Whenever I go away for some training, or to meet other teachers, in corners and when chatting over cups of tea, we are all asking each other…do you have any yet? What is your Council policy? Is this right?
Well, I found out the policy of my local authority very recently when a pupil declared themselves to be trans to a colleague of mine.
I will say ‘they’, not because of any non-binary status – this pupil very definitely wants to embrace one side of the binary – but because I want to protect this pupil and my own job in one of Scotland’s largest councils.
So, what happened next?
Firstly, the pupil was already exhibiting what seemed to me, as puberty wrought its magic, to be very clear signs of a problem: obsessive behaviour, withdrawal behind large headphones, inability to understand the feelings of others. So, my assumption was, at the time, that this was simply a way of a troubled child making sense of an increasingly bewildering world. The child had already done some of the things that I have privately grown to see as signs of mental health issues: missing large chunks of school; dramatic alterations to appearance (tattoos, piercings, hair changing colour); rejection of previously much loved activities.
We sent away for the documents produced to support pupils, parents and teachers. And I read them. Then we discussed them and we agreed that, as a staff, we would take advice from experts. These were the same experts who were, I assume, advising the child and the child’s parents.
And the parents came in to see us all, under the guise of an ordinary parents’ meeting about academic progress but really to inform us how this child was to be treated. They had consulted the experts and the experts had spoken. And it was to be treated immediately, and absolutely as the opposite sex. They had changed from Robert to Roberta or from Julia to Julian and made no other changes beyond that name and they were immediately to be treated as the opposite sex. No debate.
This was for all purposes: toilets in school; residential accommodation on school trips; pronouns; names; access to school sports teams. Everything. Without question.
Now I have two children (one of each)) and so this child was transitioning from being in the toilets of one of my children to those of the other. And neither of my children, nor any of the other children, nor the parents of any of those children, nor the needs of any of those children were considered.
And, when it came to organising an annual trip away overseas, this child was to share a room, toilets and shower facilities with their newly acquired gender. There was no place on the risk assessment for any questions about the possibilities of harm coming to this child, or any other, from mix sexed accommodation: no concerns about pregnancy; no worries about privacy; no thoughts about dignity and the right to single sex spaces. Nothing.
And so it came to pass.
And at no point in the information from the council – at no point – was the effect on other pupils ever discussed.
Because in the 21st century, in Scotland’s schools we cannot discuss this because all of our documentation, all the rules and the guidelines are about immediate and total affirmation of that child’s new gender.
And now, when I go away and I am asked, over coffee and horribly cheap biscuits, if I have one. Yes. I do. And no. We are not doing the right thing.