Integrating transgender pupils in all aspects of school life requires careful consideration of a school’s legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 (‘the Act’) as well as sensitive management of the needs and interests of the school community as a whole. Here we explore how schools can meet their legal obligations to transgender pupils in key aspects of school life.
Note: References to ‘transgender’ in this article refer to the protected characteristic of gender reassignment under the Act.
Co-educational schools must not discriminate against a transgender child in terms of admission. Single sex schools are permitted to have gender specific admissions policies and admit one sex only.
Currently however there is some uncertainty as to whether a single sex school’s refusal to admit a transgender pupil is discriminatory. Where a transgender applicant applies for admission, single sex schools should carefully consider the matter and whether any adjustments can be made to accommodate the child: a blanket refusal otherwise risks being unlawful.
- Boarding Schools
Co-educational and single sex boarding schools can restrict admission as a boarder to pupils of only one sex without this being discriminatory. This exception still applies where only a few pupils of the other sex are allowed to board.
In practice boarding schools may therefore refuse admission of a pupil to a single-sex boarding house and its facilities because of the pupil's sex or gender reassignment.
Boarding schools must however consider whether and how far it is reasonable to alter or extend facilities in order to accommodate the pupil. If there is an increasing demand for facilities and a school has the means and resources to make the necessary provision, any decision not to admit risks being discriminatory.
Transgender pupils should be able to use the facilities which correspond with their gender identity, wherever reasonably practicable. Carrying out an appropriate risk assessment will help inform schools what adjustments can be made to accommodate the pupil taking into account, for example, the wishes of the pupil; existing resources and facilities; any health and safety considerations; the practicalities of the proposed arrangement; the benefit to the transgender pupil affected; and the implications for the wider school community.
Where changing is problematic schools may wish to consider, for example, offering a fully enclosed alternative facility or separate changing space. Gender-neutral single cubicle toilets, using terms such as ‘unisex accessible toilets’ or ‘toilet and changing facilities’ to describe separate facilities, may also minimise any segregation of transgender pupils.
Transgender pupils have a right to dress in a manner consistent with their gender identity. Many schools have introduced gender-neutral uniform policies, or policies which allow pupils to choose between a skirt and trousers.
Adjustments should extend equally to sports kit. Regarding swimwear, exploring alternative swimwear options may avoid potential issues that could develop due to the revealing nature of this type of clothing. For example, schools may wish to permit all pupils to wear skirted swimsuits or short wetsuits as alternatives to traditional swimwear.
- Participation in Sports
Schools must take care not to prevent any transgender pupil from taking part in sports in accordance with their gender identity unless there is sufficient justification for this. Possible justifications may be where a transgender pupil has a physical advantage or where there are safeguarding or safety concerns.
The issue of physical risk within certain contact sports, such as rugby, should be managed properly within the lesson context rather than by preventing transgender pupils from participating. If participation may not be appropriate (such as towards the latter stages of puberty), schools should discuss with parents and the pupil concerned how best to manage this.
- Names and forms of address
Changing name and gender identity is a pivotal point for many transgender pupils. There is nothing to prevent schools making changes on their information management systems to pupils’ preferred names and pronouns in accordance with their wishes. All staff should be made aware of changes and receive appropriate training. Schools should also ensure that any changes feed into letters home, school reports etc. subject to considerations of confidentiality and the views expressed by the child.
Schools should closely monitor all areas of the curriculum and resources to ensure that they do not contain gender stereotypes or transphobic material.
Wherever possible, the curriculum should be used to foster positive attitudes to gender reassignment and break down any stereotypes. Schools should work towards a robust whole school approach to developing and understanding transgender issues and prevention of transphobia i.e. via Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education and school assemblies.
Schools should note that the governors are ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 which includes meeting the needs of all pupils within the school and ensuring that the welfare, health and safety of transgender pupils is effectively safeguarded and promoted. Inspectors will consider how the school is meeting these regulatory requirements and any failure risks not only a finding of non-compliance on inspection but also a claim of discrimination from the individual affected.
- Any questions?
Sould you wish to discuss supporting transgender pupils in your school, please do get in touch.