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.


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Other resources

  • Keep Prisons Single Sex XX

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  • SOS Scotland Safeguarding Our Schools

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  • The Telegraph

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    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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