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Teaching on gender identity to be banned in UK schools

The new RSHE (Relationship, Sex and Health Education) curriculum in schools will ban the teaching of gender identity.

 According to the Conservatives, it is a “contested ideology” and sex education should be restricted to “the facts about biological sex and gender reassignment.”

The guidance, which was published on 16 May 2024, is one of the latest action points of the conservative party’s fight against trans people. 

As well as banning the teaching of gender identity, a concept which is not new and has been around since the 1960s, the new policy limits the accommodations made for gender-questioning students. 

This means schools do not have to accommodate the “social transition” of trans and gender-questioning students, with the changing of pronouns “rare.” 

The Conservatives had considered a complete ban on social transitioning within schools but were advised this would be incompatible with the Equalities Act. This means the new guidelines can be read as an attempt to make social transitions more difficult. 
Additionally, the guidance implements new age limits “to ensure children aren’t being taught about sensitive and complex subjects before they are ready to fully understand them.“ This means children will not learn about sex education, including puberty before year four.

Photo by Lauren Hurley

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak started the consultation into RSHE last October after concerns over inappropriate material being shown in sex education lessons.

The new guidelines will come into effect once a final version is published later this year. 

Gender identity is the concept of gender as a socially constituted phenomenon. One which has been highly respected in academic circles for several years. The concept essentially highlights how gender is a set of appropriate behaviours and decisions which are socialised into us according to our assigned gender.

This new guidance echoes the dark past of Thatcher’s section 28 which has disastrous consequences for LGBTQ+ children growing up in the 80s and 90s. 

Section 28 of the Local Government Bill 1988 banned the “promotion” of homosexuality, particularly in schools. This stopped young people having proper information around sexual activities and fostered a negative perception of LGBTQ+ people in the public view. 

These changes have been drafted despite finding only 36% of trans students felt schools were very or somewhat supportive of their needs and 48.4% were bullied as a result of their gender identity. Severely limiting education on this topic will not solve these issues, but make it worse.

The draft guidelines state: “We are also making clear that the concept of gender identity – the sense a person may have of their own gender, whether male, female or a number of other categories  – is highly contested and should not be taught. This is in line with the cautious approach taken in our guidance on gender-questioning children.“

Along with other factors, teaching this theory in the classroom could prompt some children to start to question their gender when they may not have done so otherwise, and is a complex theory for children to understand.“

When the guidelines were brought to the House of Commons, Conservative MP for Don Valley, Nick Fletcher said parents do not want schools teaching gender identity as “they do not want them teaching an ideology not based in anything.“ Something which the vast academic literature around the subject would disagree with.

Both LGBTQ+ charities such as Stonewall and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) have been critical of these proposals. 

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