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School transgender support guidelines published in Northern Ireland

The first detailed guidelines for schools in Northern Ireland on how to support transgender pupils have been published.

The guidance is from the Education Authority (EA). It covers things like uniforms, naming, use of toilets and changing rooms, access to sports and admissions to single-sex schools. The guidance is non-statutory but the EA says it reflects best practice in supporting transgender pupils. It applies to pre-schools, primary schools, post-primary and special schools as well as other educational and youth service settings. The EA drew up the guidance after consultation with a number of different organizations.

According to a definition in the guidance, transgender people "have a gender identity which differs from that of their (assigned) birth sex". A trans boy, for instance, is "a birth-assigned female whose gender identity is male".


Post-primary guidance

While there are no reliable statistics on the number of transgender people in Northern Ireland, the EA cites research on gender identity that suggests between 0.17% and 1.3% of adolescents and young adults identify as transgender.

While primary school staff is advised to support a younger child who is exploring their gender identity - for instance, by wearing clothes stereotypically associated with the gender they identify with - most of the guidance is aimed at post-primary schools.

"It is important that the young person feels supported and that their best interests are promoted," the EA guidance states.

The guidance recommends that each school should appoint a designated staff member to be the first point of contact for pupils who are questioning their gender identity.

No 'blanket policy'

The guidance says that teachers and school staff may hold different views on transgender people but they do not "have an unlimited right to freedom of expression".

For instance, if a teacher repeatedly refuses to call a transgender pupil by their preferred name they are to be made aware that their behavior is unacceptable.

On uniform, schools are advised to be flexible or to introduce a gender-neutral option.

The EA said the guidance does not recommend a "one-size-fits-all" approach but is designed to help school staff make decisions to support transgender pupils.



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