Delayed transgender guidance for schools to come "by Christmas", Gillian Keegan says

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Government guidance to help schools deal with children who are questioning their gender should be published before Christmas, the education secretary announced.

Gillian Keegan said the transgender guidance, which was previously planned for the summer, had to be delayed because “it’s really quite a complex area.”

Currently headteachers are being forced to make ad-hoc decisions about which sports teams, toilets and changing rooms children who say they are transgender are able to use.

Mrs Keegan told MPs on the education select committee the government is “very much focussed on trying to get it out by Christmas.”

The ‘gender-questioning guidance’ will be non-statutory, and it will not ban social transitioning in schools because that would require a change in the law and would be the job for the equalities minister, she said.

Following the publication of the guidance there will be a review of the sex education curriculum in the new year, she added.

It comes as former Prime Minister Liz Truss has proposed a new law that would ban schools from “socially transitioning” children. It would also make it illegal to give puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to under-18s.

Conservative MP Nick Fletcher said school textbooks for 11 to 14 year olds are using phrases such as “your sex is usually decided at birth”, “transwomen are women” and referring to the “myth” that the world is divided into men and women.

He said: “We are actually teaching them to question their own gender. This is happening.”

Mrs Keegan said: “That is exactly why we are doing it, why we feel the need to put in place gender questioning guidance.”

Speaking at the select committee, Mr Fletcher said most children who are confused about their gender will grow out of it if they are given time and space.

He added: “In contrast, if they are socially transitioned they are more likely to continue on a path of puberty blockers, hormone replacements and irreversible surgeries.

“Children who go down this pathway can end up chemically castrated and unable to have children, their bone and brain development will be disrupted, the full side effects and consequences remain unknown.

“This is an unprecedented medical experiment on our children.

“How can we justify the government, the schools system, the very adults who should be safeguarding our children, being complicit in putting children on this pathway?”

He warned that because the guidance will be non-statutory, there is a risk that headteachers will be pitted against teachers if they have different opinions about which rules should be followed.

Conservative MP Caroline Ansell said some people will be nervous about taking part in the consultation about the new guidance because the debate is so toxic.

She said: “People have wanted to raise the issue with me in a very discrete way for fear of repercussions.”

Susan Acland-Hood, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, agreed that some people will be very nervous about expressing their opinions in forums such as public meetings.

She said: “This is one of the few occasions where a boring government response form [to the consultation] might be a good thing.”

Mrs Keegan said: “We need to improve where we are today because schools are struggling to deal with this issue.

“It will go out for a long consultation because there are many people who have quite strong views on both sides of this discussion and we want to make sure we have that open debate-  it’s a difficult one to have but we want to have an open debate.”

Mrs Keegan was also asked about the crumbling concrete crisis in schools. She  told MPs that only a "handful" more scholols are likely to discover they have it in their buildings.

She said the rate of schools uncovering Raac ( Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) has “definitely massively slowed down.”

She said latest figures show 231 schools have confirmed Raac, and most of them are still offering face to face education. Three schools are now offering hybrid education.

She said she expects “some more” schools will uncover the dangerous concrete as follow-up survey work is carried out, but added: “What we expect now from where we are, when we have gone through and gone to the more difficult to reach parts of the building, is that there will only be probably more of a handful more cases because it’s definitely massively slowed down.”

Pupils in 41 schools are being taught in temporary classroom as a result of the crumbling concrete crisis, MPs were told.

Susan Acland-Hood said some schools need temporary buildings and do not have them yet, but she could not say how many. At 110 schools ‘mitigations’ have been made to existing buildings instead of bringing in temporary classrooms. While others are sharing facilities, such as science labs, with nearby schools that do not have the problem concrete.

Mrs Keegan also warned that the habit of going to school has been broken for too many children, and named boosting attendance as her top priority.