Forthcoming Department of Education guidance for schools goes beyond targeting trans kids

Two children in school uniform playing outdoors. This is in relation to trans kids and the DoE and gender
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The Times has reported that the Department of Education’s (DoE) new guidance on transgender students will be published “within weeks”. The guidance will state that schools must out trans pupils to their parents. Beyond this, it will also state that a child’s name and pronouns can’t be used in school without their parents’ permission.

The Canary has already stated that both main party leaders appear to favour this guidance. We also pointed out that this is potentially dangerous for vulnerable trans children, on top of being pointlessly cruel. Consider the following example:

A trans child thinks that they will be beaten or thrown out of their home for coming out. However, they think their school will be more accepting. They choose to use a different name at school. Then, their school is compelled to out the child to their parents – that is if Policy Exchange, Starmer, and Sunak get their way.

This is a clear safeguarding risk. What’s more, it should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of care for the children they’re speaking of. But apparently this goes out the window where trans kids are concerned.

However, the guidelines now reported by the Times are actively worse than we were expecting.

The guidelines

We already knew that the new ruleset was going to be harmful towards trans kids. However, it appears that they will go far beyond just transness in scope. The Times reported that:

It will be clear that certain triggers, such as a child changing their name, must involve parents and require their consent before the school can affirm their new identity. Changes to uniform, such as a boy who begins wearing a skirt, are considered less obvious triggers but will nonetheless be highlighted in a similar way.
First things first. A trans child should be free to explore their gender identity. They shouldn’t have to fear reprisals from parents, teachers, or a system which hates them. This should be a given, though Lord knows that’s no longer the case.
However, one of the triggers mentioned was “a boy who begins wearing a skirt”. Now, a boy wearing a skirt – provided he hasn’t said anything to the contrary – is not a trans kid. He is a kid wearing a skirt. In fact, this is an example of gender non-conformity at it’s most basic. And now, the DoE – and the government behind it – believe that this is something that they should stick their oar into.

So how did we get here?

The justification behind this overreach is apparently the DoE’s reading of the Cass Report. The Times reported that the DoE’s guidelines draw on:

the findings and recommendations of Hilary Cass, the paediatrician who was tasked by the NHS with reviewing gender identity services for children and young people.

Read on...

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There’s an important bit in there. Cass was tasked with reviewing care for trans kids in a medical context, not schools. Now, her work is being used to control gender nonconformity – even beyond trans contexts, or healthcare contexts – by a government that has a clear transphobic bent.

An anonymous source told the Times that:

Cass is really clear that social transition, so even wearing a skirt to school, using a different name, all of those things, are consequential; they are not a neutral thing to do,” a source said. “As someone responsible for safeguarding you have a duty to tell the parents.

So, a conflation is taking place here. Social transition includes changing clothes to those traditionally belonging to the ‘opposite gender’. But then, the DoE takes any act of gender non-conformist dress – our ‘boy in a skirt’ – as an act of social transition, and therefore brought under scrutiny.

Gender conservatism

This is, of course, a deeply regressive form of gender conservativism. Boys wear boys clothes, girls wear girls clothes. The (interim) Cass Report stated that “social transition is not a neutral act” – which has been immediately seized upon by transphobes to be synonymous with ‘harmful’. In turn, this has provided a perfect excuse for bigots to apply its deeply ambivalent findings wildly, and far beyond their original scope.

We have reached a point where basic acts of gender-nonconformity can be monstered, provided that this can be hidden behind the excuse of targeting trans kids. The reasoning is simple. To the bigot – ‘gender critical, just voicing concerns’ and ‘raging transphobe’ alike – a trans individual is just a person playing dress-up. With that in mind, any non-conformist dress becomes a valid target.

This current crackdown was never going to stop at trans people – they’re just an easy wedge.

Featured image via Pexels/k Edu Mentrors, licensed under Creative Commons, resized to 770*403

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  • Show Comments
    1. Alex, I’m confused after reading this article! Whilst there will always be exceptions to every rule, it seems a bit topsy turvy to me that a gender non-conformist child eg ‘a boy in a skirt’ would be hidden to his family but known to his school. I find it very difficult to believe that a mother (or father) would be unaware that their child is changing clothes somewhere between leaving home and getting to school for one thing – where do they get the clothes from and why wouldn’t they want to wear the same clothes at home also, thereby ‘outing themselves’ if only in the express desire to dress alternatively? I appreciate that, particularly as teenagers, we all have issues with our parents, but doesn’t gender non-conformity begin to at least manifest itself at a much younger age than teens, in most cases? I was a little boy who was described as ‘effeminate’ (and seriously bullied long before the age of 10 for it) because I played with ‘girls’ toys’ and didn’t conform to old-fashioned notions of masculinity (I’m talking about the toxic, prehistoric 1970s here!). However, my family were aware of these facts. I find it almost impossible to understand how a parent would be unaware of these fundamental aspects of their child’s identity, whether they approved or not, which is a secondary, though no less relevant, matter, of course. I’m not arguing that a young person’s school should, by law, require parental consent to use alternative pronouns etc, I’m more concerned about the ignorance of parents to a child’s gender non-conformity or trans identity. If parents are disapproving or worse, then this is a serious issue in itself for me, as it suggests the potential for abuse which should not just be dismissed from the argument. If anything is likely to mess up a developing mind, it is being forced into secret identity, especially from one’s family, who arguably should be, and usually are, the first to recognise it. I have no idea on the stats for acceptance/ rejection scenarios in families as regards gender non-conformity and trans ID. I think we need to research the situation within families more before commenting on, never mind legislating on, who should be involved or not involved in issues relating to a child’s or young person’s identity. I just find it difficult accepting that a child’s true identity is known to a school but not their parents.

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