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Artillery Row

Badenoch’s guidance is a classic Tory fudge

It clarifies far less than it leaves confused

The Conservatives are, if nothing else, absolute masters of looking as if they are taking action while doing almost nothing of actual substance. No doubt people who have been following the Rwanda stalemate think Heathrow is being used for little but deportation flights. Actually, of course, nothing consequential has been done.

Kemi Badenoch’s new guidance for schools continues this tradition. The Conservatives have spent years dithering over the vexed question of how to deal with “gender questioning” schoolchildren and have delivered yet another baffling compromise.

You might not expect that if you heard Badenoch talking about it — or, of course, the left-wing activists wringing their hands as if it says to call the local priest for an exorcism if a child called “Alexandra” is heard being called “Alex”. But Badenoch’s rhetoric simply does not match the content of the guidance itself. “Self-ID and social transition,” Badenoch has claimed, “Add up to a very dangerous ideology that can have terrible effects on young LGB children, who are being put on a medical pathway to irreversible physical changes.” 

Well, children don’t have to be “L”, “G” or “B” to be attracted to gender ideology (indeed, children don’t have to have given their sexuality much thought at all). That sounds like an attempt to slap a progressive label on a conservative position.

But let’s brush over that. If Badenoch believes that “social transition” is part of a “dangerous ideology” that can harm young people, why does the guidance allow for social transition?  “There is no general duty to allow a child to ‘social transition’,” it states, and “schools and colleges should take a cautious approach”. Parents should be included in the decision-making. But schools can still change a child’s name, pronouns and uniform according to the “gender” the child identifies with once these provisions have been met (with “caution” hardly being a provision at all, inasmuch as it is so vaguely defined).

Even primary schools can do this. I think most fair-minded people would appreciate that things might get more difficult with 18-year-olds — but 8-years-olds? True, the guidance says that “requests from younger children in primary schools should be treated with greater caution”. But when do Badenoch and Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education, think that they should be accepted? When can such requests be reasonable? At this point one almost suspects that the fine words about “caution” are being inserted for the politicians’ sake. “Well, we told them to be cautious!”

So, is “social transition” dangerous for kids or is it not? “Sometimes” is Badenoch’s answer, perhaps, which would be an arguable position except that we are left with no special insight into when. The onus is on the teachers and the schools to work it out.

even the principles on sports are maddeningly vague

Granted, the guidance’s affirmation that toilets and showers should be single-sex according to biological sex is welcome. But even the principles on sports are maddeningly vague. There is a list of things that schools should “consider” when it comes to kids who want to play with kids of the opposite sex. Schools should “consider … how fair it would be to allow mixed-sex participation”. How exactly? Is a PE teacher going to time a “gender questioning” boy over 100 metres to see if it would be “fair” for them to run with the girls? “It would not be safe for a biological boy to participate in certain sports as part of a teenage girls’ team,” the guidance says. True enough. But what sports? And would it not make more sense just to say that sports are single-sex (unless, of course, like netball, they were mixed-sex all along)?

Liz Truss (yes, she is still in politics) says the guidance does not go “far enough”. “We need a change in law,” writes Truss, which will:

  • “Define sex as biological sex to protect single-sex spaces”.
  • “Stop schools formally recognising social transitioning”.
  • “Ban under-18s from accessing puberty blockers and hormone treatment for gender dysphoria”.

That sounds like a plan that politicians would follow if they thought they were facing “a dangerous ideology that can have terrible effects”. But it would be very controversial. And who needs that kind of headache?

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