NI schools to get guidance on transgender issues

Schools in Northern Ireland are to be given guidance about how to support transgender pupils, the Education Authority (EA) has revealed.

A school classroom.
A school classroom.

The guidance will cover a range of issues such as name changes, change of uniform and the use of toilets and changing facilities.

According to the Department of Education, there are no official figures detailing the number of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland who identify as transgender. But a spokesperson for the EA said the guidance is being drawn up in response to an increasing number of queries from local schools seeking advice about how best to support transgender pupils and tackle issues such as transphobic bullying.

“Transgender young people face particular challenges at school. Research has highlighted a range of barriers to education and high levels of homophobic and transphobic bullying which can have a knock-on effect on young people’s mental health, attendance at school and attainment,” the spokesperson said.

“Over the last year, EA has received an increasing number of queries from schools on how to support transgender young people. To assist schools in meeting the needs of these pupils, we are developing practical guidance on what schools should do to support transgender children and young people in educational and youth settings.

“In developing the guidance the EA 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.

“The guidance will cover a range of issues (such as name changes, change of uniform and the use of toilets and changing facilities) and will help schools make justifiable decisions regarding the support of transgender pupils, including assessing the impact of those decisions on the wider school community.”

To inform development of the guidance, the EA has set up a steering group which includes Northern Ireland’s main education stakeholders as well as clinical leads and voluntary sector organisations working in the area.

The Authority has also met with schools and parents of transgender children as well as other interest groups.

“As well as supporting schools through the development of the guidance, EA have signed up to a number of best practice standards to support and engage our staff, as we continue to transform how we deliver educational services,” the EA spokesperson continued. “These include becoming a Stonewall Diversity Champion, which will help support our LGBT colleagues, signing the NI Mental Health Charter and training mental health first aiders across the organisation, signing up, with Trade Union colleagues, to the Joint Declaration of Protection and Inclusive Working Environments and developing a gender action plan, to deliver an inclusive working environment for all our staff.

“All this work forms part of our ambitious Equality Action Plan 2018-2022.”

Welcoming the EA’s move, TransgenderNI – a support organisation for trans people in Northern Ireland – tweeted: “We support the Education Authority move to produce guidance on supporting trans pupils for schools across Northern Ireland, and are excited to be involved in their development.”

Commenting on the make-up of the steering group that will help develop the guidance, Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: “It is important that the group should hear from a wide range of voices including feminists, psychologists and others who are anxious that children and young people are being rushed into adopting a trans identity by trans-affirming ideology.”