14-month ‘wall of silence’ on trans teaching puts pupils, teachers and governors at risk
Primary school pupils, staff and governors at a Gateshead school are being left isolated and vulnerable by the Department for Education (DfE) more than a year after it was called on to stand behind its own guidance on teaching contested political issues like transgenderism.
A parent governor wrote to the Department in July 2022 to complain that the school’s trans-affirming Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) policy – drafted in early 2021 – breached education law and her concerns had been ignored by the school.
Having taken over a year to respond, the DfE replied on 14 September only to say that it could not fully consider her complaint until it had finished revising transgender guidance for schools.
Guidance has been repeatedly delayed while the Government seeks legal advice to determine whether legislative change is required. A review of statutory guidance on RSE is also underway.
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director Ciarán Kelly branded the response “an unacceptable fobbing off”.
“The DfE do not need to wait for new guidance. The law is already perfectly clear that a Governing Body must forbid the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school.
“Furthermore, there is nothing in the law that requires schools to affirm children in their gender confusion. In fact, this risks causing long-term harm.
“This is an urgent safeguarding issue. For over two years now, pupils at the Gateshead school have been put at risk by being encouraged to question the reality of their biological sex. Staff and the governors themselves are vulnerable to legal action. And yet this troubling policy remains in place. For how much longer?
“Every week we read another story of a child transitioning, often egged on by schools who believe that is what they have to do. Pupils and teachers alike feel under pressure to use false pronouns or be accused of ‘transphobia’ and ‘misgendering’. Much of the time parents are ignored or excluded from conversations despite such practices impacting all pupils, not just the ones experiencing gender confusion.
“Yes, guidance is urgently needed, but schools also need to be told, ‘This is what the law says now: Do not teach contested ideologies as fact.’”
The parent governor, known as Susan, was dismissed by her school’s Governing Body in June 2022 for raising concerns with the trans-affirming sex ed policy at her children’s primary school.
Following a legal case backed by The Christian Institute, the Gateshead mum was reinstated following an order made by the High Court in June 2023.
‘Susan’ (not her real name), was granted anonymity by the Court in order to protect her children. She reached a legal settlement with the school after being kicked off its Governing Body for pointing out legal errors in its Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) policy.
School lesson plans, challenged by Susan included activities to:-
- encourage children to question their own gender identity;
- talk about any concerns pupils may have with outside groups – but failed to mention parents;
- use the discredited ‘Genderbread Person’ graphic, teaching children that ‘gender identity’, ‘gender expression’ and biological sex can all be different and exist anywhere on scale from 0-100; and claims that being a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ is determined by personality, hobbies and clothes – not biology.
Her concerns were dismissed by the Governing Body which then removed her in June 2022, triggering a five-year ban on serving as a governor in any school in England. In keeping with the school’s complaints process, she subsequently escalated her complaint to the DfE.
Fourteen months later, in a letter dated 14 September 2023, the DfE told Susan:
“Those aspects of your complaint that relate to the Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (RSHE) cannot be considered until the department has clarified the guidance for schools on gender identity matters.
“We acknowledge the genuine concerns about what children are being taught in regard to gender identity, and how schools are supporting pupils who identify as transgender, alongside all pupils in a school. This is why we are currently working to produce guidance to help schools deal with transgender issues and to support the teaching of this subject.
“You may be aware that, following reports of inappropriate materials being used to teach relationships and sex education, the Education Secretary has brought forward an urgent review of the RSHE curriculum, which will be informed by an independent panel, who will advise her on introducing age ranges for certain subject. The department is planning to consult on an amended draft of the guidance in the autumn.
“We are engaging with a range of key stakeholders to develop this guidance, including the Department of Health and Social Care and NHSE. We are also engaging with colleagues supporting Dr Hilary Cass’ independent review of gender identity services, so that our guidance is aligned with policy across government to ensure children and young people get the best possible support.
“This area of work is complex and sensitive, and we have concluded that it would not be appropriate to provide a full response to your complaint in relation to teaching about gender identity until the consultation outcome has been considered and the guidance has been published, as this would risk pre-empting the outcome of the stakeholder engagement and consultation process.”
In her review of gender services, Dr Cass asserted that social transition in young children is not a “neutral act”, and that it should only be considered where “any associated needs and risks have been addressed”.
Susan said: “The DfE isn’t just failing me, it’s failing children, parents and staff.
“Children presenting as transgender raise huge health, social, practical and moral issues for teachers and fellow pupils alike. Staff and governors have little, or no training in how to respond.
“It’s time for Ministers to consider the life-long damage that might be done to a child with the unwitting encouragement of their school.
“Ministers also need to consider the impact this is having on school cohesion. These policies don’t just harm trans children, they threaten the safety and wellbeing of all students.”
In March, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised guidance for schools in England would be issued for the summer term. In July, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told the Commons that it would be delayed, subsequently informing MPs this was for “further consultation” after Attorney General Victoria Prentis suggested that changes to equality law would be required. However, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has rejected claims that legislation is required to prevent children from ‘socially transitioning’ in school.
With England’s new school year only a few weeks old, the CI is backing Susan’s call for school governors to thoroughly review their own schools’ RSE policies.
Mr Kelly said: “Susan is a mum who cares deeply about the education and wellbeing of not only her own children, but all the children at the primary school where she once again serves as a school governor.
“Governors are ultimately responsible for the policies the school adopts, and have an important role in ensuring the school is compliant with the law and acting in the best interests of the families it serves. They are meant to be ‘critical friends’ of the school, asking the difficult questions.
“If they find their school is adopting the ‘Genderbread’ diagram, or other contested resources as part of an RSE policy, then they should challenge and ask their colleagues to take the time to review it properly, not just rubber stamp it.
“If necessary, governors should refuse to adopt the policy until it is amended. This is their right and their responsibility. This material is blatant political ideology and as such, under Education law, has no place in schools. Our expert team are happy to help any school governor – or indeed any teacher – seeking to take a stand in this area.”
Notes for editors:
- The Christian Institute is a non-denominational registered charity for the promotion of the Christian faith. It was founded in 1991 by Christian church leaders and professionals, and is one of the largest organisations representing evangelicals. It has over 60,000 supporters throughout the UK, including over 5,000 churches. Since 2006, the Institute has supported legal cases of national significance for religious liberty, including a UK Supreme Court win against the Scottish Government, and the famous victory for Ashers Baking Co.
- In 2022, the Institute helped more than 200 Christian parents, teachers and school governors with tailored, practical advice on dealing with issues including the Equality Act, sex education, Religious Education and LGBT ideology.
- The Genderbread Person is used to teach a number of perspectives which are contested in society at large, including that gender identity”, “gender expression” and “anatomical sex” exist on “continuums” which can be scaled from “0-100”; and a person’s “Woman-ness” or “Man-ness” is determined by their “personality traits, job, hobbies, likes, dislikes, roles, expectations”.
- The law and Government guidance states: A School Governing Body must forbid “the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school”. [Section 406(1)(b) of the Education Act 1996], and that the teaching of Relationships and Sex Education, the Governing Body “must have regard to” “the age and the religious background of pupils” [Section 80A(2)(b) of the Education Act 2002]
- A redacted version of the letter to Susan is available at christian.org.uk