How parents’ challenge impacted government policy

27 September 2022

Rebekah Moffett, Christian Concern’s Communications Officer, outlines how evidence in the case of Nigel and Sally Rowe led to a change in government policy on transgenderism in schools, making clear how schools and parents should respond.

The case of Nigel and Sally Rowe first appeared in the media five years ago, in 2017, after a child in their six-year-old son’s class started cross-dressing at school and reportedly self-identifying as a girl – at least on some days. Previously, their elder son had also had a similar experience in his own class, where a boy came in wanting to identify as a girl, also aged just six.

As concerned parents, Nigel and Sally met with teachers from the school, but were quickly met with hostility. The school wrote the parents a letter saying that an “inability to believe a transgender person is actually a ‘real’ female or male” and the refusal to “acknowledge a transgendered person’s true gender” was “transphobic behaviour” and considered a form of bullying.

Sadly, this view has been shared around schools across England and the UK – and was even adopted by the Department for Education as ‘best practice’ guidance.

However, after a five year legal battle, Nigel and Sally have been awarded £22,000 in legal costs and secured a commitment from the government to reform transgender policies in primary schools.

Clarity for schools

Thankfully, the government has now begun to make clear exactly what it expects of schools in relation to transgender policies, recognising that many schools have introduced ‘transgender policies’ which go beyond what is required by law and could actually be causing greater harm to children.

In her speech of 10 August, Attorney General Suella Braverman MP made clear what schools’ responsibilities are when it comes to teaching and policies on transgenderism. New guidance and a consultation are expected shortly, but that shouldn’t stop schools reconsidering their policies and taking greater care of vulnerable children. Parents must also step up, engaging properly with their child’s school on these matters.

The Attorney General’s speech finally clarified the guidance for schools on teaching transgender ideology. The Department for Education had already made clear back in 2020 that schools should not be relying on extreme groups like Mermaids, Stonewall and Educate and Celebrate:

“Schools should not under any circumstances work with external agencies that take or promote extreme political positions or use materials produced by such agencies.”

This guidance was updated in February, which Braverman also referred to, clarifying that:

“where partisan political views are covered, schools ensure that these are presented with the appropriate context, which supports a balanced presentation of opposing views.”

Just in case schools need more specific advice on this, before the DfE guidance is published, Braverman explained what this means. In short:

  1. Single sex schools can refuse admission to pupils of the opposite biological sex:

“it is lawful for a single sex school to refuse to admit a child of the opposite biological sex who identifies as transgender.”

  1. Single sex spaces should be used as such, and pupils of the opposite sex can be refused entry:

“it is lawful for a mixed school to refuse to allow a biologically and legally male child, who identifies as a trans-girl, from using the girls’ toilets.”

  1. Uniforms can be sex-specific :

“it can be lawful for a school to refuse to allow a biologically male child, who identifies as a trans girl, to wear a girls’ uniform.”

  1. Single-sex sports can be played without pupils of the opposite sex partaking in them:

“it is lawful for a school to refuse a biologically and legally male child who identifies as a trans-girl from participating in girls’ single sex sporting activities.”

  1. Schools can refuse to use a child’s preferred opposite-sex pronouns:

“it can be lawful for schools to refuse to use the preferred opposite-sex pronouns of a child.”

  1. Parents have a right to know what their children are being taught:

“parents have a right under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to request access to teaching materials used in their children’s state funded schools. They could also make an internal complaint followed by referral to the Department for Education and ultimately via judicial review. But parents do have the right to know what is being taught to their children.”

  1. Children can never be legally transgender:

“Under 18s are unable to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate and schools will generally be dealing with children whose sex for the purposes of the Equality Act is that registered at birth.”

  1. Schools should exercise extreme caution before supporting any ‘social transition’ of a child under 18:

“All this is sometimes taking place without informing their parents or taking into account the impact on other children. Anyone who questions such an approach is accused of transphobia … Schools should consider each request for social transition on its specific circumstances, and individually, and any decision to accept and reinforce a child’s declared transgender status should only be taken after all safeguarding processes have been followed, medical advice obtained and a full risk assessment conducted, including taking into account the impact on other children.”

Parents vindicated

Nigel and Sally Rowe were the first people to raise the issue in 2017. Thanks to their campaigning and legal battle, with the support of the Christian Legal Centre, schools and parents can be clear on what to expect.

Nigel and Sally responded to Ms Braverman’s speech:

“We give glory to the Lord for this amazing outcome. A civilised society should be protecting our young children. The scripture says in Matthew 18:6: ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’ We are ecstatic and relieved that the government are taking this seriously and putting in place protection for our nation’s children.  Praise the Lord.”

Supported by evidence

Braverman’s speech is completely backed up by expert evidence used in the case of the Rowes, particularly when it comes to the dangers of ‘social transitioning’ children. Braverman stated:

“Schools must be sensitive to the fact that gender distress may be a response to a range of developmental, social and psychological factors – that something else may be going on. The fact that there has been an enormous increase in the number of cases, in addition to a complete ‘change in the case-mix’ of those with gender distress within the last decade, from predominantly boys presenting in early childhood to teenage girls with no prior history, the fact that ‘approximately one third… have autism or other types of neurodiversity’ and ‘there is over-representation’ of looked-after children, should illustrate the complexity of what schools are dealing with.”

Psychiatric expert Dr Paul Rodney McHugh, M.D. expressed similar medical concerns in his evidence supporting the Rowes’ case:

“Gender affirming policies, by merely accepting a child’s wishes (or those of his parents) to explore their own gender without querying the root cause of that confusion, may in fact be ignoring the symptoms of any number of other disorders. Thus rather than being able to treat the child’s actual condition, these policies defer diagnosis and may lead to long term serious harm and persistence of symptoms. There is no other area in medicine where we unconditionally allow children to choose their own diagnosis.” (pp.6-7)

Both Braverman and McHugh also agree that the teaching of transgender ideology is not based on medical or scientific fact, but rather political and social ideologies. Braverman stated:

“Interpretations that support unthinking and absolute approaches to gender are rooted in new political ideologies outside the intention or scope of the Equality Act … These ideologies propagate the view that a person’s biological sex is quite distinct from their gender. These theories are premised on an assumption that regardless of biological sex, children must be assisted to decide their gender. This highly-contested outlook presupposes that gender is subjective and binary approaches to sex are exclusionary.”

She went on to state:

“The existence of a Gender Recognition Certificate can create a legal position but cannot change biological reality.”

McHugh backs this up:

“In reality, the government guidance being relied upon by schools in implementing policies that affirm, rather than try to resolve, gender confusion, has de facto mandated a scientifically unwarranted, dangerous experiment, upon Britain’s children without apparent regard to the far-reaching and long-term consequences.” (p.11)

It is good to see that members of government are finally understanding the dangers of teaching children this unscientific and harmful ideology. However, we now need to see this understanding shaping every school’s safeguarding policy and its teaching on sex and relationships, with doctors and churches backing them up.

Schools and parents must act

Braverman made clear in her speech that parents have a right to know what their children are being taught. This is a two-way street: parents need to be contacting their school’s leadership to ask what is on the curriculum. If it seems that dangerous ideologies are being taught, then parents also have every right to challenge that.

We’d encourage parents to begin by writing a letter to the school, particularly as the new school year begins, urging them to read Braverman’s speech. You can find out how to do this by reading more from our Head of Education, Steve Beegoo: Many teachers breaking law and harming children, says Attorney General.

School leadership also has a responsibility to liaise with parents, informing them of the curriculum. Which means if you don’t know what your child’s school is teaching, this may be because of a culture of secrecy in this area – so it is all the more important to get in touch with them.

Guidance must extend to medical field

However, what is being taught in schools should stem from fact, not ideology. Worryingly, we’re also seeing this ideology being propagated within the medical professions, where if a child is presenting with gender dysphoria, they generally aren’t questioned, and the child is rushed onto ‘medication’ to affirm them in this ‘new identity’. Cases such as Keira Bell’s have served to highlight the dangers of unquestioningly ‘treating’ children with the likes of puberty blockers, leading them on a path of social and physical transition with dangerous consequences.

News that the Tavistock Clinic will be closed down is to be welcomed, however more serious change must happen if children are to be protected; after all, regional gender hubs are still to be set up, and puberty-blocker trials are also set to begin.

If we are to see real and lasting change, then support for the Memorandum of Understanding should be dropped, as well as any support to outlaw so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for ‘gender identity’.

Churches must lead the way

The real problem is, of course, a spiritual one. The acceptance of transgender ideology is a consequence of rejecting the truth that God made us male and female, and that his ways are the best ways for the individual and for society. Christians – whether parents or not – must be ready to engage with this issue.

In recent years, even areas of the Church have accepted the lies spread by trans ideology. This must change. The Church of England’s own Valuing All God’s Children guidance, which is captive to this ideology, was cited by authorities to dismiss Nigel and Sally’s concerns. It has been used against other faithful Christians who question transgender ideology. It must be withdrawn and replaced with guidance that upholds humans as unchangeably male and female.

The Church must repent of its rejection of truth and spreading of lies. Instead, it must be a beacon of hope and light, which unrepentantly speaks of Jesus and points to him as the way, the truth and the life. The Church is called to be counter-cultural, which means rejecting the lies that culture tells us – ‘be who you want to be’; ‘truth is all relative, live your truth’; ‘of course changing gender is possible’ – and embracing Biblical authority. In Jesus, we have a firm foundation; the Church should never build itself on the shifting sands of an ideology which already seems to be collapsing in on itself.

The question is, how will you respond?

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27

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