Where sex matters | Schools and safeguarding

Schools and safeguarding

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

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.

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 when reporting abuse. Perpetrators of sexual abuse and child abuse are predominantly men.

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 they prefer to be referred to as the opposite sex. 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

  • Dispelling the suicide myth

    For almost ten years, lobby groups have been promoting the idea that for gender-confused children there are only two options: transition or die. The claim that childhood transition prevents suicide has been used as an argument for social transition in schools, for giving puberty blockers and hormones, and for...

    10th May 2024

  • The Cass Review is a damning indictment of what the NHS has been doing to children 

    Dr Hilary Cass has submitted her final report and recommendations to NHS England in her role as Chair of the Independent Review of gender identity services for children and young people. Hilary Cass’s report demolishes the entire basis for the current model of treating gender-distressed children. Its publication is...

    10th April 2024

  • The EHRC gets the law wrong on children, schools and gender reassignment

    Has the EHRC forgotten about children and safeguarding?

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published its response to the Department for Education’s draft guidance for schools in England on gender-questioning children. It says that DfE’s approach “is compatible with equality and human rights law”, but calls for a clearer explanation of the legal concepts underpinning it. ...

    21st March 2024

  • 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....

    1st February 2024

  • Lobby groups encourage schools to ignore guidance and continue with unlawful policies.

    Lobby groups tell schools to ignore DfE guidance

    The Department for Education’s guidance on gender-questioning children was published in December – but many schools are getting materials from organisations they think are trustworthy telling them to ignore it.  Below is a summary of what the larger organisations are sending out. Since “The Key” alone reaches more than...

    31st January 2024

  • Mermaids’ letter shows what the DfE needs to do to make its guidance work for schools

    In December 2023, the Department for Education released draft guidance on gender-questioning children for schools and colleges in England. The consultation on this guidance is open until 12th March.  The guidance tells schools and colleges that they can and should say “no” to demands to: The guidance is quite...

    26th January 2024

  • The DfE’s draft schools guidance: how is it doing so far?

    The DfE’s schools guidance – the report card

    New draft guidance for schools in England has been published by the Department for Education this morning. In January 2023 we set out a 10-point scoring framework for the guidance. We said it should: This morning we mark the DfE’s work.  Report card The overall approach is helpful, and...

    19th December 2023

  • What is new in the EHRC guidance?

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission has today released updated technical guidance on the Equality Act for schools in England and in Scotland. We look at what has changed. Clearer definitions: no child under 18 can change sex The new guidance is more careful and precise about the legal...

    22nd September 2023

  • "We intend to publish a revised version, correcting the inaccuracies which have been highlighted to us, within the coming weeks." – Marcial Boo, Chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission

    EHRC to correct inaccurate schools guidance

    The Equality and Human Rights Commission has written to us to confirm that it is undertaking a rapid review of its 2014 technical guidance for schools and intends to publish a revised version within the coming weeks, correcting the inaccuracies that have been highlighted: “We recognise that since that...

    17th September 2023

  • Government guidance for schools must align with the law

    Schools are in danger of breaking the law on sex and gender

    The Department for Education’s new guidance for schools needs to be produced soon, and it needs to be aligned with the law. Today we publish the UK’s first review of the legal framework on sex and gender in education, and it shows that thousands of schools and colleges in...

    4th September 2023

  • Fix this guidance first!

    Dear Kemi: will you tackle the technical guidance?

    Sex Matters has written to the Minister for Women and Equalities calling on her to ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission to urgently finish its review of the 2014 Technical Guidance For Schools (in England and Scotland) and make clear its conclusions. If the EHRC no longer believes...

    3rd September 2023

  • Nothing in the Equality Act takes precedence over schools’ other statutory duties

    Getting to good schools guidance 

    The Secretary of State for Education is due to release guidance for schools in relation to “gender-questioning” children (who may have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment under the Equality Act). This was delayed at the end of last term as the Department for Education needed more time. In order...

    30th August 2023

  • Rishi Sunak: Stop dithering

    Why is the government getting in such a mess over the schools guidance? 

    It has been reported that Rishi Sunak is planning to delay issuing trans guidance for schools after the Attorney General and government lawyers warned that plans to strengthen it “would be unlawful”. What is it that the Attorney General thinks is unlawful?  The sticking point is whether children “should...

    19th July 2023

  • Schools guidance is overdue: it’s time for clarity

    Schools guidance: the Education Secretary must act

    The end of term is getting near, and Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan has still not handed in her homework. The critical question that the Department for Education appears to be stumped by is whether they should tell schools that they must consider “socially transitioning” some children,...

    14th July 2023

  • Has the education secretary got a solution, or is the government going round in circles?

    Trans guidance for schools goes round in circles 

    The long-awaited guidance from the Department for Education on how schools should respond to children with gender issues in school has been delayed again.  Schools leaders desperately need guidance on setting rules that are feasible, clear and comply with the Equality Act. The Equality Act 2010 protects people in...

    5th July 2023

  • Poll finds less than a third agree with Stonewall

    Less than a third of Brits say transwomen should be allowed in female-only spaces and sports

    Sex Matters has today released the findings from a representative national poll.  It finds that less than one in three Britons believe that transwomen – men who identify as women – should be allowed in women’s sports, changing rooms and toilets, or to provide ‘female-only’ intimate care. The lack...

    5th June 2023

  • Schools need clear guidance

    Schools need clear guidance

    The Department for Education has promised to publish new draft guidance on sex and gender for schools and colleges in England before the end of this school year. Schools need simple rules to give children, parents and teachers clear expectations. We are calling on the DfE to spell out that...

    21st May 2023

  • Keep calm and carry on?

    Response to Victor Madrigal-Borloz’s report on the UK

    The UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz has issued an extraordinary report at the end of his ten-day mission to the UK. The thrust of it is the familiar claim that speaking clearly about the material reality of the two sexes amounts to “hate”, alongside the equally familiar dismissal of...

    12th May 2023

  • Teenagers and gender identity: the evidence base. Part 3: How parents can support their children

    Practical ideas for parents of gender-questioning teenagers

    Sex Matters is publishing the final part in a series on gender identity in teenagers today. Aimed at parents, the series sets out reasons teenagers might start to question their gender, treatment and outcomes, and practical ideas for parents and carers of gender-questioning teenagers. Writing in The Critic today,...

    17th April 2023

  • Will DfE guidance hit the mark?

    DfE guidance must be clear: schools cannot facilitate “social transition”

    Reports about the Department for Education’s forthcoming guidance on trans issues for schools are encouraging, going quite some way towards our recommendations. The Times reports that schools will be told not to allow children to use opposite-sex facilities or play contact sports for the opposite sex, and to tell...

    16th April 2023

  • We also now have guidance for schools in Wales, which references all the relevant legislation from the Welsh Government.

    What can parents do about gender ideology in schools?

    At Sex Matters, we often hear from parents concerned about what their child is being told at school about gender identity. They may hear about lessons in which sex is described as fluid, changeable or a spectrum, or in which gender stereotypes are presented as defining whether someone is...

    10th March 2023

  • WPUK Education for Women's Liberation

    Sex Matters at the Education for Women’s Liberation conference

    UCL Women’s Liberation SIG and WPUK Saturday 4th February 9am to 10pm Institute of Education UCL, 20 Bedford Way, London, WC1H 0AL Come and see us at the Women’s Liberation 2023 conference! Visit the Sex Matters stall Pick up petition cards and postcards for Sex Matters campaigns. Meet Maya, Helen and...

    2nd February 2023

  • What we want to see in the DFE's guidance

    What guidance from the Department for Education needs to say

    As a survey commissioned by Sex Matters and carried out by YouGov last year showed, there has been a huge increase in the number of school pupils identifying as trans or non-binary, alongside huge disagreement about how best to manage this. The one thing that schools agree about is...

    13th January 2023

  • Clarify the Equality Act: sign the petition

    The Equality Act 2010 protects everyone’s rights and covers everything from schools to hospitals, pubs to sports, and everybody’s workplace. It includes protection against sex-discrimination, and allows single-sex services. But on 13th December a judge in Scotland pronounced that Equality Act does not recognise biological sex as a protected...

    16th December 2022

  • "The NHS must not make policy on social transition without first defining it."

    Our response to the NHS interim service specification consultation

    The NHS’s public consultation regarding the interim service specification for youth gender services ends on 4th December. We would encourage people to respond, including parents, teachers, school leaders and clinicians. We have published our full response. Sex Matters joins Transgender Trend and the Gay Men’s Network in welcoming the broad direction...

    29th November 2022

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

    Trans rights are human rights!

    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...

    7th November 2022

  • 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, part 1

    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 

    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

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