Where sex matters | Safeguarding and schools

Safeguarding and schools

Replacing “sex” with “gender identity” undermines safeguarding.

“Safeguarding” is the responsibility of all agencies working with children, young people and their families, or with vulnerable adults, to:

take all reasonable measures to ensure that the risks of harm to their welfare are minimised, and where there are concerns, take appropriate actions to address those concerns.

There are six core principles of safeguarding:

  • Empowerment: ensuring people are supported and confident in making their own decisions and giving informed consent.
  • Protection: providing support and representation for those in greatest need – this requires identifying risk.
  • Prevention: working to stop abuse before it happens by raising awareness, training staff and encouraging individuals to ask for help.
  • Proportionality: ensuring that services take each person into account, respecting each individual and assessing risks.
  • Partnerships: giving organisations the opportunity to work together, as well as with the local community.
  • Accountability: safeguarding is everyone’s business and accountability makes sure that everyone plays their part. Everyone is accountable for their actions as individuals, services and organisations.

A person’s sex can be a risk factor in abuse, particularly sexual abuse, both for perpetrators and people at risk of harm. Put bluntly, statistically female pupils are most at risk of being subjected to sexual abuse and males – whether pupils or staff – present a larger risk as perpetrators.

At the most basic level, the risk of becoming pregnant depends on sex not gender identity. Research evidence in the UK on the prevalence of child sexual abuse finds higher levels among girls than boys. However, boys may face particular challenges to reporting abuse. Perpetrators of sexual abuse and child abuse are predominantly men.

Being able to talk clearly and honestly about sex, in policies and procedures, and between individuals and agencies, is critical to informed consent, to identifying risk and to preventing harm.

Basic rules to reduce risk take sex into account. For example, single-sex spaces for changing and washing in schools and sports venues, and legislation on overcrowding which states that children over the age of 10 should not have to share a bedroom with members of the opposite sex.

What is the problem?

Many institutions with safeguarding responsibilities are adopting policies that replace “sex” with “gender”, and set rules which require staff and young people to ignore, or make it taboo to talk about, a person’s actual sex if it is different from the gender by which they prefer to be referred to. This conflicts with safeguarding legislation and principles.

Some schools are adopting policies which allow children to use opposite-sex changing and toilet facilities based on the idea of gender identity. If a child has gender dysphoria or identifies as transgender, schools are told by lobby groups to treat this with absolute confidentiality — including not informing parents. This directly contradicts basic information-sharing safeguarding principles.

Staff and parents raising safeguarding concerns are dismissed as transphobic or pressured to use language that erases risk. Safeguarding systems cannot work where people are not able to speak clearly about risks.

Updates

  • Compromises that destroy the human rights of one group are unfair. Solutions are needed that respect everyone’s rights.

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    Sex Matters is a human-rights organisation. We believe that universal human rights form a powerful framework for thinking about how a diversity of freedoms can be respected, while protecting against harm and maintaining an open and prosperous society.  It is sometimes argued that those who call for clarity on...

    9th November 2022

  • Schools should be mindful that, in attempting to keep one group of pupils safe, and to respect their privacy and dignity, they need to avoid compromising the safety, privacy and dignity of other pupils.

    Sex Matters welcomes headteachers’ guidance

    Sex Matters offers a qualified welcome to the new Guidance for maintained schools and academies in England on provision for transgender pupils published by the Association of School and College Leaders, Chartered College of Teaching, Confederation of School Trusts (CST), Institute of School Business Leadership, National Association of Head...

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  • Letter to Gillian Keegan

    We call for a “Cass Review for Education”

    Sex Matters together with Bayswater Support Group, Fair Play For Women, LGB Alliance, Safe Schools Alliance and Transgender Trend have written to the new Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, to draw her attention to the problem of gender ideology being promoted in schools. We ask her to:...

    1st November 2022

  • "Stop this insane breach of privacy which destroys the dignity and safety of girls."

    Don’t water down the schools guidance – a plea from a 14-year-old girl

    “Cynthia”, 14, writes… I recently read in The Times that Ministers were seeking a “compromise” concerning the Department for Education’s long-awaited transgender schools’ guidance and, as a 14-year-old-girl in secondary school, to say I am furious is an understatement. It is absolutely vital that we – teenage girls who...

    19th October 2022

  • Teenagers and gender identity: the evidence base

    Teenagers and gender identity

    A trickle of teenagers, and especially girls, identifying out of their sex has become a torrent in recent years. Our new publication, part one of a series of three, is aimed at the parents of those teenagers. The authors, Matilda Gosling and Stella O’Malley, combine research expertise with practical professional...

    10th October 2022

  • "In law, single-sex services are intended for one sex only."

    The Attorney General clarifies the law on single-sex services

    On 10th August 2022 the Attorney General Suella Braverman gave a speech at the think-tank Policy Exchange. She noted that both public and private bodies are struggling to understand their obligations in relation to single-sex services and the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment. Her speech aimed to...

    26th August 2022

  • "Social transition in schools is incompatible with safeguarding."

    What Hilary Cass needs to tell schools: social transition is incompatible with safeguarding

    On 28th July Dr Hilary Cass, the eminent paediatrician commissioned by the government to review paediatric gender-identity provision in the NHS, made an announcement that vindicated everyone who has criticised that provision, often at considerable personal cost. The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), England’s sole NHS clinic for under-18s...

    29th July 2022

  • Why do single-sex services matter?

    In February 2022 Sex Matters undertook a survey to find out why single-sex services matter to people. The response was astonishing. In a little over a week we received over 7,000 replies, nine out of ten of them from women. Many included details about how the loss of everyday...

    19th July 2022

  • Sex Matters response to “More in Common”

    More in Common is an organisation that seeks to “build societies and communities that are “stronger, more united, and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarisation and social division”.  Perhaps as a response to this challenge from Maya Forstater, it has applied its approach to the gender wars....

    16th June 2022

  • Will Scotland’s proposed self-ID law increase trans unemployment?

    Sex self-ID in Scotland and transgender unemployment

    The Gender Recognition Act 2004 was an extraordinary piece of legislation intended for an extraordinary group of people. It was passed to allow people who had transitioned under medical supervision to change the legal sex recorded on their birth certificate “for all purposes”.  Now the Scottish Government is...

    14th June 2022

  • Is the Attorney General wrong about the law, or is Stonewall? 

    The Department for Education is developing new guidance for schools on how to accommodate children who identify as transgender. Attorney General Suella Braverman gave an interview which suggests that the guidance will be based on the principle that children who identify as transgender have not changed sex, and therefore...

    29th May 2022

  • There’s no duty on schools to compromise on single-sex spaces.

    Attorney General clarifies the law for schools

    In an interview with the Times, Suella Braverman said schools should treat children according to their sex, not their self-identified gender. Sex Matters welcomes Braverman’s comments, which align with Sex Matters’ guidance. The Department for Education is currently drawing up new guidance for schools. Braverman said: “Under-18s cannot get a...

    27th May 2022

  • Is Scotland going to turn the UK into an identity-laundering haven?

    As part of Sex Matters’ response to the Scottish Parliament consultation on GRA reform we raised security concerns. This has been reported in the Telegraph and the Times, and Maya Forstater had a Thunderer piece in the Times. Identity matters The involvement of the state with an individual’s identity...

    18th May 2022

  • How did a campaign to criminalise the most effective treatment for gender-distressed children make it from the margins to the mainstream with no evidence?

    What is behind the campaign to ban conversion therapy?

    The campaign to ban “conversion therapy” has come out of nowhere, to suddenly dominate the priorities of organisations such as Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, GIRES and the LGBT Foundation. There have been protests and petitions, and these groups pulled out of a planned international conference on human rights when...

    4th May 2022

  • Send our new guidance to a school you know

    Schools are calling out for clear guidance on sex and gender to answer questions such as what should they do when they face demands to socially transition children or to keep the secrets of a child who identifies as trans.

    25th April 2022

  • Girlguiding settles gender-critical case

    Girlguiding UK has released a statement saying it has settled its legal case with Katie Alcock. Katie Alcock and fellow guide leader Helen Watts were expelled from Girlguiding after an investigation into their social-media activity when they raised safeguarding concerns about Girlguiding’s policy of admitting male children and adults...

    19th April 2022

  • 79% of schools have at least one child identifying as trans or non-binary

    Most secondary schools now have trans-identified pupils: Sex Matters’ new survey

    Anyone who interacts with young people will surely have noticed that trans identities are becoming more common – and varied. To get a measure of scale of this social shift, Sex Matters commissioned YouGov to poll secondary-school teachers about their experience of trans-identifying pupils. The findings provide the first...

    11th April 2022

  • Independent counsel agrees with our guidance for schools 

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    1st March 2022

  • It’s not too late to talk to your MP!

    Sex Matters supporters have been speaking to their MPs about the proposed legislation on conversion therapy. Their reports from face-to-face and telephone meetings highlight the need for a proper review of the proposals.  Supporters who have managed to speak to their MPs tell us that some have been surprised...

    2nd February 2022

  • Clear rules and girls’ schools

    Why the Girls' Day School Trust's single-sex policy is lawful and important.

    11th January 2022

  • Whose schools guidance is in line with the Equality Act?

    Joint post with Transgender Trend (it’s long; make yourself a cup of tea). You can also download it as a pdf. Boys and Girls and the Equality Act In May 2021 Sex Matters and Transgender Trend published the first edition of our Schools Guidance: Boys and Girls and the...

    18th December 2021

  • Press pause on conversion therapy law

    The Government is consulting on its proposal to introduce a new law banning “conversion therapy”. They are aiming to introduce a Bill to parliament in time to celebrate this as an achievement at their “Safe To Be Me: Global Equality Conference” in June 2022. They are therefore undertaking a...

    14th November 2021

  • Government launches conversion therapy consultation: Sex Matters’ response

    A rushed six-week consultation has been launched, with the claim that this will stop under 18 year olds making irreversible decisions. But will the threat of criminal penalties be used to pressurise parents and therapists who don't take an affirmation approach to gender identity?

    28th October 2021

  • The Sex Matters guide to: Pronouns at work

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    19th October 2021

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    6th June 2021

  • Time to #LeaveStonewall

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    8th May 2021

  • Toilets – a place where sex matters

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    19th February 2021

Other resources

  • Keep Prisons Single Sex XX

    DBS checks and identity verification: safeguarding loopholes created by changes of identity

    An analysis by Keep Prisons Single Sex of the exceptional privacy rights given to those who change their gender as well as their identity.

  • SOS Scotland Safeguarding Our Schools

    Safeguarding our Schools – Scotland

    Grassroots volunteer organisation of parents, teachers, education professionals and others from a wide range of backgrounds, concerned that schools are being advised to use policies regarding gender identity that are based on misleading or inaccurate information.  Informs decision-makers. Provides resources for parents and education professionals. Empowers parents, carers, teachers and...

  • The Telegraph

    Schools left to write own transgender rules “behind parents’ backs”

    The Telegraph by Louisa Clarence-Smith
    Rebecca Bull is quoted in this article.
    Headteachers will continue to decide whether to tell guardians about a child changing their identity.

  • Evidence-Based Social Work Alliance

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    Coalition of practitioners, academics and students in the field of social work. Formed as a response to concerns about the impact of gender-identity theory in their field. Argues that social workers’ legal responsibilities to safeguard children are being put at risk by the lack of an evidence base for...

  • Thoughtful Therapists

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    Founded in 2021, a group of psychotherapists and counsellors who campaign to raise awareness of the negative impact of gender ideology on mental-health services, in particular for children with gender dysphoria. Work has focused on government proposals to ban “gender-identity conversion therapy” and on the “Memorandum of Understanding on...

  • Women's Rights Network

    Women’s Rights Network

    Combined grassroots groups of women who oppose sex self-ID. Supports local, in-person networking. Has topic-related groups (such as sports, prisons, schools) that create resources, including videos and podcasts and social-media posts, and coordinate national campaigns. Was a core member of the “Respect My Sex” campaign before the local elections...

  • Equality ad Human Rights Commission

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    Advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, released on 4th April 2022. Read our statement about it.

  • Banning conversion therapy: a response from the Bayswater Support Group

    The UK’s largest support group run by and for parents of children, adolescents and young adults who identify as transgender responds to the government consultation.

  • DoE document

    Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges

    The Department of Education’s advice for governing bodies, proprietors, headteachers, principals, senior leadership teams and designated safeguarding leads.

  • Genspect – a voice for parents with gender-questioning kids

    Genspect

    International alliance founded in 2021 by parents and clinicians seeking a rational approach to gender issues. Has expanded to include detransitioners, desisters and people unhappy with their own transition, as well as other professionals such as educators and journalists. Creates resources on gender issues and seeks a better approach...

  • Transgender Trend – no child is born in the wrong body

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    Founded in 2015 to draw attention to the harms done by gender-identity ideology to children, especially in schools and in medicine. In 2020 was given permission by the High Court to intervene in support of Keira Bell’s judicial review against the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust. In March 2022,...

  • Safe Schools Alliance – Putting Safeguarding First

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