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'Up to 30 pupils questioning their gender at typical secondary school'

News'Up to 30 pupils questioning their gender at typical secondary school'

Up to 30 pupils at a “typical” secondary school are questioning their gender, a headteacher has revealed.

Schools in England are grappling with how best to handle gender dysphoria, weighing the rights of students to go by the names and pronouns of their choosing against those of their parents to be made aware of what’s happening.

Headteachers are awaiting guidance promised by the Government after research from a thinktank earlier this year found some secondary schools were not informing parents as soon as child started questioning their gender identity.

One headteacher at an unnamed but “typical” state secondary school in the north of England told a national newspaper there were between 25 and 30 pupils questioning their gender at the institution. Given a typical secondary school in the UK has around 1,000 students, this is around 3% of the school population.

 READ MORE: Parent fury as schools tell them their kids have ‘changed gender’

The 2021 Census revealed that around 0.5% of Brits identify as a gender different to the sex they were registered with at birth. However, questioning gender is not the same as identifying as a different gender to the one assigned at birth. 

And many of the pupils may not ultimately settle on a different gender identity, or transition. Nonetheless, some of the children at the school choose to be referred to at school by a name and pronouns that are different to how they’re addressed at home. 

 The head revealed that some of those children had not told their parents about the changes. She said they did not yet feel ready for them to find out.

“We have a kind of internal system of communication,” she told the Guardian. “An email will go out to members of staff saying: ‘This student has asked if they can use this particular name and pronouns in class.

“It will not appear on the register but if you could remember to do it every time you speak to that student …’ and 99% of staff will agree to that.”

The headteacher, referred to as Beth*, has a transgender daughter who came out aged 11. Beth’s daughter was referred to specialist NHS services at 12, began hormone blockers at 15 and started taking oestrogen a year later.

Beth also helps run the school’s LGBTQ+ club, which helps support pupils experiencing gender dysphoria. She says the reactions of parents who discover their child is using a different name and pronouns in school can be wide-ranging.

“Some can be quite accepting,” she said. “There are other parents who will shut it down straight away and say: ‘No, I’m not having this.’”

Safeguarding concerns have been raised about the potential dangers of telling parents who do not know their child is questioning their gender identity. There are fears doing this could put the child at risk of harm by family members.  In extreme cases, there have been transphobic ‘honour killings’. 

However, new government guidance due to be finalised in the coming weeks is expected to suggest that schools should inform families if their children start using a different gender identity.

At Beth’s school parents are invited in and advised on the professional and medical help at hand for children with gender dysphoria. Though no parents have pulled their children out of the school yet, some are sceptical about its approach. And one parent has accused it of brainwashing their child.

“We’re not trying to say to parents that we know best,” Beth says. “We are working in the child’s best interests.

“We will do what we can to support them – what they ask for is what they will get. We work for the students, we don’t work for the parents essentially.”

Some parents oppose the “gender-affirmative” approach taken by some schools. Bayswater is a support group for parents who do not believe teachers should support a child’s social transition – changing names and pronouns – in the absence of specialist NHS advice and consent from both parents, and it advocates instead for what it describes as “evidence-based care”.

One of its members says her then 13-year-old daughter – who had been the victim of misogynist and homophobic bullying – was influenced by a “secret” presentation at her school by a once-suicidal trans adult who said “everything was great” after they transitioned.

The parent, referred to by the paper as Marie*, said that after a two-week period of intense internet use, her child made an announcement similar to those made by other young people questioning their gender.  Marie’s child told teachers that they wanted to go by a different name and pronouns and the all-girls state school accepted this.

Marie and her husband have been referred to social services three times and family relationships have come under huge strain. Marie’s child – who was registered female at birth- is now aged 17, attends a sixth-form college and uses a boy’s name and male pronouns.

Parents and headteachers are still waiting for the publication of guidance promised by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Guardian: “These decisions are complex and sensitive and, while the Government has been dithering over this guidance for several years in a way that is completely unhelpful, schools have been left to navigate this rapidly evolving territory entirely on their own.

“These guidelines must be fully consulted on with the education sector, and other stakeholders, to ensure they are sensible and deliverable. Above all, they must make it easier and not more difficult for schools to maintain a respectful environment where all pupils are treated with dignity.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The education secretary is working closely with the minister for women and equalities to provide guidance for schools in this area, following calls from schools, teachers, and parents.

“This work is based upon the overriding principle of safeguarding children, and it will consider a range of issues. We will be publishing a consultation on the guidance this term.”

*Names have been changed

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