School leaders frustrated by ‘squabble’ over Sunak’s promised transgender guidance

Schools are being left in limbo by the government’s “political squabbles” delaying its transgender guidance for students and staff, according to school leaders.

Rishi Sunak had promised that guidance for schools in England dealing with trans issues would be published by the end of the summer term. But the guidance has been held up by legal questions, with No 10 saying on Wednesday that “more evidence is required” before publication.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the internal battle between ministers was leaving schools isolated.

“We have been telling the government that schools and colleges need clear guidance on provision for transgender and gender-questioning pupils for the past five years, so it is frustrating that it has now got to the point of producing something but appears to be locked in an internal political squabble which is causing a further delay,” Barton said.

“At present, schools have to navigate this complex and sensitive subject entirely on their own.

“Clear, practical guidance on this matter is important as long as it is genuinely supportive to schools and pupils and does not add to the existing and onerous expectations on schools.

“We will be looking very closely at the guidance when it is published and consulting with our members to ensure it is proportionate, fair and deliverable.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “We understand that there is a need for further guidance, that’s what we’ve been working on urgently.

“Equally, it’s vital we get this right. Teachers want clear guidance that is workable in school settings and that’s what we are working towards. But this is a sensitive area. We do feel more evidence is required before we publish the guidance.”

Schools have faced an increasing number of children questioning their gender in recent years, and school leaders have repeatedly called for clarity on how they should support trans children.

Kemi Badenoch, the minister for women and equalities, is said to be pushing for the non-statutory guidance to include a ban on social transitioning by pupils, meaning that transgender children would not be able to use another name and pronoun or wear uniform of the opposite gender.

But the Times said legal advice from Victoria Prentis, the attorney general, found that a ban on social transitioning in schools was unlawful under the Equality Act and would require the government passing new legislation.

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A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said: “By longstanding convention, reflected in the ministerial code, whether the law officers have been asked to provide legal advice and the content of any advice is not disclosed outside government without their explicit consent. That consent is rarely given.”

New legislation could delay the guidance until the general election. Alternatively, the government could issue guidance that drops the controversial clauses.

On Sunday Badenoch told the BBC that the guidance would compel schools to inform parents if their child was questioning their gender. “What is right is that parents know what is going on with their children at school,” she said.

But on Monday the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, declined to tell MPs when the guidance would be published, saying that she was working with Badenoch to produce it “in the near term”.

This article was amended on 20 July 2022 because an earlier version mistakenly referred to the Equality Act 2010 as the Equalities Act.

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