Artillery Row

Saying no to school transition

Social transition in schools is wrong, risky and unfair to children — and the government should ban it

On Monday, the Department for Education’s draft “trans” guidance was leaked to the Sun. According to a “Government source” this new guidance will advise schools that they should only “socially transition” a child with parental consent.

It is still unclear when this guidance will finally be published, but the need for regulation is increasingly apparent. With astonishing speed and an almost religious zeal, gender ideology has swept through British educational establishments so extensively that thousands of children now “identify as” a different gender to their birth sex, and have changed their name, pronouns and dress to reflect this. Recent reports estimate that at least 80% of teachers now have “trans” or “non-binary” -identifying children in their classrooms, and a significant proportion of schools have a policy of ‘gender self-ID’, compel children to use preferred pronouns, don’t routinely tell parents about a child’s ‘change of gender’ and do not maintain single sex facilities and sports

Quite apart from the scandal of children being indoctrinated with this contested ideology, the rapid rise of children requesting “gender changes” has created a practical nightmare for schools. Whilst some teachers are deliberately pushing this agenda, many others find themselves in a deeply unenviable position, caught between the requests of children, the rights of parents, the demands of activists and the ambiguity of the law. Does the Equality Act mean that children who are “trans” have the right to use opposite sex toilets? Is it “harassment” for pupils to “misgender” a peer?

The need for guidance is indisputable, but anything other than a total ban on schools socially transitioning children will exacerbate these tensions. Not only is a ban the right ethical solution, it is also the only way to protect head teachers from being forced to make high stakes decisions for which they are unqualified.

What are the long-term consequences of pressuring children to deny what they know to be reality?

The principles underpinning the guidance should be that sex is binary and immutable, and that it is probably the single most consequential human characteristic. To tell a child that they can be anything other than male or female is a psychological intervention with unknown consequences for their welfare. Whilst some claim social transition is the only “kind” or “neutral” response to a child with gender distress, Dr Hilary Cass has stated that social transition is not a neutral act, but an intervention with potentially permanent consequences. Of course it is. What confused adolescent, after being celebrated publicly by their teachers and peers for being brave and coming out as “trans”, is going to wake up one morning and tell their new friends that they made a mistake? A far more likely outcome is that the transition is “locked in”, and the child continues along an irreversible route that can end in infertility, pain and broken family relationships. 

Psychological interventions should only be made by qualified clinicians, and then only when there is good evidence that the intervention will be beneficial. This is particularly the case when so many of the children presenting with gender distress are autistic, same-sex attracted, or suffering from mental health conditions in addition to dysphoria. There is no clinical evidence that social transition improves the mental health of gender distressed children and studies suggest 80% of children with these feelings grow out of them. There is no way of knowing which children may emerge as the other 20% so it’s hard to see how transitioning any child can be justified. Social transition is therefore an experimental intervention and we do not allow experiments on children except by qualified clinicians within the strict regulations of scientific studies. Obviously schools do not meet these requirements.

There are also ethical considerations for the classmates of “transitioned” pupils. What are the long-term consequences of pressuring children to deny what they know to be reality, to pretend that Olivia has become Oliver and face sanctions if they don’t comply? Again, this constitutes a psychological experiment on our children with unknown outcomes; only an outright moratorium on social transitioning in schools can suffice.

Some argue that social transition should be allowed, but only with parental consent. But this is to confuse the right of parents to be fully involved in the life of their child — which I wholeheartedly support — and the request of a parent for their child to be given something to which they are not entitled. For example, a well-meaning parent could insist that a GP prescribe antibiotics for their child; but if the doctor’s diagnosis is a viral infection, they would not be expected to — and indeed shouldn’t — prescribe a medication that they do not believe is safe, effective or necessary just because a parent demands it. Similarly, parents are legally allowed to let their children drink alcohol at home. But any parent who requested for their child to bring alcohol onto the school premises would be met with a firm “no”. Except in rare instances where there are pre-recorded safeguarding concerns, parents should always be informed by schools when their child expressed gender distress, or of any other serious welfare concern. But it does not follow, ethically or legally, that parents can insist on their child being socially transitioned, a “treatment” in which the whole school has to take part. 

And from a practical point of view, a clear and universally applied rule is the only workable solution for school leaders. As a former teacher and a mother of three, I can say with the benefit of experience that life is easier for everyone if all children have to follow the same rules without exception. To expect schools to have to decide who can change pronouns and who can’t is unfair and will only create further chaos and distress. The reality on the ground is that parents come under unbearable pressure from children, who have often been groomed online to say that they will be suicidal if forbidden to transition. And headteachers come under unbearable pressure from children, parents and activists. The only ethical, fair and workable solution is to end all social transitioning in schools. 

We cannot duck the issue by hiding behind the (misplaced) shield of parental consent: if socially transitioning children does not meet accepted ethical standards then it should not be done. To many this may sound harsh; it is certainly firm. I have been accused of being “unloving”. But the root cause of this tragedy is that, as a society, we have lost sight of what it really means to love a child. Giving a child whatever they think they want is not love. Love is wanting what is best for a child and telling them the truth even if it’s hard to hear. Love is setting boundaries that keep children safe, and then patiently and kindly enforcing them. Love is defending children against ideologies that mean them harm, even when as adults we may pay a price for doing so. 

I look forward to seeing the new guidance, which must be made statutory. I hope it has our children’s best interests at heart.

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