Schools should proceed with “extreme caution” until the Government’s transgender guidance is published, No 10 has said as it confirmed the draft advice would be delayed beyond the summer holidays.
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, said on Thursday that the long-awaited guidance will no longer be published this week after the Government decided “to allow more time”.
It comes after Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General, warned that plans to restrict transgender pupils’ choices at school under the draft guidance were unlawful.
Rishi Sunak had pledged to publish the guidance before Parliament’s six-week recess starting on Friday, but the intervention by Ms Prentis means he has been forced to delay it.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman refused to say on Thursday whether the Government will introduce legislation to force the guidance through, saying he would not “get into speculation on what we may or may not introduce as a result of this”.
Asked if Mr Sunak supported children “socially transitioning” in schools, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The guidance will set that out, in the meantime schools must go forward with extreme caution.”
Ms Keegan said in a statement: “It is a difficult and sensitive area and more information is needed about the long-term implications of a child to act as though they are the opposite sex.
“We also need to take care to understand how such actions affect other children in the school or college. These decisions must not be taken lightly or in haste.”
She said ministers would consult with teachers, parents, lawyers and other stakeholders “in order to ensure this guidance meets the high expectations that these groups rightly have for it”.
Ms Keegan added that schools should “prioritise safeguarding” in the meantime by meeting their “existing legal duties to protect single sex spaces and maintain safety and fairness in single sex sport”.
“They should always involve parents in decisions relating to their child, and should not agree to any changes that they are not absolutely confident are in the best interests of that child and their peers,” the Education Secretary said.
It follows a Cabinet row over the guidance between Ms Keegan and Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, who has a second job as minister for women and equalities.
Ms Badenoch is understood to support a more hardline approach to the issue of “social transitioning” in schools, with safeguards for girls who may feel uncomfortable sharing facilities with trans pupils, while Ms Keegan has placed more emphasis on the rights of trans pupils and those with gender dysphoria.
i has been told that the latest version of the guidance drawn up several weeks ago laid out plans to prohibit transgender pupils from joining competitive sports teams of the opposite birth sex.
It also contained plans to ban same-sex toilets except where “objectively justifiable” and require teachers to inform parents if their children are questioning their gender.
Charities have raised concerns that this effectively amounts to “outing” children that could lead to dangerous situations among some families.
Leni Morris, chief executive of LGBT+ anti-abuse charity Galop, told i: “We are very concerned about the potential for this guidance to include measures that may put some trans and non-binary young people in danger.”
But Ms Badenoch is understood to have voiced her unease over allowing pupils to “socially transition” altogether.
She is thought to have the support of several right-wing Tory MPs including Miriam Cates and Nick Fletcher, who told i they want to ban children from being able to identify as transgender in school.
Ms Cates told i: “I don’t think guidance for schools should say that girls should be allowed to identify as boys and boys should be allowed to identify as girls, I think it’s a safeguarding risk.
“I also think that schools have a duty to be politically impartial and not to indoctrinate. They should not be accepting gender ideology at face value rather than as a theory to be critiqued.”
Mr Fletcher told i: “The truth is that we can’t change sex. It’s wrong for adults to collude in misleading any child in any way at all that they can, including the use of new pronouns.
“Support for gender-confused children must be anchored in reality. And the rights of all the other children in the school need to be considered. How is it possible for a school to engage in social transition of a child without confusing the other children, and without undermining science, safeguarding, and freedom of conscience?”
Teachers have voiced their frustration at the guidance being delayed by a “political squabble”, warning that they will be forced to start another school year without crucial advice on sensitive issues.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have been telling the government that schools and colleges need clear guidance on provision for transgender and gender-questioning pupils for the past five years, so it is frustrating that it has now got to the point of producing something but appears to be locked in an internal political squabble which is causing a further delay.
“At present, schools have to navigate this complex and sensitive subject entirely on their own.”