legal duty for schools to support social transition. Instead, schools should carefully weigh requests from pupils who want to be treated as if they are of the opposite sex. It encourages schools to consider carefully each specific request for change in the way the school provides for them, rather than labelling the child as ‘transgender’ and jumping to affirming them.
It sets out a process for schools to follow in considering these requests. First of all, schools should pause to find out whether the request is sustained and properly thought through. They should make parents aware and give great weight to their views in deciding how to proceed. The guidance reminds schools that what is in the best interests of the child may not be the same as what they want. A school should consider what influences may have caused the child to make this request, as well as the long-term impact of its decision on the child. It should also take into account the impact of its action on other pupils, recognising they may hold protected religious or other beliefs that may conflict with the school’s decision, but are legitimate views that must be respected.
The guidance then sets out some things schools can and can’t agree to. The school must record the sex and legal name of the child. It should not agree to use different pronouns for primary-age pupils, and only on rare occasions for secondary-age pupils, having exhausted all other possibilities. Even then, schools should not compel people to use these pronouns and should ensure all relevant staff know the child’s actual sex. Schools must provide separate toilets for boys and girls from the age of 8 and must not allow boys to enter girls’ toilets or vice versa. They must not allow a child of 11 or over to change or wash in front of a child of the opposite sex, or subject a child to a member of the opposite sex changing or washing in front of them. In residential accommodation, no child should be allowed to share a room with a child of the opposite sex. Schools must ensure sport is fair and offers equal opportunities to boys and girls, which the guidance says is unlikely to be possible if separate sports for girls are not provided. Where the physical differences between the sexes threaten the safety of children in sport, there must be clear rules on sex segregation, with no exceptions.
This is draft guidance, subject to a public consultation (see bit.ly/GQConsult). It will be helpful for as many people as possible to respond: for each good aspect of the guidance, saying it must not be diluted, and where the wording is weaker, arguing it should be strengthened. Influential activist groups will be pushing in the opposite direction and their responses need to be countered.
While the guidance is not statutory, it has been written with extensive input from government lawyers to explain how schools can comply with the law. So while ignoring the guidance may not in itself be a breach of the law, if schools don’t follow it they are at greater risk of breaching the law. The guidance says the Department for Education expects schools to follow it. The BBC’s claim that it ‘is not compulsory’ is questionable. It is certainly a more reliable guide to what the law requires than many schools’ transgender policies. These have often been based on documents drawn up by activist groups, so it may be advisable for schools to follow this guidance now, even in its draft form.
While many schools will welcome the guidance, some were saying they would ignore it even before it was published. A major challenge ahead, therefore, will be enforcing it. The main accountability mechanism for schools is through Ofsted inspections. In the past, Ofsted has helped promote transgender ideology, and it has not upheld laws on political impartiality (which apply to teaching on gender), the legal requirement to provide separate toilet facilities, or the teaching of RE and daily collective worship. Its excuse has been that it exists to evaluate the quality of education, not the compliance of schools with the law. However, it is clear this approach is not working. If Ofsted’s excuse is valid, then perhaps the remit of Ofsted needs changing. What has happened in our schools is a scandal and the government needs to ensure mechanisms are in place to reverse it and prevent it ever happening again.
Sadly, the reality may be that it will fall to individual parents, teachers and school governors to draw schools’ attention to the new guidance and ensure it is not ignored. This is something Christians can do, and can support one another in. It is also important to be mindful of those schools and individuals for whom following this guidance would involve significant changes and as a result could cause distress to already vulnerable children, it is important as Christians that we consider how best to support these children and their families.
Nevertheless, in the current situation, the draft guidance is a hugely encouraging read. We can pray that the Lord will use this guidance to protect children from harm and allow them to access the support and help that they need. We also pray that the government will take more action in the coming months to strengthen this guidance further and ensure schools follow it once it is finalised.
Dr Julie Maxwell
 E.g. Keeping children safe in education 2023: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges, Department for Education, paragraph 472, see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/64f0a68ea78c5f000dc6f3b2/Keeping_children_safe_in_education_2023.pdf
 E.g. Working Together to Safeguard Children December 2023: A guide to multi-agency working to help, protect and promote the welfare of children, Department for Education, paragraph 18, see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/65803fe31c0c2a000d18cf40/Working_together_to_safeguard_children_2023_-_statutory_guidance.pdf