By NEU members in Socialist Alternative
Blocking the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform bill, altering the definition of sex in the Equality Act 2010 to exclude trans people, and openly stating that trans women are not women; Rishi Sunak has been building his “culture war” credentials with an increase in trans-bashing legislation and rhetoric in recent months. As this government weakens, in the face of widespread and popular strike action by workers, it is ramping up attacks on oppressed groups in a desperate attempt to gain support from sections of the Tory Party support base.
It seems that the next people in the crosshairs are transgender, non-binary, gender questioning and gender non-conforming (TNB) children. Leaks in the media have outlined Tory plans for new guidance for schools that will require staff to inform parents if a child comes out as TNB, even if the child does not consent to their parents being told. Using a different name, or a “boy” wearing a skirt, have also been cited as examples of “triggers” requiring parents to be informed, and staff will not be allowed to affirm a child’s gender by using their preferred name and pronouns without parental agreement. Additionally, the guidance will give single-sex schools the right to refuse admission to TNB children.
This flies in the face of existing guidance from the National Education Union (NEU), which states – in line with guidance from Stonewall and the NSPCC – “It is important that the young person’s gender identity is respected and the school should aim to be flexible and supportive … It is crucial that schools and colleges provide confidentiality in supporting trans students … the wishes of the pupil or student in respect of disclosure should be respected.”
The NEU’s guidance was originally stronger on this point, stating that “schools and colleges [should] provide maximum confidentiality (our emphasis)” and only discuss with parents or carers “where necessary”. In April/May 2022 this became a key issue as it became apparent that the guidance had been changed, without consultation, at a point at which the Union needed to be unequivocal on the issue after then-Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said that staff should “involve parents” if a child came out as TNB. NEU Executive Member Louise Lewis seconded a motion moved to the May Executive meeting by LGBT+ seat holder Kacey de Groot condemning Zahawi’s comments and the alteration of the NEU’s guidance.
Unfortunately an amendment removed the criticism of the NEU’s guidance being changed, and in fact added tacit support of the alteration by stating that “previous NEU guidance could have been misinterpreted … as promising confidentiality to students”.
Right to choose
Despite this, the amended motion still reaffirmed that “Children have the right to choose when, how and if they come out” and firmly opposed Zahawi’s comments. This motion was highlighted by Louise Lewis in an email to the NEU Joint General Secretaries and the Executive asking for the Union to issue an urgent statement opposing the planned guidance. Unfortunately such a statement has not yet been issued, despite the very real concern that schools will begin altering their own guidance based on media reports.
Socialist Alternative have produced this model motion for union branches opposing the planned guidance and calling for statements to be issued “expressing opposition to the planned guidance, pledging support for members and schools who refuse to follow it, making clear schools should not change their guidance based on these reports, and arguing that the “significant risk of harm” exemption should protect any child who does not want parents informed”.
The plans are also being threatened to be enforced by Ofsted. As International Workers’ Memorial Day approaches on April 28th, we remember Head teacher Ruth Perry who was driven to her death by Ofsted. The NEU has a clear view that Ofsted needs to be replaced – it is clearly important to oppose them being given any further powers, and certainly not support them acting as the enforcers of the Tories’ “culture war”.
No return to Section 28
While it appears that the guidance would be non-statutory, at least initially, it is clearly designed – along with other recent non-statutory guidance recommending that materials from anti-capitalist organisations should not be used, repeating transphobic myths about charities such as Stonewall and Mermaids, and making thinly-veiled, racist attacks on Black Lives Matter – to create a climate of fear in the classroom in a similar way to Section 28, under which no-one was ever prosecuted but which successfully dictated what materials were considered acceptable in schools. It is increasingly clear that we cannot rely on Starmer’s Labour to stand up for TNB people, and there is certainly no guarantee that they would reverse this guidance or leave it as non-statutory.
These attacks on both educators and learners is linked to the general privatisation and underfunding of education. It reflects what the establishment believes education should be. They want a two-tier system, with schools as exam factories and teachers as ‘instructors’ rather than skilled professionals. This is why NEU members are making clear that strike action is about needing a pay rise, but it is also about fighting to defend education. Educators and students must be involved in deciding what is taught in schools and how schools operate. Alongside attacks on TNB students, there is growing misogyny in schools, with the popularity of figures like Andrew Tate, and the Tories plan to further attack Sex and Relationship Education, removing reference to LGBTQ+ identities.
Educators are fighting back with strong strike action. Students are also, in places, walking out and protesting against sexist and racist uniform policies and other draconian measures in schools. It is important that we use these methods of collective action to fight this new guidance on TNB students, too. The model motion from Socialist Alternative also calls for districts to “mobilise members to attend protests against the planned guidance, support student protests against the planned guidance or on other issues impacting TNB people, and if appropriate organise or assist in organising a protest locally. Mobilise members to ensure an NEU presence on Pride events in our district [and] at Trans Pride”. Large turnouts at Trans Pride and other Pride events, and specific protests against the planned guidance, can stop the Tories in their tracks.
More and more of us have seen in practice that pinkwashed, corporate ‘Pride’ events, backed by big business, are not the kinds of events we need to win liberation. We need grassroots ‘reclaim Pride’ groups to be formed across England, Wales, Scotland and elsewhere, not just to bring Pride back to its radical roots, but to clearly organise around the need to fight the Tories right-wing, ‘culture war’ agenda. Full participation by socialists like ourselves, trade unionists and all those wanting to organise to resist oppression will be key. If you agree, join Socialist Alternative!
- Fight the Tories’ planned guidance! Don’t make education workers out kids – let children decide how, when and if they come out!
- Defend and extend the Equality Act, implement the Gender Recognition Act and Gender Recognition Reform Bill, and fight for all legal reforms that improve the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people.
- Pride is a protest! Build a socialist and trade union presence at Trans Pride and other Pride events.
- Build a mass movement against transphobia, LGBTphobia, misogyny, racism and all forms of oppression. For a socialist society where resources and wealth are owned and controlled by working class people for the benefit of ordinary people, not the billionaires!