Rishi Sunak has expressed his concern about a report suggesting some secondary schools are not informing parents as soon as a child questions their gender identity.
The Prime Minister said it is important that parents “know what’s going on” as he pledged that Government guidance for schools in relation to transgender issues will be published “for the summer term”.
Safeguarding principles are being “routinely disregarded in many secondary schools” when it comes to gender identity, according to a paper by centre-right think tank Policy Exchange.
Mr Sunak, who was asked about the report during a visit to the UK Atomic Energy Authority in Oxfordshire on Thursday, acknowledged it is an issue that must be treated sensitively.
He told broadcasters: “I’m very concerned about these reports.
“For me, the safety and wellbeing of our children is of paramount importance. And I’ve also been clear that parents must be able to know what is being taught to their kids in school, especially on these sensitive areas.
“That’s why we’re already reviewing the RSE (relationships and sex education) guidance to make sure that it is age appropriate for children.
“But also what I’m also going to say today is that for the summer term we will make sure that we publish guidance for schools so that they know how to respond when children are asking about their gender.
“These are really sensitive areas, it’s important that we treat them sensitively, and that parents know what’s going on, and we’ll make sure that that happens.”
The research by Policy Exchange, which sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to more than 300 secondary schools in England, suggested that some schools do not maintain single-sex toilets or changing rooms.
It said: “While many schools believe they are acting in a child’s best interests, there is no circumstance in which safeguarding norms should be compromised. Nonetheless, this is happening across the country.”
In a foreword to the report, Labour MP Rosie Duffield said: “Policy Exchange exposes the reality that this ideology is widespread across secondary schools.
“This Government has failed children by allowing partisan beliefs to become entrenched within the education system. Meanwhile, the Opposition has failed to pull them up on it.”
She added: “The safeguarding of children is fundamental to a civilised society. Policy Exchange here demonstrates there to be a systemic failure in the school system, caused by an ill-considered embrace of gender ideology.”
FoI requests were submitted to 304 secondary schools in England in December last year, and 154 schools responded, either fully or in part, to questions asked by the think tank about gender policies.
The research suggested that only 28% of the secondary schools who responded to the FoI are reliably informing parents as soon as a child questions their gender.
According to the report, around 28% of secondary schools are not maintaining single-sex toilets and 19% are not maintaining single-sex changing rooms.
“Safeguarding principles are being routinely disregarded in many secondary schools, which are neglecting their safeguarding responsibilities and principles in favour of a set of contested beliefs, in ways that risk jeopardising child wellbeing and safety.
“In doing so, schools are compromising both the law and statutory safeguarding guidance.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said schools “work very hard to be sensitive to the needs of pupils questioning their gender identity, and all their pupils, by providing a supportive and caring environment, and teaching children sensitively about respectful relationships in a diverse society through RSE lessons”.
But he added that this is being done “in the context of a public minefield of strongly held and opposing views”.
He said the Government guidance is “clearly needed so that schools are able to draw on an established set of guidelines rather than constantly being caught in the crossfire between opposing views and beliefs”.
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: “We are clear that schools should make sure they work with parents, pupils and public services to decide what is best for individual children.
“Parents have a right to view teaching materials and copyright law does not prevent a parent from viewing external resources on school premises.”