Children shouldn’t be allowed to change their gender pronouns at school without parents’ knowledge, according to new NHS guidance.
NHS England has published advice for teachers to fill a void left by the Government which has repeatedly delayed issuing its own guidance for pupils who are questioning their gender.
An online module for people working in education states: “Supporting a social transition without the involvement of parents or carers can create complex difficulties within families and is not recommended.”
Social transition can include pupils asking to be referred to with different pronouns, or asking to use different toilets and facilities.
The guidance adds: “Secrets between parents or carers and their children are problematic and are likely to create further issues in the future.”
When parents discover that changes have been made without their involvement, “this can increase risks and alienate parents and carers from their children”, it states.
The guidance notes there has been “a rise in young people asking to make a social transition at school or college without the knowledge or involvement of their parents or carers”.
If there are “significant concerns about the safety of a young person in terms of how their parents or carers may react” to pupils questioning their gender, then schools are advised to “seek careful and detailed safeguarding oversight to assess risks”.
First guidance of its kind
The NHS training module is the first guidance of its kind for educational settings in England where children are questioning their gender identity.
It comes after a Policy Exchange report earlier this year found that schools were routinely allowing children to change their gender pronouns without parental consent.
Freedom of Information requests to more than 300 state secondary schools in England found that 40 per cent are allowing children to self-declare their gender.
Rishi Sunak had promised that transgender guidance for schools would be published before the end of the summer term. However, it has been delayed by a Cabinet disagreement over whether a law change is needed to ban children from changing their gender pronouns at school.
The NHS module warns teachers that a review by paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass last year found that allowing children to socially transition was “not a neutral act”.
It notes that “professional and research evidence varies and it is acknowledged to be a complex decision and should be considered an ‘active intervention’.”
It also advises schools that “there has been recognition that there are high rates of young people who experience gender-related distress who are also autistic (neurodiverse), some studies suggest 30 per cent”.
If autism or ADHD are considered, the guidance advises education workers to “explore with the young person and parents or carers if there are any unmet needs requiring additional support or intervention”, and to “seek to understand the young person’s relationships with peers and adults and the nature and safety of the young person’s online life and relationships”.
Lots of different pathways
Schools are advised that “the needs of young people who are gender questioning are varied, and there are lots of different pathways and future outcomes”. Details of the new guidance were first reported by The Guardian.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s helpful that the NHS is providing guidance as this is obviously a source of information in which educators can have a high degree of confidence in navigating this complex and sensitive territory.
“The frustration is that there continues to be a vacuum in terms of the official guidance that is supposed to be coming from the Department for Education. This is such a highly-charged subject that schools and colleges are likely to find themselves under fire whatever decision they make and they really do need to be able to point to the fact that they are following official guidance.”
Responding to concerns about the delayed trans guidance for schools last week, a Government spokesman said: “Given the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, we’re taking the time to make sure any guidance we provide is as clear as possible.
“We’ve been repeatedly clear about the importance of biological sex and we advise that schools and colleges proceed with caution – prioritising the safeguarding and wellbeing of all children and involving parents in decisions relating to their child.”