Dr David Buck is an independent educational psychology consultant based in Canterbury. He originally trained as a Biology and Maths secondary school teacher.
If your job has anything to do with schools, you’ll be well aware of the detailed and nuanced framework of rules intended to help education professionals to do their job, to safeguard pupils – and to respond appropriately to complex and sometimes novel challenges.
And so you’d think that the recent huge increase in the number of pupils identifying as trans would be responded to within this framework, with schools, local authorities (LAs) and other agencies using them to fulfil their statutory duty to act in these children’s best interests.
You would be wrong.
Instead, under the influence of “trans toolkits” produced by lobby groups such as Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence and Mermaids, many education professionals have adopted a fringe ideology that sees children as boys and girls according to their self-chosen “gender identities”, not the sex they’re born as.
This isn’t merely a hypothetical belief system. It’s seriously harming children.
Services supposedly dedicated to child protection are directing front-line staff to unquestioningly “affirm” children’s gender identities, with no need even to inform parents when their child identifies as trans. They do this without even considering why vulnerable children, who may have been abused or have a neurological or mental-health condition, might seek safety and reinvention in an opposite-sex identity.
Meanwhile many schools are rewriting policies on the premise that biological sex isn’t real. Sports become mixed-sex; children are instructed to use the toilets and changing rooms that “match their gender identity” despite statutory requirements to provide single-sex facilities.
Frontline staff who raise concerns about affirming children caught up in the trans narrative are likely to be told it is essential for “equality, diversity and inclusion”. If they persist, they are likely to be condemned as bigots. And so many simply stand by as children make irreversible choices they may well regret later in life.
This widespread abdication of responsibility is reminiscent of the grooming scandals in Rotherham and elsewhere, when those with child-protection concerns were shut down or even stayed silent for fear that the predominantly Pakistani origin of the men responsible would mean being described as racist. Then, too, silence was later understood to have been complicity.
So what should education professionals do? I’d argue that the entire issue of trans identification among children should be handled using the approach laid out in the 2014 Children and Families Act for supporting children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. This emphasises inter-agency co-operation and the wider context of a child’s difficulties with the curriculum and school environment, and balances that child’s needs with the impact of their problems on their peers.
If the trans-identified child’s issues are sufficiently severe, education professionals should use the well-established multi-disciplinary procedures for assessing special educational needs (SEN). This results in what used to be called a SEN “statement”, and is now called an Educational, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
One reason this is the most appropriate approach is that these children are often very vulnerable. Many have autistic spectrum disorders or emotional and mental health issues, including eating disorders, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and obsessive rumination.
A second reason is that the EHCN assessment procedure is standardised. It requires at least five sources of evidence, which are then used by the local education authority (LEA) for consideration of the resources needed to meet the child’s needs.
The necessary evaluations involve many voices and inevitably take time. Although this can be frustrating, it means outcomes are much more resistant to influence from groups and individuals with extreme agendas and ideologies.
The history of dyslexia diagnosis is instructive. For many years the powerful dyslexia lobby co-opted the deficit-hunting tendencies of public-sector support services to help parents identify their children as dyslexic rather than having learning difficulties; teachers rarely objected, as poor teaching methods were absolved from blame for poor outcomes.
The switch to a standardised statutory process not only reined in over-zealous lobbying charities, but helped put pressure on schools to re-train teachers in more effective “phonemic” approaches to literacy.
A third reason for placing the response to trans identification within the EHCN framework is that the concept of SEN has expanded to include consideration of the merits of “segregation” versus “mainstreaming”, the “least restrictive environment” that can be provided for the child and the not-so-small issue of disrupting other children’s learning.
Transgender identities, by contrast, are taken to override other people’s rights and perceptions. Even to state this encroachment is framed as bigotry. This harms the curriculum, since it means misrepresenting basic biological facts. And it harms the school environment, since it means children of one sex self-identifying into the spaces and sports of the other to the detriment of all, but especially girls.
A better approach to trans-identified children would be to engage existing school policies on child-protection, diversity, inclusion and anti-bullying to protect them from any disrespect or bullying, and to use statutory assessment procedures for anything required beyond that.
This would provide a counterweight to local authorities’ promotion of gender ideology, and the self-interested claims of charities that promote their client group’s “lived experience” with no consideration of the rights of everyone else.