Responding to the schools guidance consultation

The Department for Education published draft guidance for schools in England on gender-questioning children for consultation at the end of last year. The closing date for responses is 12th March. 

Sex Matters is publishing its draft response to the consultation today, to help others who are developing their submissions.

There has been strong opposition to the guidance from activist organisations, with comments ranging from “not fit for purpose” and “many questions have been raised over its legal standing” to “upsetting and scary”; one commercial adviser actually suggested that schools ignore the guidance.

Sex Matters’ view is that the overall approach of the guidance is helpful. It has come a long way from previous draft guidance, and its publication marks an end to years of drift during which activist groups had free rein to mislead schools about their statutory duties. In a genuine sea change, it talks about “gender questioning children” instead of “trans children”, emphasises that schools must work with parents to safeguard children, and recognises the need to respect other children’s rights and to have clear school rules. Compared with the 10-point framework we set out a year ago, we give it a pretty healthy score of 76% overall.

That said, we still think the DfE could make the guidance clearer and do more to ensure that everyone in the sector understands the laws and regulations it is based on. And one specific area still needs significant work. Although it does not encourage “social transition” at schools, it suggests that schools have discretion to allow some aspects, in exceptional cases. It envisages schools responding to requests by considering a complex list of factors, such as how long the child has been making the request, the school’s safeguarding obligations, the age of the child, the views of the parents, clinical information, the long-term impact on the child and the long-term impact on other pupils. This is unworkable and places an extra workload on overstretched staff. It also makes schools vulnerable to confusion, distraction, pressure and threats of legal action.

We commend the government for the work it has done to date, while calling for it to make the guidance clearer and sharper, and to support school leaders to implement it by publishing a model policy and legal analysis. 

Filling in the consultation

It is particularly important that the DfE hears from teachers, school leaders, safeguarding leads and governors. 

The consultation document is quite long. We recommend setting aside at least half an hour and writing out your answers before transferring them into the online survey. We are sharing our worksheet to help people drafting their response.

There are 14 general Yes/No/Don’t Know questions that ask whether you agree with the approach of various elements of the guidance. Six of them invite longer 250-word answers for people who say no, and eight of them offer a further multiple-choice question for people who say no. It seems to be possible to fill in more detailed answers even if you say Yes to a section (when you agree with the general approach but also have comments). 

Summary of Sex Matters’ responses

You will have your own views and experience. This is a summary of our responses. 

The structure of the guidance

Do we agree with the approach taken? No. 

  • The structure should start with the standard policies that apply to all children before considering what schools should do to accommodate children who are experiencing gender-related distress. 
  • It should make clearer that there are large areas of sex-based rules that are not negotiable because of schools’ statutory responsibilities and duty of care to safeguard all children. 

Providing practical advice for schools 

Do we agree with the approach taken? Yes, but…

  • The DfE should publish a whole-school model policy based on this guidance to improve deliverability. 

Responding to requests and engaging with parents

Do we agree with the approach taken? No. 

  • The section expects schools to undertake decisions that are outside their competency and reasonable expectations
  • Schools are not clinics, and teachers are not clinicians. They cannot undertake “watchful waiting” or involve other children in “providing treatment” for gender dysphoria. 
  • The balancing considerations give too little weight to the need for whole-school rules in order for schools to meet their statutory responsibilities and to provide efficient education.
  • The guidance should make clear that a school cannot treat a child as the opposite sex. A boy will continue to be a boy and a girl will continue to be a girl for their whole school career.
  • The framework “social transition” should be removed from the guidance to make this clear. Specific accommodations for children experiencing gender-related distress should be agreed as part of existing practices for agreeing individualised SEND or healthcare plans with parents.

Registration of name and sex

Do we agree with the approach taken? Yes

  • This section should spell out clearly the implications of the requirement that a school must know a child’s sex to protect them or others from harm and communicate expectations clearly. 
  • Schools should make sure that all staff use clear sex-based language (boy/girl, male/female, he/she) when referring to pupils in the school.

Changing name

Do we agree with the approach taken? Yes

  • The school should make clear that a change of “known as” name is not a “social transition”. It does not change a child’s sex or status.


Do we agree with the approach taken? No

  • This section of the guidance is internally inconsistent, inconsistent with the rest of the guidance and unworkable. 
  • The section on pronouns should be removed and replaced with a section on clear sex-based language. Schools need to use clear sex-based language so that no one becomes confused about the meaning of words and expectations of rules and behaviour.

Single-sex spaces

Do we agree with the approach taken? Yes

  • While alternative arrangements may be made, schools should not give pupils the impression that they will never have to use ordinary sex-based facilities during their school career.
  • Alternative arrangements MUST NOT compromise the safety, comfort, privacy or dignity of the child, or of other pupils. In some situations facilities for their own sex will be the only safe and appropriate option.


Do we agree with the approach taken? No

  • Within each school there are uniform rules determined by the governors. To avoid confusion and unclear expectations, all children in a school should be held to the same standard of compliance with the appropriate school-uniform requirements for their sex. This is the case whether the school’s uniform is significantly different for boys and girls, or is largely undifferentiated. 
  • For staff supervising hundreds of children in circulation spaces and toilets, having some children wearing the wrong uniform undermines the smooth running of the school and the communication and enforcement of rules and expectations that are designed to protect all pupils.


Do we agree with the approach taken? Yes

  • This section could be clearer that where sports are divided by sex for fairness, safety or to encourage the participation of girls, no child’s individual SEND or healthcare plan will allow the child to be included in sport provided for the opposite sex.

Single-sex admissions

Do we agree with the approach taken? Yes

  • The guidance should make clear that a single-sex school CANNOT admit a child of the opposite sex on the basis of pretending that they are the same sex as the other pupils. To do so would be in breach of registration, safeguarding and data protection, and would breach the school’s duty of care to other pupils.

Public-sector equality duty

  • Providing a model policy would allow the DfE to publish a clear equality impact assessment that schools can use to ensure that their policies are justified and allay fears of indirect discrimination claims.
  • The equality impact assessment document should make clear that policies that relate to sex are categorical in order to protect all children and provide clear expectations of behaviour. 
  • Children may have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment”, but this does not change their sex. Schools should not exempt them from ordinary sex-based rules that have been developed to be fair and to keep all children safe.

Other comments

Given that the guidance is likely to be challenged by activist organisations telling schools to ignore it, and children and their parents (and activist teachers and organisations) who seek exceptions, it should be made as clear as possible. 

Additional supporting materials that would help:

  • Legal analysis that highlights clearly which statutory requirements underpin the guidance and why it is consistent with the Equality Act
  • A whole-school model policy that schools can adopt with confidence
  • Integration of key messages into the next revision of KCSIE (or a supplement)
  • Guidance to support schools that need to make transitional arrangements to support children who have been led to believe that they can transition at school 
  • An easy reading/ school-age-reading version of the model policy.