Gender Lessons in Schools

In August, The Scotsman reported on the new RSHP guidance (https://rshp.scot) which is set to be rolled out in schools.
https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/primary-one-children-will-be-told-your-gender-is-what-you-decide-1-4779133

Of concern was the section on gender in the level one guidance aimed at Primary One aged children. Despite a seeming ignorance about how sex is observed either before or after birth and by whom, this started off promisingly, telling children that they are not limited by their sex and that they can participate in any activities or wear any clothing. However, the guidance became muddled when it started to talk about gender, saying that “your gender is what you decide” and that sometimes when people grow up “they decide to change their gender so that they are happier with who they are, this is called being transgender”:

Our response to the guidance is below. Although it was not published in the Scotsman, it was picked up by other publications:

We read with concern the article of 5th August, regarding the guidance to teach Primary One children that they could “choose” their gender.

We believe passionately that sex-role stereotypes and gendered expectations are pernicious and harmful and we fully support the equality policies in our schools. We welcome any drive to strengthen these existing policies and encourage children to look beyond societal expectations. The notion that little girls can play football or that little boys can be sensitive should be encouraged.

Unfortunately, the positive nature of this guidance is rendered meaningless by the muddled advice that children can “decide if they are a boy or a girl”. On what basis, do we suppose, very young children will make this decision other than a preference for certain gendered behaviours, dress or activities? In effect, this reinforces rigid ideas of masculine and feminine traits and encourages the belief that if a child fails to conform they are somehow not a ‘real’ boy or girl. Ironically, it would seem, the standard taunt of playground bullies is now being given official sanction in the curriculum.

Equally dangerous is the notion that sex, rather than preferences or behaviour, is fluid. Young children are very literal minded and if they are encouraged by those in positions of authority to believe that the physical reality of their body is mutable it could set up potentially devastating struggles with mental or physical health.

We are firmly committed to the principle of challenging any sexist or reductive expectations. This advice may be well-intentioned but it will limit rather than expand the horizons of what it means to be male or female by suggesting that a child can fit neatly into a restrictive gender box rather than exploring a spectrum of behaviour and opportunities. It is, in fact, deeply regressive and we would urge Education Scotland and the Scottish Government to reconsider the proposals.

It would appear that the Level One guidance has now been changed and these contentious passages removed:

We are still, nevertheless, concerned that the concept of “gender” is being introduced as a valid one at all to such young children. Far better to reinforce the idea that “gender” is about enforcing harmful stereotypes. Also of note is the fact that the section on sexuality still talks of attraction to a gender rather than to a sex: “We say a person is gay when they love someone of the same gender, this can be used when we talk about two men together or two women together”:

Similarly tidied up is the Level two guidance aimed at 8-9 year olds. As originally published, it introduced the concept of non-binary to describe GNC children. Again, rather than telling children that girls and boys didn’t have to be bound by stereotypes, it reinforced regressive ideas by telling children that if they failed to conform, they were something other than their sex.

This is the example of Charlie as originally published:

The example contains rigid gender notions about names, clothes, hair and sport. It also fails to mention why we segregate sport and, damagingly, presents this segregation as a negative. It perpetuates the problematic idea that if you don’t conform, you don’t get to “think” of yourself as your sex. The new version of Charlie’s story has removed some of these elements:

While this is a step in the right direction, there remain questionable elements. In the “fair and unfair” examples in the level 2 gender section, children are given this example of Leo/Leah:

Children of 8 or 9 are consequently being taught that they can identify into the opposite sex by a change of name and image and that this will make them all “happier” rather than being told that Leo should be accepted as himself irrespective of clothes or hairstyle preference.

There is also the vexed issue of the guidance on transgender. The problematic elements which were, to some extent, expunged from the gender sections are, of necessity still included in this section:

So, again, stereotypes of name, clothes and hair are all explicitly linked to a gender and contribute whether a person “thinks” or “feels” they are male or female.

Of even greater concern is the fact that children, far too young to fully grasp the implications of such major surgery are being taught that it is possible to “change bodies”. There is, obviously, no mention of lifelong medication, possible loss of sexual function, and infertility.

RSHP refused to say which councils had adopted their controversial guidance, however, FWS has made FOI requests to all councils in Scotland to find out: the responses are recorded in the appendix.

We are pleased that some changes have been made to the guidance, however, as there remain serious concerns, we would suggest that parents seek clarity from schools. We have amended our letter quoted above and this can be adapted for individual use. The RSHP guidance should be completed in summer 2019, so there is still time to register concern.

We understand that ***** council / school are using the RSHP guidance.

As parents / grandparents / guardians we feel that sex-role stereotypes and gendered expectations are pernicious and harmful and we fully support the equality policies in our schools. We welcome any drive to strengthen these existing policies and encourage children to look beyond societal expectations. The notion that little girls can play football or that little boys can be sensitive should be encouraged.

Unfortunately, the positive nature of this guidance is rendered meaningless by a conflation of sex and gender. We are pleased that this has largely been expunged from the Level One guidance, but, it appears that children in P4 will still be taught that preference for certain behaviours, dress or activities determines “gender”. In effect, this reinforces rigid ideas of masculine and feminine traits and encourages the belief that if a child fails to conform they are somehow not a ‘real’ boy or girl. Ironically, it would seem, the standard taunt of playground bullies is now being given official sanction in the curriculum.

Even more dangerous is the notion in the Level 2 section on transgender that it is possible to change one’s body – and, by implication sex. There is, of course, no mention of the lifelong medication, the major surgery, loss of sexual function or infertility which can result. This is, therefore, a sanitized half truth. Children are very literal minded and if they are encouraged by those in positions of authority to believe that the physical reality of their body is mutable it could set up potentially devastating struggles with mental or physical health.

We are pleased that much of the advice challenges sexist and reductive expectations. However, we fear that these good intentions may be undermined by a desire to mollify a powerful minority who believe that regressive gendered and stereotypical behaviours are as valid as biological sex.


APPENDIX

Aberdeen City Council
All schools in the city have been informed of the opportunity to ‘get involved’ (receive updates and comment on draft content) in the development of the website resource. Wider partners (school nursing, third sector, children’s social work, youth work etc.) have also been informed and encouraged to ‘get involved’.
The development of this programme links directly to the national ‘Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy’ and the improvement work that multi-agency partners are progressing in the city.
One secondary school and two primary schools in the city are engaging in the programme as pilot sites.
A decision as to whether the local authority will support the introduction of this programme into schools will not be made until the pilot has been evaluated and the content is complete.

Aberdeenshire Council
All schools in Aberdeenshire deliver RSHPE as part of Curriculum for Excellence. Aberdeenshire Council have not been involved in the development of this new specific resource but officers are part of a wide stakeholder group who receive updates on progress and can consult on what has been produced. We cannot determine at this point whether this will be introduced in Aberdeenshire until the materials are developed and evaluated.

Angus Council
Angus is part of a Tayside wide group who have representation on the consultation group regarding the development of this resource.
We will be involved in piloting this resource and seeking feedback with early and primary practitioners while this resource is in the development stage.
We would hope we can use this resource in its final form in conjunction with the already established Tayside RSHP Framework.

Argyll & Bute Council
We do not hold a list of the specific programmes used in each of our schools; therefore there no existing recorded information that can be provided under the FOI legislation

City of Edinburgh Council
The City of Edinburgh Council was not one of the local authorities who provided funding for this project. We have asked our Health and Wellbeing coordinators to try the draft materials which are on the website and provide feedback via the website if they wish. We anticipate that, once the final materials are on the website, we would be encouraging our schools to use this national resource.

Clackmannanshire Council
Clackmannanshire is working with TASC, who were commissioned by a joint Scottish Government/ Education Scotland/NHS Special Interest Group, to support the programme.
The programme is currently in draft and will be piloted in three schools from September 2018. Feedback to TASC will inform the programme content and future development.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
We are not currently participating in this programme. There are no immediate plans to introduce the programme.

Dundee City Council
Are you one of the local authorities that supports this programme? Yes
Will you be introducing this programme into schools within your local authority area?
We are currently looking at the resource to provide feedback and will work with staff in a few pilot schools initially.

East Ayrshire Council
Yes, we have one primary and one secondary involved in piloting the resource this year.

East Dunbartonshire Council
I can confirm that East Dunbartonshire Council is not involved with TASC
(Scotland) Ltd (tascagency.co.uk).

East Lothian Council
East Lothian Council has been and will continue to be part of the Lothian’s’ local authorities group where details of the new programme are being shared and developed. This new RSHP programme is a refresh and update on the present SHARE programme (Healthy Respect) which all nondenominational schools deliver to pupils.
Our plan is to introduce this new programme when it is available.

East Renfrewshire Council
NHS Scotland have commissioned TASC (Scotland) to co-ordinate and create a national resource for Relationships, Sexual health and Parenthood Education (RSHPE).
All local authorities across Scotland are invited to access the national draft lessons online, www.rshp.scot to use and give feedback to shape the national resource.
East Renfrewshire Council Education Department will review the quality and content of the completed resource.

Falkirk Council
The RSHP website has been highlighted to all relevant practitioners to support their work in delivering the Health and Wellbeing experiences and outcomes within Curriculum for Excellence. The suite of resources is there as an optional support for schools and early years establishments.

Fife Council
Some Fife schools are involved in contributing to the consultation work around this TASC project.
Fife Council Education & Children’s Services welcome the work currently underway around this project, and the vision is that this will be highlighted as an informative resource for schools.

Glasgow Council
Education Services in Glasgow support the development of the new, national RSHPE curriculum resource. TASC are contracted on behalf of a national partnership group to produce this up-to date resource to meet the needs of children and young people for Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education. The resource is being developed in line with Curriculum for Excellence and will support effective learning and teaching in Health and Wellbeing across all levels. Glasgow will introduce the new resource to educational establishments to help ensure that learning and teaching in health and wellbeing will equip children and young people with the skills and knowledge they require to help them lead safe and healthy lives and make informed decisions for themselves.

Inverclyde Council
Inverclyde is one of the local authorities which supports the work of RSHP Scotland. We are aware that RSHP are reviewing this programme and will review this when available.

Midlothian Council
No schools within the Midlothian Education Authority, Primary or Secondary, have reported that they are currently using this material as part of their planned teaching programmes relating to relationships, sexual health and parenthood programmes. All schools do however, fully cover these aspects of the health and wellbeing curriculum within their personal, social and health programmes as outlined in the Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes.
Schools regularly update their personal, social and health programmes that support health and well-being and if they consider the resources mentioned above and any delivery costs are right for them in their context, then they could introduce such programmes.

North Ayrshire Council
This resource has been developed in partnership with NHS and supported by local authorities and Scottish Government. As such, this resource will be promoted as part of our wider health and wellbeing strategy and framework published in January of this year, along with the range of supports currently offered.

North Lanarkshire Council
Having investigated I can advise that North Lanarkshire Council, Education, Youth and Communities (EYC) currently delivers RSHP education to all pupils using material developed in partnership with South Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire.
EYC staff are supporting the development of this national resource to enhance the programme we have in place. We plan to introduce the programme after appropriate piloting and staff training.

Orkney Islands Council
No schools within Orkney Islands Council area are currently using this programme and have no plans to introduce the programme at the moment.

Perth & Kinross Council
Perth and Kinross council is part of a Tayside wide group who have representation on the consultation group regarding the development of this resource. We are involved in piloting and feedback while this resource is still in the development stage . We would hope that we can use this resource in its final form alongside our Tayside RSHP framework.

Renfrewshire Council
Yes. We have had the opportunity to feed into the development of this programme at national events alongside other LA representatives from across Scotland. The programme is due for completion in August 2019. Once complete, we will review it in its entirety and make a decision as to whether it is introduced to Renfrewshire schools.

Shetland Islands Council
The Local Authority does not support this programme; however local schools may look into introducing it.

South Ayrshire Council
We are not supporting this development. We do intend to use the resource when it is finally published.

South Lanarkshire Council
In response to your request, I can advise you that the Council works in close partnership with the NHS regarding the delivery of RSHP training and support for teachers. Through this partnership working, the Council is aware of, and will participate in, a pilot for the new resource mentioned above.
Education establishments within South Lanarkshire are expected to deliver the Health and Wellbeing Experiences and Outcomes from Curriculum for Excellence and make use of the benchmarks by ensuring that the resources and programmes they use are relevant and appropriate. Feedback from the schools that pilot the resource will be shared with other establishments when the resource becomes available.

Councils who have yet to respond to the FOIs:
Dumfries & Galloway Council
Highland Council
Moray Council
Scottish Borders Council
Stirling Council
West Dunbartonshire Council
West Lothian Council
 

3 thoughts on “Gender Lessons in Schools

  1. Where can I find a link to this guidance? I’ve reached the RHSP section of the SG website, but I can’t find the material you’re quoting. Do I need to sign up with them to ‘get involved’ to access it?

    • Link’s in the first line of the article: https://rshp.scot – and there’s a drop-down menu for all the levels at the top of their page. Or click on the screenshots above for the latest version of the guidance.

  2. Strange response from Edinburgh, as one Edinburgh Mum I know told me her little P1 child had been told he could choose his gender? He was upset and confused and didn’t want to wear a kilt to a family wedding in case people took that as a sign he was a girl.

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