85% of schools report (1) they have seen an increase in the number of pupils identifying as either trans or non-binary, that is pupils identifying as a different gender to that which they were assigned at birth.
Schools have a long, historical tradition of being organised along a simple male-female divide which does not recognise trans identities, the most obvious examples of which include:
- gendered school uniforms
- gendered sports teams
- male-female toilets.
- Some schools are even boys and girls only schools!
Such simplistic traditional gender-divisions are potentially discriminatory against the increasing number of pupils with transgender identities, and this post explores the extent to which policies in schools are adapting to this increasing diversity of gender identities.
Government Policy Guidance on Transgender Children in Schools
The House of Commons Library last published guidance on how schools should support transgender children (2).
The briefing follows the Equality Act of 2010 stating that schools must not discriminate against pupils who are undergoing gender transformation, which doesn’t have to involve physical surgery, so any student transitioning to another gender is protected by law.
However besides this there is little central laying down of rules about what schools should do to support transgender pupils.
For example schools don’t have to provide gender neutral toilets or changing rooms, and they are free to continue with a traditional male-gender divide in P.E lessons.
The uniform restrictions are the most stringent as schools need to provide flexibility to accomodate cultural diversity, so transgender pupils are already covered against discrimination here in most cases.
The Home Secretary Seems to be Transphobic
Yet another generational disconnect that doesn’t help trans pupils is the fact that the current Home Secretary, Suela Braveman (*) comes across as Transphobic.
As far as she is concerned people under 18 cannot obtain a gender recognition certificate and so schools are under no obligation to recognise or support trans children in any way at all (4)
She has explicitly stated that schools don’t have to recognise students by any name other than that assigned at birth, and that they MUST provided single sex toilets, she has also suggested that schools are obliged to out transitioning pupils to their parents if they are not aware of this going on.
(*) I deliberately misspelled her name as she clearly thinks names don’t matter.
Support for Trans Pupils in schools is lacking
The latest survey data on how supported trans pupils feel in school to feel comfortable with their own (rather than birth-assigned) gender identity is from Stonewall in 2017 (3) which found that between one third and two thirds of trans pupils don’t feel supported.
- While 75% of trans pupils reported that they were allowed to wear a uniform which fitted in with their identity, this is almost irrelevant as an indicator of discrimination as most schools today have gender-neutral uniform options – that is girls can choose to wear trousers if they want to .
- Most shockingly of all one third of transgender pupils reported not being to use their own name in school, which is just about the most basic aspect of one’s individual identity I can think of, which is pretty hard evidence that one third of trans pupils feel like they are being directly discriminated against.
- Finally, the majority of trans pupils report not being able to use toilets or changing rooms or feeling comfortable with sports suited to their gender.
I can understand that schools might find it difficult to find sports options that trans pupils feel comfortable with, given that most traditional school sports are spilt along traditional gender lines, and there might be resource restrictions on offering a wider variety of gender neutral options, providing discrete changing rooms and gender neutral toilets are relatively minor changes which could be made quite easily, and clearly by 2017 most schools hadn’t made these changes.
In terms of pupils feeling they can’t use their own name, that strikes me as just an unwillingness on the part of schools to make a very easy adaptation.
However, many schools are very supportive
It’s five years on since Stonewall’s last research on this issue, and even though we have a disconnected ageist and transphobic home secretary many schools do have policies in place which do support trans pupils.
A google search for ‘trans policies in schools’ yields several policy documents from schools which show a clear willingness to put in place mechanisms to make sure trans students feel comfortable, so thankfully many schools are more inclusive than central government!
Signposting and relevance to A-level Sociology
This material is designed to update the ‘gender identity’ topic within the sociology of education.
Clearly when it comes to trans identities schools were lacking in their support for trans pupils in 2017, and central government is not at all supportive, but it will be interesting to see what future research shows on this issue in the coming years – I’m sure there will be more support in place, but we’ll have to wait for more data to know for certain!
To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com
(1) Sex Matters (April 2022): Most Schools Now Have Trans-Identified Pupils
(2) Home Office Briefing (2020) Provision to Support Transgender Children in Schools
(3) Stonewall – The School Report 2017.
(4) The Week: Where Schools Stand Legally on Children’s Trans Rights.