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Radio review: Bringing Up Britain

05 May 2023


Bringing Up Britain (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) examined how parents react to children’s anxieties around gender-sex misalignment

Bringing Up Britain (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) examined how parents react to children’s anxieties around gender-sex misalignment

TAKE a deep breath — so advised the experts on Bringing Up Britain (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) — before embarking on any discussion of the transgender debate.

Bringing Up Britain is about parenting. The stimulus for this engagement came from a listener’s question: how, as a concerned but instinctively liberal father, might one address a child’s anxieties around gender-sex misalignment? Are these feelings real, or are they simply part of a peer-pressured fad? The answer began with an account of the debate from Lauren Moss — admirably comprehensive and even-handed, which is presumably why she earns the big bucks as the BBC’s LGBT and identity correspondent. Some will rail against the assumption that gender and sex are distinct entities; but that is for a whole other series.

In so far as this issue involves formal education, a recent study by Policy Exchange (PE) provides the only data thus far on how schools are managing students who are questioning their gender, and on how schools teach about it in the classroom. A child-education researcher, Dr Shereen Benjamin, wished to play down the implications of the PE report — even though it suggested that only one quarter of schools would, as a matter of course, include parents in deliberations about a pupil’s situation — but made clear her view that a protocol that might result in the child’s playing off parent against school was contrary to basic safeguarding principles.

From this programme, a consensus appeared to coalesce around the strategy of “watchful waiting” rather than the more proactive, gender-affirming approach advocated by lobby groups such as Stonewall. Perhaps the Government is being similarly judicious in issuing guidance that was promised some years ago, thinking, like many a parent, that this is just a phase.

On the whole, this was a commendable programme, almost the best one that the BBC could be expected to make on the subject. Where it fell short was in following up the implications of the recent Census data, which tell us that 0.5 per cent of over-16s consider their gender different from their biological sex. According to Ms Moss, the figure might actually be smaller still, because the Census question was misunderstood by many whose first language is not English. The accusation often made — that transgender stories are promoted to provide a rich arsenal for the culture warriors, and an audience for their Substack blogs — would seem to be borne out.

This takes us back to the PE report, quoted in the programme, which also relates to the extent of gender-sex teaching in the classroom. One is led to conclude that a great deal more is being made of this in schools than can be justified by the numbers. The parental question posed at the start of this programme was about peer pressure, but might it more pertinently be about educational pressure? Fads are not exclusively the preserve of schoolchildren.

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