August 11, 2022 - 10:00am

Suella Braverman has put schools on notice: the social transition of pupils is not a neutral act. In a keynote speech yesterday, the Attorney General described it as a “serious intervention and should only be done upon the advice of an independent medical practitioner”. Braverman added:

Schools and teachers who socially transition a child without the knowledge or consent of parents or without medical advice increase their exposure to a negligence claim for breach of their duty of care to that child.
- Suella Braverman

She had much more to say. There was clear guidance, for example, about school toilets, dormitories and sports teams. In short, sex means sex and children cannot self-identify into spaces reserved for the other sex. Schools that continued to allow “trans girls” (biologically male children) to use the girls’ facilities might — in Braverman’s words — be guilty of, “unlawful indirect discrimination against the female children”.

But most significant for me in this speech was the cautious approach to the social transition of children. Social transition had a profound impact on me — and equally significantly — those around me. It changed my relationship with the rest of society. For children and adolescents also grappling with the prospect of puberty and all that it brings, it must be monumental. Repeatedly, Braverman indicated the need for schools to take medical advice, and certainly not to act purely on the word of a child:

Schools have a duty of care in relation to the health, safety and welfare of their children and they risk breaching this duty when they encourage and facilitate a child’s social transition as a blanket policy; or take the decision to do so without medical advice.
- Suella Braverman

And to those schools who have facilitated a child’s transition without informing their parents, there was a warning:

In children’s healthcare the legal presumption is that parents act in the best interests of their children, until and unless there are strong grounds to suggest otherwise. There is no other situation where a school would make a significant life changing decision about a child without involving the parents — these children should not be treated any differently.
- Suella Braverman

Indeed, trans children are children and they deserve the same rights as other children. That means they should be treated with compassion, not set apart as special. They are children — some in psychological distress, others possibly not — but they are not the opposite sex.

Vitally, Braverman offered support for children (and maybe adults) who do not buy into the fantasy that people can change sex:

No child should be made to fear punishment or disadvantage for questioning what they are being taught, or refusing to adopt a preferred pronoun for a gender questioning child.
- Suella Braverman

For too long schools have taken advice from the wrong people, or simply made it up as they went along. Sex is real, and it is a protected characteristic. Braverman could not be clearer. Schools that fail to respect that may find themselves not so much on the wrong side of history, but on the wrong side of the law.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.