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

  • 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. Suella Braverman said: Under-18s cannot get...

    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 

    Last year Sex Matters, together with Transgender Trend, produced guidance for schools.  The Good Law Project recently published legal advice by Dan Squires QC. His conclusions support much of our guidance, although he disagrees with us on one important point – how simple and straightforward it should be to...

    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

    Pronouns at work

    You often ask us what you should do when a workplace asks you to ‘state your pronouns’, in your email signature or during introductions in meetings. We explain the laws surrounding the issue and what to do if this new ritual makes you uncomfortable.

    19th October 2021

  • Truth and reconciliation

    How should the public sector leave the Stonewall Champions Scheme?

    6th June 2021

  • Time to #LeaveStonewall

    This is the letter we have sent to the CEOs of the 850 organisations that are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. Re: Leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme We are writing to call on you to withdraw from the scheme, both for the sake of your own...

    29th May 2021

  • Boys and Girls and the Equality Act cover

    Guidance for Schools

    Sex Matters and Transgender Trend have developed new guidance for schools.

    8th May 2021

  • Toilets – a place where sex matters

    The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is undertaking a technical review on increasing accessibility and provision of toilets for men and women. We submitted a 60 page briefing . The submission is long, because the issue of who can use which toilets has become overly complicated and...

    19th February 2021

Other resources

Publications