Transgenderism in Schools
Reconstructing Professional Responses to Transgenderism in Educational Settings
8th September 2022
Rather than making use of longstanding legal frameworks to facilitate the inclusion of transgender children, schools and children’s services are instead adopting the woke policies promoted by lobbying groups. This is to the detriment of all children, argues David Buck.
Much media attention has focused on the threat to academic freedom in universities that have promoted policies influenced by critical race theory or gender ideology. Less commented on is the impact of similar practices within the public sector, especially children’s support services. This branch of public service has a legal duty to be politically impartial. Nonetheless, ‘woke’ views are often presented by Local Authority managers as being the only route to the further development of equality, diversity and inclusion in educational settings. Front-line staff are often expected to accept these politically contested positions without challenge and an illusion of impartiality is maintained simply because no other approaches are considered.
Tensions within children’s services between the duty of political impartiality and partisan, contested policies promoted by managers are now having a significant impact on front-line practice, particularly in relation to the needs of transgender children in educational settings. Local Authorities and schools themselves have sought advice from transgender charities, such as Stonewall and Mermaids, that are often uncompromising in their project to dissociate gender from biological sex. They then develop ‘transgender toolkits’ that go far beyond the needs of any individual transgender students to promote a broader ideological stance on gender. For example, such toolkits often recommend whole-school adaptations to single-sex spaces and sports; teaching that gender is on a ‘spectrum’ and even school policies on ‘chest binding’.
Many public sector front-line service staff have noted managers and human resource departments gradually adopting woke values into their policies. This appears to have happened because charities and campaigning organisations provide easy to follow, ready-made rules along with off-the-shelf moral authority. The delusion of moral authority seems likely to have contributed to the errors Local Authorities made in recent child protection scandals in Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, Aylesbury, Oxford, Derby, Halifax, Keighley, Peterborough, Huddersfield and Manchester.
Woke values are put into operation without consulting the front-line service staff who are tasked with their implementation. In schools and children’s support services, received wisdom assumes ‘doing nothing’ is the same as ‘do no harm’ despite historical warnings relating to ‘omission bias’. As Hannah Arendt notes: Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing. In schools, this can result in what amounts to the inculcation of a moral imperative untested by democratic accountability.
This is especially concerning when services dedicated to child protection take on board, without challenge, a particular view in relation to gender identity. Vulnerable children risk having new gender identities affirmed, leading to irreversible medical decisions with life-long fallout. These dangers bring to mind scandals in places such as Rotherham where Local Authorities were specifically accused of an inability, at the time, to challenge the repeatedly raised child protection issues relating to grooming gangs, for fear of appearing racially motivated.
Many front-line staff are increasingly concerned about their Local Authority’s apparent indifference towards any wider stakeholder consultation on transgender issues, including with parents. Of particular concern is the way that protagonists of gender ideology react to criticism, often adopting a dogmatic, semi-religious dismissal of any dissenting voice, forming a barrier even to alternative conceptualisations, let alone whistle-blowing.
Unfortunately, the complacent approval of woke values seems to help the career progression of senior managers while maintaining culturally privileged group membership for their compliant staff. In Local Authorities, holding particular values has long been a way to establish tribal differentiation between managers and front-line workers and between public services as a whole and their respective client groups. Put more crudely, woke provides a management tool to maintain division between oppressors and oppressed.
Remaining silent, the assumption that ‘doing nothing’ is the same as ‘doing no harm’, when it comes to transgender children could come to be seen as reckless, as it was in the examples of the child protection scandals cited above. Psychological and other ‘well-being’ services might wish to reflect on the risks involved in tacitly supporting under 16s who embark on a ‘Gillick pathway’ to irreversible decisions that they may well regret in later life (a responsibility for which that they singularly maintain if parental views are not included).
Psychological services that uncritically choose their manager’s woke narrative not only expose children to these risks, but leave parents responsible for a lifetime supporting their child as a seriously ‘self’-harmed adult. Rather than ‘doing nothing’ at least some moderation might be offered. This could entail discouraging the individual schools, support services, and staff members who act as ‘Trans-Activists’ and may be missing the real child protection needs for which they are formally responsible. Psychological services could also give voice to the increasing evidence of the correlation of transgenderism with autism (see, for example, Dattaro 2020). This would enhance strategies already well established for the wider brief of inclusion that have been developed in educational settings, especially since the introduction of the Children & Families Act (2014).
Educational settings have a well-established assessment procedure for children with Special Educational Needs such as sensory impairments, autism, learning, emotional, behavioural, language and social communication difficulties. This is the multi-disciplinary Statutory Assessment procedure, which used to refer to a process that ended with the Local Authority setting out a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN). Originally laid down in law by the Education Act 1981, after several updates it now refers to making an Educational, Health and Care Needs Assessment and a commitment by the Local Authority to provide resources specified within an Educational, Health and Care Plan as required under Part 3 of the Children and Families Act (2014). In both cases, the Statutory Assessment process required at least five sources of evidence to be submitted in order to assess the special educational need and determine the resources necessary to meet them. Therefore this remains a broadly equitable process across the country.
The current Educational, Health and Care Plan paves the way not only for more scrutiny by and between professional agencies but also more democratic accountability than the post code lottery of local support groups that are susceptible to the influence of transgender charities such as Stonewall, Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence. The ‘Weberian bureaucracy’ inherent in the Statutory Assessment of special educational needs could form its own ‘paradoxical intervention’ by slowing down decisions made in haste and providing a broad platform where outlier perspectives stand more chance of being heard and strident charities side-lined. Statutory Assessment has particular relevance to supporting the exceptional needs of children struggling with their gender identity in educational settings.
This works in three distinct ways: First, Statutory Assessment is, of course, just the sort of bureaucratic channel along which woke values could actually be promoted in the public sector. However the process also has form in moderating the excesses of some virulent campaigning agendas. For many years the powerful dyslexia lobby adapted the deficit-hunting tendencies of public sector support services to help self-identify (via parents) children as dyslexic rather than having learning difficulties. Teachers were often just as keen to shift responsibility and mask inappropriate teaching methods by labelling children as having dyslexia.
Over time, the effect of channeling disputes about dyslexia resources through Statutory Assessment procedures has had a moderating influence on the often over-zealous lobbying charities. This also had the parallel effect of raising the visibility of research revealing that better literacy teaching methods had evolved. This demonstrates not only just how unhelpful charity involvement in complex pedagogical issues can be but also how useful Statutory Assessment can be in mounting a challenge. In a similar manner, Statutory Assessment can formally confront the excesses of the transgender lobbies and promote consideration of the research that indicates autistic components may well be present in each transgender case under assessment.
The second way in which Statutory Assessment has particular relevance to supporting the exceptional needs of children struggling with their gender identity in educational settings is with regard to children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. The Children and Families Act emphasises inter-agency co-operation and the wider context of a child’s difficulties in relation to the curriculum and whole school environment. It balances the needs of the SEN child with the impact on their peers. The enhanced agency co-operation and contextual framework of Statutory Assessment can encourage discussion and support for the full breadth of implications of transgender children’s needs in educational settings.
Thirdly, the evidence from the professional reports required for Statutory Assessment are specifically commissioned by the local authority to be produced without commentary on the resources required to meet those identified needs. Local authorities that promote an almost universal mainstreaming policy for SENs will not necessarily see this as political. However, they would immediately do so if segregated provision was allowed to be directly recommended by a psychologist, medic, social worker or other professional due to the increased costs that would be incurred. Nevertheless all stakeholders have an unrestricted voice, regardless of employing authority’s guidance, at SEN and Disability Tribunals through the appeals procedures.
Although often regarded as a slow bureaucratic process, Statutory Assessment has provided oversight of the equitable allocation of resources required for each of the clearly defined categories of SEN. This stands in marked contrast to the developing definition of transgenderism almost entirely reliant on ‘self-identification’. Statutory Assessment enables practitioners to discuss and support transgender individuals’ needs in educational settings more fully and in an independent manner, thereby enabling Local Authority representatives to appreciate the wider ramifications of these issues, especially at SEN tribunal hearings. Therefore, the Statutory Assessment process can provide front-line children’s services staff with more of a distance, when necessary, from bias, whether this originates from local government guidance, lobby groups or trans charities.
Meeting the needs of transgender children
Special Educational Needs, as an educational construct, has developed over many years to reach beyond the individual ‘within-child’ factors of its earlier manifestation. It now includes issues of ‘segregation’ versus ‘mainstreaming’; ‘least restrictive environment’; ‘disruption of others’ learning’. But it has not (yet?) fallen victim to the extreme expressions of identity politics. Transgenderism in contrast, has been re-defined so as to encroach upon some of the most basic questions of personal identity. In an educational context, this has a significantly negative impact on the curriculum and the whole school community by claiming access to girl’s single-sex places and sports and contradicting basic biological facts.
Schools need their own in-house procedures to limit the socially disruptive demands of transgender activism. Schools are bound by political impartiality, as government ministers have recently restated. Statutory Assessment processes could be utilised to emphasise this duty for transgender issues arising in educational contexts and formally expose the Local Authorities’ promotion of woke values as anything but ‘impartial’. It could provide something of a counterweight to the omnipotence of those charities that make self-interested claims based on their own interpretations of their clients’ ‘lived experience’, regardless of the effects on the hard won rights of others.
Statutory Assessment procedures can help meet the needs of transgender students in schools by offsetting powerful charity lobbying; allowing for an assessment of wider contextual elements related to the needs of all children to be taken into account; and allowing front-line workers the opportunity to challenge, with relative impunity, the supposedly-politically impartial Local Authority consensus and break from a blind adherence to LA policy as necessary.
In school settings there will of course need to be continued efforts to recognise the complexity and sensitivity of transgender issues and assert a firm stance against disrespect. There needs to be a way to support such children in school with strategies that challenge open bigotry towards them but does not further confuse them with the denial of biological difference upon which the current (Stonewall) approach is founded. These and other strategies will parallel many already in place in the educational setting. Existing school policies on child-protection, diversity, inclusion and anti-bullying are likely to comprehensively meet any outstanding needs.
Current policy requirements more than adequately meet the needs of transgender children in school settings. Limiting the identitarian qualities within Special Educational Needs to the pragmatics of matching need with resources will avoid a future backlash caused by complacency towards open debate of difficult questions.
Dr David Buck (C.Psychol AFBPsS) is a former Local Authority Educational Psychologist and Special Educational Needs Ofsted Inspector who now works in private practice running an Educational Psychology Consultancy.
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash.