Comment on the schools guidance – even if you only have five minutes

The deadline for feedback was Tuesday 12th March. Thank you to everyone who submitted a response.

Even if you only have five minutes, give the government your feedback

Show your support, flag areas that need improvement and share your experience as a teacher or parent.

Sex Matters thinks that the Department for Education’s draft guidance for schools in England on gender-questioning children is a definite step in the right direction, and we want the government to know that. Our own response was based on our analysis of relevant legislation and engagement with parents, clinicians, teachers and school leaders, school governors, lawyers and officials.

Below, we suggest how you can respond to the consultation to show your support as well as flagging the areas that need improvement.

Relevant personal experience is particularly valuable. If you’re a teacher who can write about your school acting in opposition to the guidance and the effect that has had, or you have a child at a school acting in ways that run counter to the principles the draft guidance is based on, please share those in the relevant section. 

The response form is on the government website (scroll to the bottom and click Continue to start) and the deadline is Tuesday 12th March. You can download our worksheet to help you prepare your answers. 

Many of the questions require Yes/No answers, followed by an opportunity to add comments if you answered “No” – but in fact, you can give more details even if you answered “Yes”. The number of “Yes” and “No” responses will be totalled. All comments will be read, but you should not write more than 250 words. Please use your own words: if lots of responses are similar, they will be given less weight when the consultation is analysed.

If you can only spare five minutes, we recommend simply responding “Yes” to all the Yes/No questions except 15, 17, 23 and 30. For those, we think the guidance risks leading schools to make wrong choices, and we suggest answering “No” and making a brief comment.

Questions 1 to 10

These are about your personal characteristics, and whether you want your responses to be confidential. 

11. Do you think the structure of the guidance is easy to follow? 


If you have time, add a comment at 12:

In your own words, say that the guidance should start with an overview of where school policies engage sex – male/female – since this concerns all children. Only then should it progress to how schools should accommodate children with gender issues. 

This section should remind schools that it is legally required and routinely necessary for them to know, record and acknowledge a child’s sex throughout the school day, and throughout their school career, in school information systems and in relation to communicating and enforcing expectations and behavioural rules. 

If you work in a school, say that the DfE should produce a model policy for schools, and that it should commit to defending any challenge to any school that adopts the policy.

13. Does this guidance provide practical advice to support schools and colleges to meet their duties effectively?


If you have time, add a comment at 14:

If you work in a school that has a policy that contradicts this one, or your child attends such a school, quote briefly from the non-compliant sections of the policy. 

Issues that commonly arise are:

  • Record-keeping: policies that suggest a child may be recorded as the sex they identify as, not the sex they actually are.
  • Use of single-sex spaces (toilets, changing-rooms, showers, dormitories, accommodation on overnight trips): policies that suggest a child may be permitted to use facilities intended for the opposite sex  if that is how the child identifies.
  • Sport: policies that suggest a child may be permitted to play single-sex sports of the opposite sex if that is how the child identifies.
  • Anti-bullying: policies that suggest referring to a trans-identified or non-binary child as a member of their (biological) sex is a disciplinary matter.
  • Safeguarding: policies that suggest a child’s disclosure of gender distress or trans identification will be kept secret from parents; policies that place gender-distressed or trans-identified children outside standard safeguarding.

Say, in your own words, that the DfE’s guidance needs to communicate why such policies are unlawful, state that schools must not act unlawfully and tell schools what they MUST do.

15. Does this section provide enough detail to help schools and colleges support children? 


At 16 write, at a minimum, that schools should never socially transition a child behind parents’ backs

If you have time, and you are a parent whose child has been transitioned at school without your knowledge or without your consent, or a teacher concerned at having been directed to transition a child at school (whether or not with parental consent), give more details.

Quote from any school policy that allowed this to happen. If there was no formal policy but the school cited specific considerations when you challenged it (for example, that its actions were necessary because your child had the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, or because of a faulty interpretation of safeguarding principles), then include this. 

Explain that what you need from this policy is absolute clarity that this should not have happened and cannot happen again. 

You may wish to refer (in your own words) to the considerations Sex Matters raises in its institutional response:

  • 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 – a clinical concept –  or involve other children in “providing treatment” for gender dysphoria. 
  • The guidance states that when considering taking exceptional steps, the school should consider the age of the child and the impact on others. But this takes no account of the fact that children are in school for several years. The request for “social transition” is a request for a change of status from this point forward. By permitting it, a school is setting a child on a path that leads to foreseeable conflict and unacceptable impacts on others. 
  • “Social transition” cannot be achieved at school. Although a child may change their name or hairstyle, this does not mean they have undergone a change of status such that different rules and expectations will apply to them for the rest of their school career. 

17. Think about the points outlined for schools and colleges to consider on pages 9–11 regarding making decisions about how to respond to requests for social transition. Are these points helpful? 


At 18 write, at a minimum, that the concept of “social transition” has no place in schools

If you have time, you could say in your own words that “social transition” is a bundle of actions and demands, some of which can lawfully be accommodated in school (choosing a hairstyle associated with the opposite sex), some of which can’t (using spaces reserved for the opposite sex or requiring everyone in the school environment to treat a child as a member of the opposite sex).

The DfE’s guidance should make clear that no school can decide to refer to a child as the opposite sex because that creates serious safeguarding risks for all children. It needs to state that staff MUST NOT unilaterally adopt any changes that undermine a school’s behaviour policies. This is in line with safeguarding, the DfE Teachers’ standards, and guidance and statutory requirements for school behaviour policies. 

19. Does this section on page 12 provide enough detail for schools and colleges to ensure each child is recorded correctly and according to the Education Act 1996, Pupil Registration (England) Regulations 2006, GDPR and the Data Protection Act?


If you have time, add a comment at 20:

Say, in your own words, that the purpose of schools properly recording the sex of all pupils is that all staff and pupils understand what sex all children are so they can write, communicate and enforce rules that exist to keep all children safe. This also requires using clear sex-based language when referring to pupils.

21. Does this section on page 12 provide enough detail for schools and colleges to respond to a child’s requests to change their name?


If you have time, add a comment at 22:

Say, in your own words, that the guidance should state explicitly that a change of “known as” name is not a “social transition”. It does not change a child’s sex, and schools must make that clear in their own policies.

A child who regards a change of name as part of a change of sex status holds beliefs about human biology and society that make it more likely they will engage in risky behaviour (for example using spaces for the other sex, talking about themselves to strangers online, buying harmful products like breastbinders and potentially seeking unlicensed medical interventions such as hormones without their parents’ knowledge). The child’s beliefs should therefore be countered by the school, and may raise safeguarding concerns that should be handled within the school’s standard safeguarding framework.

If your child has been permitted to change name at school as part of a “social transition”, or if you work at a school that permits this, give brief details here. 

23. Does this section on page 13 provide enough detail for schools and colleges to respond to a child’s requests to change their pronouns? 


At 24 write, at a minimum, that this section should be removed and replaced with a section explaining why schools must refer to all children by clear sex-based language. 

If you have time, you could explain in your own words that this is because: 

  • School rules and behaviour policies depend on all children and adults knowing which facilities can be used by each sex, and understanding that children do not shift between these categories. 
  • The guidance states that other pupils and teachers should not be compelled to use preferred pronouns. But it also talks about others “having to use” preferred pronouns and not being sanctioned for “honest mistakes”. Calling a girl “she” or a boy “he” is not a mistake; it is the truth. 
  • Calling a boy a “girl” or “she”, or a girl a “boy” or “he”, sets up expectations that others should perceive and treat that child as the opposite sex (and that not to do so is “transphobia”). This is incompatible with the school’s duty of care to that child and to other children. 

If you work in a school that is willing to accommodate the misrepresentation of some children’s sex, or your child attends such a school, give brief details here. 

25. Does this section on pages 14 and 15 provide enough detail for schools and colleges to respond when a child who is questioning their gender makes a request to use facilities (e.g. toilets, changing rooms, showers and boarding and residential accommodation) designated for the opposite sex? 


If you have time, add a comment at 26:

Say, in your own words, that it is in no child’s long-term interests to be encouraged to feel uncomfortable in the correct single-sex facilities that are provided for the privacy and safety of all, or to always expect special treatment. 

If your child has been encouraged to put themselves at risk by using facilities not intended for their sex, or has had to share their own single-sex facilities with a child of the opposite sex, give brief details. If the school has a written policy permitting children to use facilities for the opposite sex, cite the relevant section. If you have complained and been rebuffed, give a brief summary of what was said. 

Similarly, if you work in a school that permits children to use facilities for the opposite sex, give brief details.

27. Think about the circumstances provided in the guidance on pages 14 and 15, outlining the option for schools and colleges to find alternative facilities. Does the guidance provide enough support to help schools and colleges determine how to offer alternative facilities? 


If you have time, add a comment:

In your own words, say that any provision of alternative facilities outside the norm to mitigate a child’s anxiety should be on a time-limited basis. The aim should be to ease the child’s anxiety so they can start using the usual facilities again. 

Schools should not give any pupil the impression that they will never have to use ordinary sex-based facilities during their school career. In some situations such facilities will be the only safe and appropriate option. 

28. Does this section provide enough detail for schools and colleges to support children who do not wish to use accommodation that is designated for their sex in relation to boarding and overnight accommodation? 


If you have time, add a comment at 29:

The guidance should be clearer that schools are required by law to ensure that there are appropriate facilities for girls and boys. It is not in any child’s best interests to allow them to use alternative facilities that compromise their safety, comfort, privacy or dignity.

30. Does this section on page 16 provide enough detail for schools and colleges to respond to a gender-questioning child who makes a request in relation to uniform? 


At 31, tick the box next to “When schools and colleges might refuse a request in relation to a child wearing a different uniform”. Write, in your own words, that schools may decide for themselves whether to have different uniforms for boys and girls, or to have largely sex-undifferentiated uniforms, but in all cases children should wear the uniform for their sex. 

If you have time to add more detail, you could say that when the two sexes have different uniforms, both children and staff will assume that any child wearing the girl’s uniform is a girl, and that the rules for girls about sports and spaces apply to that child. This undermines the communication and enforcement of rules that are designed to protect all pupils.

32. Does this section on page 17 provide enough information on what to do if a gender questioning child asks to participate in a certain sport or activity with the opposite sex? 


If you have time, add a comment at 33:

Write, in your own words, that where sports are divided by sex for fairness, safety or to encourage the participation of girls, these categories should be maintained so as not to disadvantage girls.

The guidance currently says: “For all sports where physical differences between the sexes threaten safety schools SHOULD adopt clear rules which mandate separate-sex participation. There can be no exception to this.” 

This should read “MUST adopt clear rules”.

34. Think about the circumstances provided in the guidance on page 15, outlining the need for fairness and safety in PE or sport. Does the guidance provide enough support to help schools and colleges determine what is fair and safe? 


We have no suggested comments at 35.

36. Does the guidance on the application of the Equality Act to admissions to single sex schools on page 18 provide enough information to support single sex schools in making decisions about the admission of children who are questioning their gender? 


If you have time, add a comment at 37:

This section should reference the school admissions code for maintained schools.

It should also make clear that single-sex schools, whether private or maintained, cannot lawfully admit a child of the opposite sex on the basis of pretending that they are the same sex as the other pupils. 

38. To individuals responding who work in, or represent single-sex schools: Has your single-sex school previously had to make a decision on the admission to your school of a child of the opposite sex (regardless of whether or not the school admitted the child)? 

39.  If yes, was that child questioning their gender? 

If you fall into this category, answer both questions according to your experience and add relevant information in the free-text box.

It is particularly important to include any experience of safeguarding issues that arose when a school admitted a child of one sex under the pretence that they were of the other sex. Useful details might include:

  • who knew the child’s sex, and whether it was concealed as a matter of policy from other pupils and parents
  • whether the child shared toilets, changing-rooms or dormitories with other pupils
  • whether any other pupils or parents complained, and what were the consequences
  • whether the school believed it was legally obliged to admit the child, and if so why (did it receive legal advice saying this? Did the child’s parents threaten to sue?) 
  • any specific concerning incidents. 

40. Do you have any comments regarding the potential impact of the guidance on those who share a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, whether negative or positive? 

At a minimum, write in your own words that the DfE should provide schools with a model policy accompanied by a detailed equality impact assessment. 

If you have time, add that the equality impact assessment should make clear that policies that relate to sex are categorical in order to protect all children and provide clear expectations of behaviour. 

Other points you could make include:

  • Girls (and their parents) are entitled to expect that a school has female-only facilities for showering and changing.
  • Some children may have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment”. This does not change their sex. 
  • School policies that are designed to protect children are justified because they are a direct statutory requirement or are a proportionate means to a legitimate aim, or both.
  • Requiring children to refer to a boy as “she” or a girl as “he” is likely to constitute belief discrimination against children (and parents) who hold gender-critical beliefs (that gender identity is not more important than sex, and that humans cannot change sex). 
  • School rules and policies must be communicated clearly. This means clear sex-based language with no exceptions. Clarity also supports schools’ statutory responsibilities to foster good relations across all protected characteristics. If everyone knows the rules, there is less likely to be conflict. 

41. Do you have any comments on the overall approach of the guidance? 

At a minimum, write in your own words that the final version of the guidance MUST be clear about the legal analysis underpinning it and where it is based on schools’ statutory obligations. This is to counter widespread claims by activist organisations that the DfE’s approach is unlawful.

If you have time, you could say (in your own words) that it would also benefit from: 

  • an explanation of why the guidance 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 Keeping children safe in education (or a supplement)
  • materials 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 or school-age-reading version of the model policy.