What schools and further education settings can do
If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.
The Human Rights Act 1998, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010 compel all organisations, including schools, to take steps to address discrimination, including because of sexuality and gender nonconformity.
There are lots of practical steps schools and further education settings can take to address gender-related discrimination.
Some are whole-school changes to encourage an inclusive learning environment, and some are ways of supporting individual young people. Staff should always take time to listen to the young person, and understand their experiences and concerns, before taking any steps.
When the steps taken involve a specific young person, schools should carefully consider whether to involve the young person’s parent/carer in any decisions taken.
Some of these steps could include:
- Flexibility around school uniforms
- Using preferred names/pronouns, including changing the register
- Having gender neutral toilets and changing areas
- Flexibility around single sex sports activities
- Keeping ‘open’ about changes, to allow young people to experiment – including being able to revert to how they presented previously
- Clear anti-bullying policies and procedures
- Staff training on gender nonconformity language
Creating a sense of belonging in schools and colleges is also crucial for helping students feel accepted and able to be their authentic selves. Studies have shown that belonging helps to prevent depression and suicidal ideation among LGBTQI+ young people.
If a young person discloses an aspect of gender nonconformity to a member of school staff, the staff member should ask if the young person wants any help in disclosing this to other members of the school community, or whether they would prefer the information to be kept private. The staff member should try to involve the young person’s parents or carers, if it is appropriate to do so.
It is important that the young person’s wishes are respected, and that the staff member should only inform others if they believe the young person is at risk.
For younger children, it’s important to recognise that gender curiosity is a normal part of growing up.
In primary schools, it can be helpful to explore ideas with the whole class around difference and acceptance. Primary school staff should show gentle interest, but not confirm or contradict the child’s perspective, and help them keep open minds about different future outcomes (even if the child seems very certain themselves).
Young children will inevitably have an immature understanding of ‘gender’ and a limited capacity for thinking about long term implications of decisions. Adults can help them keep open minds about future outcomes.