Will Quince MP, Education Department Minister for Children and Families was answering questions from the Education Select Committee on Tuesday when Dr Caroline Johnson, MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham said she had been approached as a member of the committee by parents of a trans student at an independent boarding school.
Dr Johnson said the number of children who identify as transgender is increasing and schools “need to strike a balance” between ensuring that these children can be cared for properly and that their needs are properly met, as well as the needs of the wider school population.
“I have been contacted in the past week by parents who are concerned that an 18 year old trans woman is in the boarding house of their teenage daughters,” said Dr Johnson. “What guidance does the department provide to schools for managing these situations in a sensitive way that provides for the privacy, dignity and wellbeing of all students?”
Mr Quince replied that “this area has been a minefield if we are being honest”.
He said as a parent of two young girls, “I wouldn’t probably be overly happy with the situation described.”
But he suggested the parent speaks with the headteacher and governors and raises it with the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Dr Johnson pressed him, questioning whether he thought the government ought to be providing guidance to help schools in such an issue. “You said it’s a minefield, but schools need help navigating that minefield and don’t want to get caught up in legal wrangles. Would it not be best if the government provided some detailed guidance on how schools can manage this for the wellbeing of all students?”
Mr Quince pledged to speak to the Schools Minister and was sure that would be in progress alongside the government Equalities Office, but he added: “You can give all the guidance in the world that sets out the legal position but you need schools to firstly use their common sense and follow the law as it stands at the moment and I would suggest that the duty to protect and to safeguard (children) should probably override anything else.”
He added: “We are working very closely with the government equalities office to formulate our guidance in this space. Yes, we have got RHSE curriculum, but the school is independent and falls under a slightly different framework.”
He said there were two competing priorities, firstly the 2010 Equalities Act that all children and young people must be treated equally and protected characteristics are recognised; but at the same time he said any school has legal obligations - a duty to safeguard and protect and promote the welfare of all children.