Education Authority publishes guidelines to support transgender students in Northern Ireland

A newly published Education Authority guideline is offering advice for Northern Ireland schools to create a supportive environment for transgender students.

Teacher speaking to a classroom full of students in an open space helped by the Education Authority guidelines.

The Education Authority for Northern Ireland (EA) has published the first detailed guidelines on how schools in Northern Ireland can support transgender pupils. The guidelines apply to a wide range of educational and youth service settings, such as pre-schools, primary schools, post-primary, and remedial schools.

Uniforms, naming, use of toilets and changing rooms, access to sports and admissions to single-sex schools are covered extensively in the guidelines. Though the guidance is non-statutory, the EA states that it contains the best practice in creating a supportive environment for transgender pupils.

As stated by the guidelines, “every way to enable full inclusion should be explored.” This includes transgender students freely using separate or gender-neutral toilets.

Though there are no definitive statistics on the number of transgender people in Northern Ireland, the EA states between 0.17% and 1.3% of adolescents and young adults identify as transgender. 

Within the guidelines, it is recommended that each school should appoint a member of staff to be the first point of contact for a student questioning their gender identity. 

The guidance also says a teacher and school staff may hold different views on transgender people, but they do not “have unlimited right to freedom of expression.” This is particularly relevant in cases where a teacher continuously misgenders a pupil or refuses to call a transgender pupil by their name.

Governers of single-sexed schools have been advised that equality laws do not prohibit the school from accepting a transgender student.

The EA acknowledged that the guidelines should not be taken as a “one-size-fits-all” approach but rather as a way to inform staff, parents, and pupils in how they can support transgender students. 

During the development of the guidelines, the Education Authority said it “aims to increase the professional capacity and confidence of staff in supporting transgender children and young people and assist schools and youth services in promoting an inclusive environment where all children feel welcomed, safe and valued.” 

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