England Forbids Teaching About Gender Identity in Schools

The British government has issued new guidance that forbids schools from teaching the concept of gender identity and bans all sex education for children under the age of nine.

New guidance from England’s federal government tells schools not to teach students about gender identity, calling it a “contested topic.”

The move comes amid increasing transphobia in England and the National Health Service’s (NHS) decision to stop prescribing puberty blockers for children and young people.

Under the new guidance, schools must refrain from speaking about the concept of gender identity altogether — including the idea that gender differs from biological sex and is a spectrum — though the government says secondary school students will learn about legally ‘protected’ characteristics, such as sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

“This updated guidance includes clear age limits for the teaching of the most sensitive content and specifies that the contested topic of gender identity should not be taught,” wrote education secretary Gillian Keegan in the guidance. “And it reinforces the vital principle that parents have right to know about everything their children are being taught and be given proper chance to understand and discuss it.”

In 2020, relationship and sex education was made mandatory for all secondary school students in England, and health education was mandated for all students in state-funded schools. Last year, a review of the curriculum was conducted “following reports of pupils being taught inappropriate content in RSHE in some schools,” and the updated guidance was created as a result.

The new guidelines indicate that parents will have the right to see the resources that are used for courses about relationships, health, and sex in all circumstances, and sex education will not be taught before Year 5, at which point it will be taught “from a purely scientific standpoint.”

“Parents rightly trust that when they send their children to school, they are kept safe and will not be exposed to disturbing content that is inappropriate for their age,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a statement. “That’s why I was horrified to hear reports of this happening in our classrooms last year.”

Sunak has previously come under fire from transgender advocates for making comments that denied the existence of trans people, saying that it was “common sense” that “a man is a man and a woman is a woman.”

While Keegan says the new guidance “puts protecting children at its heart,” ample research has shown that approaching gender diversity with acceptance is the key to improving outcomes for trans and non-binary youth.

The British Medical Association affirms that all trans people deserve to live their lives with dignity, including having their identity respected. “Trans and non-binary people exist,” the association says, “and their existence is not a matter for debate.”

And a 2022 study found that openness, validation, and support of gender diversity at school can positively affect trans and non-binary youths’ well-being, while various forms of non-recognition of gender identity, victimization, and bullying towards these youths impede their wellbeing.

“Schools should proactively ensure that they put in place measures that will facilitate the inclusion of gender diverse young people and adopt strategies that respect and affirm youth gender identities,” the study authors wrote.

In a statement, the school leaders’ union NAHT expressed concern about the new guidance, stating that many children and young people are already accessing this kind of information from different sources outside of school, including online.

“This may lead to questions that need careful handling from trained professionals,” said Paul Whiteman, the general secretary at NAHT. “It is hard to see how rigid limits on what can be discussed and when would be in the best interests of young people — and this may even risk them seeking information from less reliable sources.”

The draft guidance is now open to consultation for a period of nine weeks before it is finalized.

The government is also looking for feedback on adding several new subjects to the curriculum and adding more details to others, including suicide prevention, sexual harassment and sexual violence, loneliness, the prevalence of 'deepfakes,’ healthy behaviors during pregnancy as well as miscarriage, illegal online behaviors including drug and knife supply, the dangers of vaping , and menstrual and gynecological health including endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and heavy menstrual bleeding.

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