How we can support our transgender students

Written by: Kaley Foran | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools have a number of responsibilities towards transgender pupils. Kaley Foran explains and offers some practical pointers for how support can be provided

Being transgender is not new. But for many schools and their staff, awareness of trans issues might well be. While greater awareness of trans issues is positive, it is important that trans pupils have access to the right support and guidance.

Respect the decision and ask what support they need

It is important to remember that there is no one way to be trans, and a pupil’s decision to self-identify should be respected. If a pupil does choose to come out as trans, school staff should thank them for the trust they have shown and ask what support they can give. Staff should not agree to anything they are unsure of and, unless otherwise stated by the pupil, treat the matter with confidentiality. Arrange times to meet again and talk through issues and, above all, listen.

Understand the legal responsibilities

Gender reassignment is protected under the Equality Act 2010 and so it is illegal for a school to discriminate against people who are trans. However, pupils do not need to be undergoing reassignment to be covered – but must be taking steps to live in the opposite gender or is proposing to do so. Single-sex schools do not lose their status if a pupil undergoes gender reassignment.

Tackle transphobic bullying

Transphobic bullying must be addressed with the same severity as any other form of bullying and needs to be reflected in your anti-bullying policy. This bullying can take many forms including: name-calling, harassment, exclusion from activities, physical abuse, threatening to “out” someone to staff, peers, or family, or the deliberate misuse of name or pronoun (deliberate misuse is different from simply making a mistake when trying to be respectful). Transphobic bullying should be dealt with separately to homophobic bullying, as these issues should not be confused. To tackle bullying, schools can provide training to staff on sexual orientation and gender identity and incorporate LGBT teaching into the curriculum where appropriate, helping normalise those who identify as trans.

Be mindful of names and pronouns

Staff and pupils should address a trans pupil in the way they have requested. A move away from gender-specific language can also be useful. For example, addressing classes as “pupils” or by their year, rather than as “boys and girls”. Preferred names can also be recorded without a legal change of name on management systems and exam entries. By using a pupil’s preferred name or pronoun, the school is representing the best wishes of the pupil. For this reason, confidential information regarding a pupil’s wishes should not be shared with parents unless there is a specific safeguarding reason to do so.

A respectful and inclusive culture

A culture of inclusion is important and this should be nurtured through education and training as well as practical changes to school provision and policy. For instance, pupils have the right to access toilets which correspond to their gender identity. While not always possible, schools could consider providing a mix of toilets – from single gender, unisex toilets, and accessible single units – to accommodate trans pupils. The use of changing facilities should be discussed with trans pupils and assessed on a case-by-case basis, but any alternative must be provided in such a way that protects the pupil’s confidentiality. Schools can also list clothing that are permitted as school uniform without these items being divided by gender. Instead of “black trousers for boys and black skirts for girls”, simply list: “Back trousers or skirt.”

Confidentiality and parent objections

Parents or carers may not support their child if they identify as trans, or express concern about their child spending time with trans pupils. This can be due to inaccurate information about trans identities or out of concern for their child’s wellbeing. Whatever the home situation, schools should give trans pupils the opportunity to voice their opinions, even if they differ from that of their parent/s and carer/s, and be at the centre of decisions which affect them. As mentioned, schools have a duty to uphold confidentiality and to “out” someone without their permission, even to parents, is considered harassment.

If parents raise concerns about their child spending time with trans pupils, it is important to remember that the “problem” in this situation is the person who raises the concern, rather than the trans pupil. Parents should be reminded of the trans pupil’s right to safety and happiness at school, and that they are free to withdraw their children if they take issue with a trans pupil being in attendance.

  • Kaley Foran is lead content editor at The Key, which provides support and guidance for school leaders. Visit

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