The government’s draft guidance for schools on gender-questioning children has been a long time coming, says Lizzie Harewood. It’s far from a victory for Christians when it comes to trans issues, but it is definitely a step in the right direction


Source: Alamy

December 19 felt suspiciously close to Christmas to deliver such monumental guidance for schools, and much like a child on Christmas Day who had been sniffing curiously around the tree, rustling and shaking gifts, when I unwrapped the content contained in the document, there wasn’t a lot to surprise me. The detail was what I had anticipated, and largely hoped for, thanks to numerous leaks in the press leading up to the release.

Progress on pronouns

There’s a lot I’m thankful for in the government’s long-awaited draft guidance. Much of it is what the conservative-minded would call ‘common sense’: parents should be consulted if their child wants to socially transition, primary schools should only use sex-based pronouns for children, even if they identify with a different gender.

In secondary schools, approval for pronoun changes is limited. The guidance is clear that no one - pupil or staff - should be forced to use a person’s preferred pronouns. Additionally, it prohibits access to opposite-sex-designated facilities like toilets and changing rooms in schools.

The problem is more than a rejection of God’s design, it is a rejection of God himself

And for the Christian teacher, the draft guidance is also largely good news. Christian educators and members of the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) often express concerns about pressures to affirm falsehoods and accept that boys are girls and vice versa in their school environment. The guidance provides reassurance that they won’t be compelled to use pronouns they believe to be false or mislead their students. This acknowledges the fundamental importance of conscience on such sensitive matters, recognising that Christians may hold non-affirming perspectives on this issue.

The guidance is similarly protective of children. It emphasises that social transition should be “extremely rare”, reflecting the cautious approach of the interim Cass review and acknowledging the gravity of such decisions and the impact on children’s lives. It also emphasises the centrality of parents in decisions, especially on pathways for social transition, aligning with biblical teaching that places a high value on family and parental responsibility. It respects the God-given role of parents in guiding their children.

Delays and discord

While I find much of the content gratifying, my satisfaction is dampened by the prolonged delay in the release of this guidance. To extend the metaphor I started with, it feels as if we’ve been stuck in a perpetual Narnia-like state - always winter but never Christmas. Discord surrounding this issue has intensified over the past couple of years, with an initial promised release of guidance in August 2022. The widely-publicised disagreements between Gillian Keegan, the Secretary of State for Education, and Kemi Badenoch, previously Minister for Equalities, further added to the sense of anticipation surrounding its publication.

The cost has already been significant. With an absence of clear guidelines, school leaders have fumbled in the dark, attempting to formulate policies based on flawed or inconsistent advice. Trust between schools and families has eroded as conflicting perspectives collided, and there have been professional repercussions, especially for Christians, exemplified by cases like that of Christian primary school teacher, Hannah (not her real name) who was dismissed for raising safeguarding concerns regarding the social transition of a child due to join her class.

The cost for children

The most significant toll has been borne by the most vulnerable participants in this discussion, the children themselves. Some, grappling with the very real distress of gender dysphoria, have been crying out for reliable help from trusted adults amid their confusion and have been met with a plethora of fudged responses from schools.

Other students have found themselves entangled in a very recent societal trend, where the objective reality of sex is replaced by the subjective concept of ‘gender identity’.

It feels as if we’ve been stuck in a perpetual Narnia-like state—always winter but never Christmas

The lessons on this subject, often facilitated by groups with a clear ideological agenda, such as Stonewall and Educate and Celebrate, contribute to the confusion. They convey the idea that children’s personalities might be deemed ‘inappropriate’ for their gender, further adding to the complexity that young people face. The government must ensure consistency in its messaging when it comes to its review of RSE materials and issue similarly sensible and even-handed guidance.

Praying for more

We mustn’t pretend that this is a done deal either. There are now twelve weeks of consultation, with the very real risk that activists will attempt to dilute the guidance. There are already leaders and teachers vowing to resist this instruction altogether. The government must hold schools to account in these cases.

And for some, the guidance will not go far enough. Many ACT members desired a much more conservative stance. Indeed, there are clear harms attached to social transition that will not be circumnavigated by this guidance.

We mustn’t fool ourselves into believing that this is a ‘victory’ for the Christian perspective on trans issues. Although there are now protections for teachers with a Christian conscience, as I’ve said before, the problem that has evolved culturally is more than a rejection of God’s creative design, it is a rejection of God himself.

And isn’t that the more concerning issue at the heart of this topic?

May Christian educators humbly realise that this is the ‘bigger picture’. As we resist the potential harm of social transition, we must reflect the compassion and immense grace of God in our approach. And may gospel-hearted teachers be the pioneers in presenting a ‘better way’ to address the phenomenon of gender confusion that so many young people in our nation seem to encounter.