My school had already had experience of one student transitioning several years ago but the student was in the Sixth Form and the situation sort of self-managed itself.
Last year, when we reviewed the school’s Equality Policy and I volunteered to be the transgender advocate, I wasn’t really sure what it involved, both in terms of being transgender and the role as an advocate.
Within weeks of this new role, it was apparent that two Year 11 students were questioning their gender identity and all eyes looked at me for the answers. I had none.
Starting with a general Google search, I soon learnt that if you aren’t in the main urban areas, there is very little out there to support individuals and their families yet Mermaids is a good place to start. What schools' leaders often lack is practical information to not only meet their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010, but more importantly to support the young people at such a crucial time. According to the Stonewall School Report 2017, nearly half of transgender students have attempted suicide and it’s vital that we do all we can to create the right environment for all students to feel safe and secure.
I found a really useful Trans Inclusion Tool Kit produced by East Sussex County Council and I contacted Stonewall for some more advice. Stonewall run CPD courses for teachers to make their schools and colleges LGBT+ inclusive and provide a range of guides and information for educational professionals which I attended with my school’s Head of PSHE. I came away from that inspired to make a difference at my school.
According to the Stonewall School Report 2017, nearly half of transgender students have attempted suicide and it’s vital that we do all we can to create the right environment for all students to feel safe and secure
Over the last year, I’ve worked and supported about ten students, all of whom have questioned their gender identity to varying degrees. Some have now transitioned publically and are living their lives as their preferred gender and other students have just accepted it. The hardest bit has been speaking to parents on the students’ behalf resulting in some emotional conversations; it felt like delivering some news that would change the family dynamics forever. I am not sure a PGCE course prepared me for that.
Ready for this September, I put new transgender guidance in place, approved by the governors, which makes explicit the rights of the transgender students and the responsibilities the school has in ensuring they will be supported at every step of the way. The different terms such as transitioning, non-binary, gender fluid, cisgender can feel like a barrier at the start, yet I soon realised that if you’re not sure, just ask the students as they know themselves more than you ever will. We now have unisex changing facilities and toilets to make the school inclusive.
This September, I led an hour INSET session to all teaching staff and support staff, something which filled me with a sense of anxiety leading up to the new term, partly because I was now seen as the expert. Once term started, I received a very positive email from a parent, to whose child I provide considerable support. This made me realise how important it is for schools to get this right, especially as the numbers referred to specialist clinics soar and services are under strain according to The Guardian.
Transgender students (who haven’t yet transitioned) have told me to say that they wished teachers would stop dividing the class into boys versus girls when they play whole-class games during plenaries; they know they belong on one team but are stuck on the other. They also asked for seating plans to not always be gender-based as it makes them sad when forced to sit in the wrong seat.
Many big companies and brands celebrate their support of the LGBT+ community, often changing their logos into rainbow colours for different pride events across the UK. It may be a gimmick to get customers to spend with them but it does send a clear message out to society about their view on diversity and inclusion. I wonder how many schools will update their website in a similar way.
My final message to the staff was to think about diversity in lessons, not just about students who might be transgender. It’s very easy to assume that all students in your class come from the traditional 2.4-child-family unit if that was your own personal experience as growing up. Not wanting to advocate frozen chips, but the we are family advert sums this up nicely!
For more information on supporting trans and gender questioning pupils, take a look at ATL’s guidance.