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C of E schools guidance defended against gender-transition criticism

31 October 2022

Church of England

The cover of Valuing All God’s Children

The cover of Valuing All God’s Children

THE Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, has defended existing church guidance on challenging homophobic bullying in schools. Its recent interpretation as an endorsement of child gender transition is “false”, he says.

The guidance, Valuing All God’s Children, was first published in 2014 in response to research that suggested that homophobic bullying was on the rise in church schools (News, 16 May 2014). It was rewritten in 2017 and revised in 2019.

Mr Genders writes on the C of E website: “A pressure group has issued a series of press releases, quotes and a petition calling for Valuing All God’s Children to be rescinded, claiming that it states that ‘children as young as five should be affirmed if they want to identify as the opposite gender’. This is simply false. . .

Valuing All God’s Children does not say that children as young as five should be affirmed if they want to identify as the opposite gender. It doesn’t use the language of affirmation at all, anywhere. This is a misrepresentation of a resource which is designed to help schools ensure all children are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

Mr Genders was responding last week to a series of press releases published by Christian Concern which complain that Valuing All God’s Children “continues to reflect the extreme trans ideology of Mermaids and Stonewall and ignores overwhelming evidence that affirming young children’s gender transitions causes tangible and serious harm”.

Mr Genders says that the guidance is a “valued resource” in both church and non-affiliated schools, and aligns with the Equalities Act 2010, to which all schools and academies were subject. It “does not go beyond the law, but rather gives a practical advisory framework, underpinned by our Christian theological conviction, to be a resource for schools”, he writes.

The guidance, where it discusses issues for secondary schools, states: “It is also important that pupils can explore issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors that make healthy self-embodiment challenging. Specifically it is important that pupils understand the issues for those who feel they are trans/transgender and may be in the process of transition, understanding the impact that bullying has on them.”

Mr Genders writes: “We stand by this statement. It is about helping young people to value and respect everyone as cherished and loved by God, regardless of gender identity or sexuality.” It also reflected the Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) guidance from the Government, published in 2019 and supported by the Church, he says (News, 19 July 2019).

Christian Concern has also started a petition to the Archbishop of Canterbury to rescind the guidance. Its most recent post earlier this month was a response to the news that the Department for Education had removed the transgender charity Mermaids from its school well-being resources as a precaution, after the Charity Commission raised safeguarding concerns.

When Valuing All God’s Children was revised in 2019, an appendix of resources was removed. At the time, the Church of England Education Office said that it was being misinterpreted as a list of recommended resources. It included a link to Mermaids.

Referring to this, Mr Genders goes on to say: “It is also untrue to describe Valuing All God’s Children as influenced by ‘Mermaids’ as has been claimed. Mermaids had no involvement in or influence on the preparation of the guidance. Valuing All God’s Children does not recommend any particular third-party resource or organisation.”

He concludes: “The Church of England’s advisory structures must be open and accountable, and it is only right that our guidance should be open to scrutiny and challenge. However, when schoolrooms become legal battlegrounds, this is seldom to the benefit of children.

“This is an area in which we acknowledge there are a range of views, and schools are not exempt from scrutiny and challenge. We have welcomed the Government’s indication that updated guidance will be issued on transgender matters and about how schools should respond to them. All our policies are reviewed regularly, and in light of updated legislation and Government guidance.”

Christian Concern later pointed to page 20 of the guidance, which refers to primary-age children, and states: “In creating a school environment that promotes dignity for all and a call to live fulfilled lives as uniquely gifted individuals, pupils will be equipped to accept difference of all varieties and be supported to accept their own gender identity or sexual orientation and that of others.”

Given that pupils begin in primary around the age of five, this is interpreted by the group as “advocating or affirming children as young as five if they wish to identify as the opposite sex” because pupils might not identify with the gender they were designated at birth.

Responding on Wednesday, Mr Genders said: “In context, this paragraph is clearly about children accepting who they are and being comfortable in their own skin — it is not about affirming identification as the opposite gender, as was the misleading claim.”

Future of religious education in UK debated. CROSS-PARTY MPs have urged the Government to do more to protect religious education in the UK, during a debate in Westminster Hall this week.

The debate “Religious Education in Modern Britain” was called by Conservative MP Martin Vickers, who raised concerns about the increasing number of schools which were failing to fulfil the statutory duty to teach the subject. One school in five reported offering zero hours of RE in year 11, he said.

Labour MP Luke Pollard spoke in support of the National Association of Teachers of RE. The subject had the ability to prepare students to be “critical and curious” about ideas in the world, he said. The Shadow Minister for Schools, Stephen Morgan, was concerned about specialist RE teacher recruitment, targets for which were not being met. He called for the implementation of a National Plan for RE.

The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce MP, and a former RE teacher, Jonathan Gullis MP, also spoke in favour. Closing, Mr Vickers urged the Department for Education to be “more robust” in ensuring schools were following their statutory requirement for RE.

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