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‘Dignity’ at heart of C of E response to children who question gender

19 December 2023


NEW draft guidance on how schools in England should respond to children who are questioning their gender has been published by the Department for Education on Tuesday, beginning a three-month consultation period.

The “overarching principles” outlined include prioritising engagement with parents, and assert that there is no “general duty to allow a child to ‘social transition’”.

Instead, schools should “allow for watchful waiting”, the guidance says, to establish whether a child’s request to be called by a different name or pronouns is a “sustained and properly thought through decision”.

The guidance says that no exceptions should be made to the provision of single-sex sports activities in which physical differences between biological sexes “threatens the safety of children”, or might make competition unfair.

On Tuesday, the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said that the new guidance “puts the best interests of all children first, removing any confusion about the protections that must be in place for biological sex and single-sex spaces, and making clear that safety and safeguarding for all children must always be schools’ primary concern”.

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, said that the guidance “makes clear that schools do not have to accept a child’s request to socially transition, and that teachers or pupils should not be pressured into using different pronouns.

“We are also clear how vital it is that parents are informed and involved in the decisions that impact their children’s lives.”

In February, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that the Church of England’s guidance on tackling homophobia in schools, Valuing All God’s Children, would be updated once the Department for Education had released its advice (News, 24 March).

On Tuesday, the C of E’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: “The Government’s guidance seeks to address the challenges involved and offer clarity for schools, teachers, and parents as they continue to act in the best interests of children. We welcome the publication of this draft guidance, and will be responding to the consultation.

“In all of the complexity of these discussions, it is vital that the dignity of every child as being made in the image of God is valued. Our document Valuing All God’s Children seeks to offer guidance about the prevention of bullying in these areas, and we will be updating it in expectation of the Government’s guidance following this period of consultation.”

In October last year, Mr Genders defended the C of E’s guidance against accusations by the pressure group Christian Concern that it encouraged social transitioning for children as young as five (News, 31 October 2022).

On the C of E website, Mr Genders wrote: “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. . .

“It is about helping young people to value and respect everyone as cherished and loved by God, regardless of gender identity or sexuality.”

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