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This briefing paper and a separate briefing paper, Gender recognition reform: consultation and outcome (Number 09079, 10 December 2020), together supersede a previous Commons Library briefing paper, Gender recognition and the rights of transgender people (Number 08969, 22 July 2020). The two new briefing papers include developments since the previous paper was published.

This paper’s coverage

In England, Wales and Scotland, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against transgender children in all schools. The UK Department for Education (DfE) guidance on the Act says protections apply to those who are undergoing, have undergone, or are proposing to undergo, a  process (or part of a process) of reassigning their sex by changing physiological or other attributes.

In Northern Ireland, guidance issued by the Education Authority says the European Convention on Human Rights may offer some protections for transgender pupils.

As schools policy is a devolved issue, this briefing focuses on the position in England, but some information is included on relevant policies and pupil experiences in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

In 2014, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published guidance on the Equality Act 2010 and how it applies to schools in England and Scotland.

The UK Government committed to publishing an update to its guidance for schools on how to apply the Equality Act 2010 in its 2018 LGBT action plan. The Government Equalities Office said in July 2019 that the EHRC was also developing guidance for schools on supporting transgender pupils.

Across the UK, schools are subject to safeguarding duties to protect pupil wellbeing and are required to have anti-bullying policies. Decisions on uniform, provisions for shared sanitary and changing facilities and mixed sport are primarily made by schools themselves, within their respective statutory framework. Under guidance published following recent curriculum changes in England, all pupils should receive teaching on LGBT relationships during their school years.

A 2017 survey by the charity Stonewall found that nearly two thirds (64%) of surveyed transgender pupils reported being bullied for being LGBT. It also found three in five transgender pupils reported speaking to a member of school staff about being transgender. 

Several local authorities have published guidance for schools, but this has sometimes proved controversial. For example, in May 2020 Oxfordshire County Council said it had taken the decision to withdraw its Trans Inclusion Toolkit and that it would instead adopt expected EHRC guidance. At the same time, the council said it was withdrawing from the judicial review of the Toolkit, which was expected in Autumn 2020.

In England in 2014, the DfE’s advice on The Equality Act 2010 and schools noted that “a partnership of bodies in Cornwall have produced a useful guidance document for schools and families.”

In 2017, the NASUWT Teachers’ Union published guides for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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