Just before Christmas, the Department for Education released a draft document entitled ‘Gender Questioning Children | Non-statutory guidance for schools and colleges in England’. It follows on the heels of the interim report by the Cass Review, an independent review of medical and clinical services for children and young people who are questioning their gender identity and seeking help. Dr Hilary Cass is a former President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

In this article, we will take a look at the DfE draft guidance and reflect on the delivery of RSHE in Catholic secondary schools.

The DfE Draft Guidance

The fact that the DfE guidance has finally arrived is likely to be welcome news for schools. As the document states in the Forward, schools have found themselves poorly equipped to know how to navigate the evolving ideas around gender identity and questions arising from this. It says:

This changing picture has left schools and colleges in a position where they are having to navigate a highly sensitive, complex issue, which is still not properly understood. We appreciate how daunting this is for school and college staff and for parents and children too.

In fact, the Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, speaking about the guidance in a Government press release said:

We have long called for clear guidance for schools who face difficult choices around how to help pupils who are gender-questioning. This guidance is therefore welcome and will help schools do their best both for gender-questioning pupils and for all other pupils in their schools.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector

Government press release

The guidance aims to set some expectations about the response schools should give to requests by children questioning their gender. This would include requests to change name, pronouns or to socially transition. These expectations are non-statutory but are intended to support the statutory requirements laid down in the Equality Act. One example of a statutory obligation mentioned in the guidance is the legal duty of single-sex schools to accept pupils of the corresponding biological sex whether or not they are questioning their gender.

Here are seven key principles found in the draft guidance:

  1. Schools have a duty to promote the welfare of all children.
  2. A cautious approach should be taken when responding to requests for social transition
  3. The school environment should respect all beliefs.
  4. All forms of bullying must not be tolerated. (This is a legal duty under the Equality Act).
  5. While the guidance is there to help teachers, parent’s views should be at the centre of every decision schools make about their child.
  6. Decisions around a change of name and pronoun are significant. ‘We expect changes to be rare’ (especially of pronouns).
  7. Staff and pupils should not be obliged to use preferred pronouns and instead alternatives such as using first names should be found.

Of course, the guidance is not in its final form and there could well be changes to it. However, the ministers responsible have presented it as a well thought-out response to a challenging issue for schools.

In launching the guidance, Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan said:

This guidance puts the best interests of all children first, removing any confusion about the protections that must be in place for biological sex and single-sex spaces, and making clear that safety and safeguarding for all children must always be schools’ primary concern.

Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary

Government press release

The Education Secretary also added that:

Parents’ views must also be at the heart of all decisions made about their children.

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch said the guidance should give schools greater confidence, since

…it makes clear that schools do not have to accept a child’s request to socially transition, and that teachers or pupils should not be pressured into using different pronouns.

Kemi Badenoch, Minister for Women and Equalities

Government press release


What this means for schools

Some aspects of this guidance will directly relate to school policies and practices. For example, the guidance addresses questions around single-sex spaces and sport.

But what about the teaching of RSHE? The document does not speak directly about this, but we think it is worth highlighting two of the principles which the Government guidance seems to be adopting and which could inform discussions among staff who teach RSHE.

One principle is that parents should be integrally involved in the lives of their children and in decisions that will affect them. Ten Ten often speaks about the central role of parents. One of the principles of good RSHE is that it should be a partnership between content providers, teachers, parents and pupils. This is why we launched our Parent Portal so that parents can know what their child is being taught and when – and they can learn how Ten Ten approaches topics such as this. This point is echoed by the Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, when she says that it is vital ‘that parents are informed and involved in the decisions that impact their children’s lives.’

A second principle is that the approach of schools towards the idea of social transitioning should be cautious. The guidance has been developed with the expert clinical view and interim conclusions from the Cass Review in mind. This review states that young people who are questioning their gender should be accompanied through an attentive, personal response that is patient and non-directive. It speaks in terms of ‘watchful waiting’ rather than ‘affirmation’.

This relates to our Ten Ten Catholic vision, in that we believe that the person should always be valued and seen in their integrity. One of our core RSHE principles is that ‘the body is good’ based on the idea that we are a unity of body and soul.

This principle is rooted in Catholic anthropology and it means that we recognise the wisdom of what the government guidance is proposing. Of course we know it is not a perspective that everyone shares and we aim to give a fair and honest representation of different views around this in our resources – for example in our Year 8 session entitled ‘Appreciating Differences’ which looks at gender and transgender identity.

Like schools, Ten Ten will be following closely as the Government’s guidance comes more into focus. We will continue reflecting on how to respond within our current resources and within the new content we will be developing for our Life to the Full secondary programme.

On a different but related note, you might have seen some headlines recently about Catholic blessings for same-sex couples. Read more about what the Vatican Declaration says below.

Blessings for Same-Sex Couples

Blessings for Same-Sex Couples

What the recent Vatican Declaration says…

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