Safety, privacy and dignity for girls in local schools

This is Part 2 of our letter to candidates in the May 2019 Brighton & Hove Council elections. Part 1 is about rape crisis and domestic violence services and Part 3 is about respect for diversity of opinion.

We have concerns about some of the advice in the Trans Inclusion Schools Toolkit, issued by the council to local schools. Some of us are parents, some are teachers, and all of us are concerned that the rapid and unprecedented growth in the number of children identifying as trans may be having unacknowledged adverse impacts on girls (including those who are trans-identified themselves) in our local schools.

While we welcome the toolkit’s overall emphasis on inclusion and challenging gender stereotypes, we feel that it gives insufficent consideration to the privacy, dignity and safety of female pupils in relation to residential trips, changing rooms and sports.

Regarding residential trips, the toolkit states on page 31 that “As far as possible, trans pupils and students should be able to sleep in dorms appropriate to their gender identity. Some trans children and young people may not feel comfortable doing this and in such cases alternative sleeping and living arrangements should be made.”

There is no mention of the likelihood that some girls may not feel comfortable if they are expected to share a dorm with a male pupil, nor of the fact that female pupils who are trans-identified may not be safe from sexual assault if they are placed in a boys’ dorm.

Research by the National Education Union and UK Feminista in 2017 found that “Sexual harassment in school is gendered: the majority of cases involve boys targeting girls. 37% of girls report experiencing sexual harassment, compared to 6% of boys. Female students are also significantly more likely to describe multiple incidents and more severe cases of sexual assault.”

We are concerned that the Toolkit’s approach to this issue appears to be at odds with the statutory guidance on Keeping children safe in education, which states on page 24 that:

“Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure that their child protection policy includes:

  • procedures to minimise the risk of peer on peer abuse;

  • recognition of the gendered nature of peer on peer abuse (i.e. that it is more likely that girls will be victims and boys perpetrators), but that all peer on peer abuse is unacceptable and will be taken seriously;”

Regarding changing rooms, the Toolkit gives the following advice on responding to concerns raised by girls who don’t want to change next to male pupils:

“Underpinning this scenario is the idea that a trans girl is not a ‘real girl’ and this would be something that a whole setting approach would challenge through training and awareness raising. A Human Rights response would be to state that the child is a girl and as such has the right under the Equality Act to change with the girls and to be treated fairly as such.” (page 34)

We do not think the Equality Act says that any male person has a ‘right’ to use single-sex facilities for female people. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission issued a statement in July 2018, which clarified that:

“Under the Act, the protection from gender reassignment discrimination applies to all trans people who are proposing to go, are undergoing or have undergone (part of) a process of gender reassignment. At the same time, a trans person is protected from sex discrimination on the basis of their legal sex. This means that a trans woman who does not hold a GRC and is therefore legally male would be treated as male for the purposes of the sex discrimination provisions, and a trans woman with a GRC would be treated as female. The sex discrimination exceptions in the Equality Act therefore apply differently to a trans person with a GRC or without a GRC.”

Changing rooms are provided separately for male and female pupils as a result of one of the sex discrimination exceptions referred to here. If a school makes arrangements for a trans-identified male pupil to change somewhere other than the girls’ changing room, this is not gender reassignment discrimination, but lawful sex discrimination. The pupil is not being treated differently in this respect from all other pupils of the same legal sex, who are also not allowed to use the girls’ changing room.

Regarding sport, the Toolkit states: “Trans boys are boys, not girls, and therefore entitled to play rugby with boys and in consultation with relevant sporting bodies.”, dismissing the concerns of parents about unfairness and risk of injury to female pupils.

However, the EHRC’s technical guidance for schools says:

“9.13 If the physical strength, stamina or physique of the average pupil of one sex would put him or her at a disadvantage compared to the average pupil of the other sex as a competitor in a sport, game or other competitive activity, it is not unlawful for those arranging the event to restrict participation in the activity to pupils of one sex.”

If you are elected to Brighton & Hove Council in May, will you revise this guidance to better describe the duty of schools to take steps to promote equality for girls as well as their duty to promote equality for trans pupils?