UK Children's Minister not 'overly happy' with Trans students in single-gender schools

Children’s charity Mermaids responded: “The small number of schools that are using financial resources and staff time to organise a blanket ban on Trans pupils attending single sex schools is really sad and perplexing."

Students in a class facing their professor. Single-gender schools are a system where it is difficult for Trans students to fit in.
Image: Unsplash

The Children’s Minister in the UK, Will Quince, called Trans students in single-gender schools a “minefield” during a discussion with other MPs. He also shared that he “probably wouldn’t be overly happy” about a Trans girl going to the same boarding school as his daughters.

These words were part of a broader conversation where consultant paediatrician and Conservative MP Caroline Johnson asked for guidance from the Department for Education on how schools could deal with Trans pupils in single-gender spaces. Johnson had been asked for advice by a parent who was concerned about their daughters sharing a boarding school with a Trans girl.

After she explained this, Quince commented by saying: “On the face of what you just said, as a parent – and in particular a parent of two young girls – I probably wouldn’t be overly happy with the situation you describe.” He then urged the schools to “use their common sense and to follow the law as it stands at the moment. I would suggest that the duty to protect and to safeguard should probably override anything else.”

What does not emerge from these statements is that at the heart of the whole discussion was, in the words of a spokesperson for Trans children’s charity Mermaids, just “a young person who wants to learn, as themselves,” which is really nothing to be protected and safeguarded from. “We look back in history and can recall gender being a reason access was denied to girls and now we have that institution denying access to another marginalised group of learners. When will we learn?” the spokesperson added.

How to respond to Trans students in schools is something that Ireland also needs to grapple with, especially given the high number of single-gender institutions present within its borders. Ireland is one of the countries with the highest percentage of single-gender schooling in the world, with 17% for primary schools and a third for secondary schools. It is a system that people who do not conform to traditional binary gender categories can find difficult to fit into.

Small changes are slowly taking place, like alterations to school uniforms or the implementation of new gender-neutral spaces, like toilets and changing facilities. Moreover, teachers and school officials are now advised to discuss with students what pronouns they would like to be used when referring to them. Recently, the Cabinet met to discuss and review Ireland’s National Anti-Bullying Action Plan, with the specific goal of combatting gender identity bullying. However, there is still a long way to go to make schools safe spaces for their Trans students.

Moreover, as reported by the Irish Times, the Labour Party recently published a Private Member’s Bill to stop gender discrimination in school admission, calling the single-gender admission policy “outdated”. The bill in question proposes cutting funding to those schools that still use the single-gender policy for admission. This would be done 0ver a 10-year period for primary schools and a 15-year period for secondary schools.

According to Labour’s education and enterprise spokesperson, Aodhán Ó Riordáin, single-gender education is now an anomaly for a new generation of parents. Moreover, he believes that these schools may represent a contributing factor to the “toxic male culture” that is at the root of much bigger social problems like domestic violence. 

“That is part of the problem that we separate children on the basis of gender disproportionately,” he explained “It leads to a society that is very gendered and views the other gender with a slight level of curiosity or insecurity and lack of ability to interact properly. Within that can come a situation where power and dominance is sought”.

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