Transgender students: Maintaining an inclusive educational environment
Average read time: 3 minutes.
Everybody will agree that legislation which seeks to protect individuals and prohibit discriminatory treatment is fundamental to establishing and maintaining an inclusive society. This attitude is echoed even more in relation to our young people, schools and drive to support diversity in classrooms.
Obligations under the Equality Act 2010 extend to educational institutions, but teaching professionals can often find it difficult to know when their school policies may unintentionally fall foul of the law. This is increasingly the case when trying to use their best endeavours to accommodate for transgender students.
To remedy this, the first official national guidelines on transgender children were due to be issued in March 2018. These guidelines are intended to assist teaching professionals in understanding their obligations under the 2010 Act. However, as much as these guidelines are eagerly awaited, they are still yet to be issued.
A few charities and authorities have sought to fill the guidance gap in their local areas. In 2017, Cornwall Council collaborated with the Intercom Trust and Devon and Cornwall Police to produce freely accessible guidance for teaching professionals to support transgender students. This can be accessed here. I am sure many teaching professionals will find this resource useful in the interim.
Cornwall's Guidance explores many aspects of school life, but I have summarised the key practical solutions to common difficulties that teachers often identify in their efforts to structure an inclusive educational environment for transgender pupils below.
How do I address my student?
- Ascertain the correct pronoun to address a student ("he" or "she")
- Alternatively, simply avoid pronouns altogether and use their chosen first name
The transgender students in our school use the "disabled toilets", but they often raise the point that they are not disabled. How should I refer to the toilets / changing facilities?
- Avoid using the term "disabled toilets" as students often feel there is a stigma with using them. This will also ensure that the pupil's dignity is respected.
- Rename the facilities e.g. "Unisex accessible toilets"
- Or simply just call them "toilets"
How should we facilitate sports and physical education in school?
- Encourage and facilitate participation within the sports of their true gender – There should be reasonably few or no issues why this cannot be achieved
- Manage issues of physical risk in later years within the lesson context – Preventing participation is discriminatory treatment
Do we need to change our uniform policy?
- No changes should be necessary – apply the same policy as any other pupils are expected to follow
- Consider having gender neutral options i.e. both girls and boys can wear shorts and trousers
- Allow students to wear the uniform of their true gender where there are gender specific uniform policies
- Explore alternatives where there are potential issues for clothing to be revealing
At present, we only know that the finalised guidance will be shared with schools "in due course". Whilst there still remains a lot of confusion as to what must be done to support transgender students, especially in relation to admissions policies for single-sex schools, local guidance such as Cornwall Councils can be a good resource to start with when thinking about how school policies may impact transgender students.
This article is for general information only and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice
and should not be relied upon as such. If you have any questions relating to your particular circumstances,
you should seek independent legal advice.