Schools are using “overtly political materials” to teach children about gender issues, Ofsted has warned, despite the statutory requirement for neutrality.
When it comes to teaching children about sex, sexual orientation and gender reasignment, some school staff are “confusing” their legal obligations under the Equality Act with the moral and the political, according to the school watchdog.
Ofsted issued the warning as part of a commentary on research it has recently carried out into how these topics are taught in schools.
Summarising the research findings, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy Chris Jones said that when the Equalities Act was introduced in 2010, it was “contentious from the outset” particularly in relation to characteristics relating to sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
“The increasing political sensitivities in these areas have made it harder for schools to handle equalities well,” he said.
“For example, school staff can occasionally confuse the legal, the moral and the political, and so (often inadvertently) bring overtly political materials into their curriculum and teaching without acknowledging it as such, despite the statutory requirement of political neutrality.”
Earlier this year, reports emerged of schools sanctioning the use of male names for girls as young as 13 without the consent of their parents.
Campaigners have accused teachers of misinterpreting equality regulations by allowing female pupils (who say they identify as boys) to use a different name. The “new” names are used in the classroom, and on pupil registers and official communications from the school.
One popular trans school kit, published by Brighton and Hove Council with the LGBT youth charity Allsorts, says: “Care should be taken to ensure the wishes of the individual pupil or student are taken into account with a view to supporting them during potential transition.
“Confidential information must not be shared even with the parents without the child or young person’s permission unless there are safeguarding reasons for doing so.”
Stonewall has advised schools that teachers should drop the terms boys and girls in favour of “learners” and mix up the sexes in PE classes.
The LGBT charity is urging teachers to ditch all gendered language and gendered uniforms and suggests that children should compete against the opposite sex in sport.
A series of guidance documents state uniform policies should "give the option to wear a skirt as well as the option to wear trousers".
Stonewall advises school staff that they should avoid dividing learners by gender, whether in the classroom or through uniform, sports activities or other aspects of school life.
It suggests instead that children could be divided by “their favourite colour, month of birth or something else”.
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Dr Susan Matthews, an honorary senior research fellow in creative writing at Roehampton University, analysed a series of books that are being circulated in British schools.
She concluded that children are being put at risk by transgender books in primary schools that “misrepresent” medical knowledge on puberty blockers.
Her critique of children’s literature was published in the 2019 book Inventing Transgender Children and Young People.
Books and lesson plans that are designed educate pupils about transgender issues “fail child safeguarding and conflict with the law”, she said.
Dr Matthews found that much of the information given about medical transition is “inaccurate”, adding that “potential harms are ignored, glossed over or falsified”.
Mr Jones said that Ofsted’s research was aimed at identifying good practise in teaching some of these “contentious” issues.
He noted that there have been instances where schools and parents do not “see eye-to-eye” on the content and age-appropriateness of curriculum materials used to teach primary school pupils about same-sex relationships.
“There was confusion among schools about what the various pieces of guidance required teachers to teach in relation to LGBT matters in particular,” he said.
“Guidance identifies a minimum requirement, but does not contemplate any ceiling on what can be taught at what age, so there can be pressure to go further, potentially causing conflict with some parents.”