School improvement: supporting pupils with regard to their individual protected characteristics.

Question of the month

Do our staff support pupils with regard to their individual protected characteristics?

This question is particularly relevant this month as the Department for Education (DfE) have recently revealed their draft guidance regarding ‘gender questioning children.’
Firstly, can you and your staff name all the nine protected characteristics?
The nine protected characteristics are:
  • Age
  • Disability 
  • Gender reassignment 
  • Marriage and civil partnership 
  • Pregnancy and maternity 
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation 

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination, harassment, and victimisation.

In terms of supporting students regarding their individual protected characteristics there are many ways staff can support pupils.
School leaders and staff should lead by example. They must work together to develop a positive culture of respect and belonging. This can be achieved through respect for one another, actively listening and valuing everyone’s ideas. An inclusive culture will celebrate diversity and support pupils to explore their individual protected characteristics.
Through regular training opportunities, staff can learn more about the school community and engage in more inclusive teaching practice. Staff can support students by giving careful thought to the design of the curriculum, so that it represents a range of cultures and identities.
Staff and pupils can contribute to enhancing existing school policies about bullying, harassment, discrimination, and disability. This collaborative approach allows for staff to better support pupils with regards to the issues they may face in school. Strong pastoral systems will ensure that any child who experiences discrimination or inequality will be confident to report the issue and receive support.
A focus on supporting ‘gender questioning children’ 
The Department for Education (DfE) recommends: 
  • Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children. 
  • The parents view should be at the centre of every decision that schools make about their child.
  • If a child requests to socially transition teachers should begin to consider it.
  • Parents have a right to know about their child’s request to transition.
  • In exceptional circumstances, where a child may come to harm because of their request to transition, teachers may choose not to tell parents to ensure the safety of the child.
  • Creating an environment that is respectful to all beliefs: no-one is expected to use preferred pronouns. No-one should be sanctioned for making honest mistakes. 
  • If a school supports a child to change their name or pronoun, children and teachers should not be made to use ‘preferred pronouns.’
  • Schools must still record a child’s legal name and sex in the admissions register.
  • Bullying must not be tolerated. 
  • Gender questioning children should be held to the same uniform standards as everyone else. Schools may consider operating a unisex uniform policy or consult with the child’s parents to make an agreement.
  • Toilets must remain as single-sex spaces.
  • Children over the age of 11, should not be made to get changed or wash in front of children of the opposite sex. 
  • Where possible, providing alternative facilities for gender questioning children who may not feel comfortable using single-sex designated areas for their biological sex.
  • In PE, physical differences should be considered when deciding who can take part in games so there is no risk of harm and it does not make the competition unbalanced.
I think what this guidance reminds us of is that we have a duty to support students regarding their individual protected characteristics. As teachers, we safeguard, protect, love and care for all our students to enable to best outcomes for the child.
A picture of Rachel Wood. Brown hair. brown eyes. Female.

Rachel Wood, Project Manager at Evaluate-Ed. 

Rachel has 11+ years teaching experience in Secondary Schools. She was Head of Geography at an outstanding High School in the North West. Her team worked extremely hard to drive improvement and successfully increased results within the space of 3 years. She worked in a pastoral roles and has recently she has progressed to Project Management. She is passionate to support leaders at all levels to self-evaluate their school, celebrate success, take action to drive improvement and empower excellence in schools.

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