THE SCOTTISH Government has published guidance for schools to support transgender pupils.

In a 70-page document, education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has set out how schools should  respond to transgender pupils and ensure they are safe and included in, and out, of the classroom.

The recommendations include not forcing a transgender pupil to use a specific toilet, trying to make social dancing events less gender-specific, and using the name and pronouns requested by the child.

It also provides guidance on how to identify and tackle transphobic bullying, and suggests that primary school teachers should use “books and resources which challenge gender stereotypes and include transgender people”.

The guidance also explains that teachers should not tell children who say they are transgender that “it’s just a phase”, and adds: “If a young person comes out to you, it’s also important not to deny their identity, or overly question their understanding of their gender identity.

“Teachers can of course ask reflective questions that allow young people to express themselves, explore their gender identity and identify their needs.”

It states that transgender children should be allowed to share accommodation on school trips with other children of the same gender identity, provided other pupils are comfortable with this, and also says schools should allow trans pupils to compete in school sports teams, if gender-specific, based on the gender they identify with.

Ms Somerville stressed that the new guidance, which is not statutory, did not “promote transitioning”.

She said: “Pupils are happier and learn more at school when they feel safe, respected and included.

“We know transgender young people can face many issues in schools and that teachers and staff must have the confidence and skills to support their mental, physical and emotional health.

“This guidance outlines how schools can support transgender young people while ensuring that the rights of all pupils are fully respected. It provides schools with practical suggestions. The guidance is not prescriptive and does not promote transitioning.”

Dr Mhairi Crawford, Chief Executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, welcomed the guidance.

She said: “We welcome the publication of the Scottish Government’s resource on supporting trans young people in schools and hope that all teachers take the opportunity to put its guidance into practice in their classrooms, allowing all learners to achieve their full potential.

“Our research shows that school is the area where trans young people experience the most discrimination and this must be addressed. Teachers and school leadership often tell us that they lack the knowledge and confidence to effectively support trans young people.

“This resource will guide school staff on how best to do so, improving the lives of trans young people and enabling them to thrive.”

Along with advice for teachers, the Scottish Government document also details how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils experience bullying and harassment in schools.

It says the guidance has been produced because 82% of transgender people experienced bullying in school due to them being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

According to the report, 68% of trans young people who had experienced bullying said that it negatively affected their educational attainment, and more than a quarter (27%) left education due to sexuality or gender-based discrimination. Just 24% of LGBT young people said they would be confident in reporting transphobia in schools.

The report quotes several transgender young people’s experiences, with one person saying: “I was often called a ‘tranny’ or ‘dyke’ and told to kill myself by numerous pupils throughout the school”.

Another added: “I was told I was disgusting and in PE I was forced to change in a disused shower cubicle in case I 'stared at' any of the girls.”

Advice around the use of toilets and changing rooms has been provided by the Scottish Government, despite the issue being hotly debated over the past several years.

It does not dictate how schools should arrange their toilet and changing room facilities but provides evidence on the need for safe facilities for pupils of all genders.

It explains that some young people have avoided drinking or eating during the school day, to avoid having to use bathrooms, and also cites a 2018 survey which shows 31% fo young people have experienced gender-based violence, 10% had experienced rape or sexual assault and 7% had experienced sexual abuse.

It adds: “ Toilets and changing rooms can therefore be an area of school where boys, girls and trans young people feel particularly vulnerable.

“It is known that young people may worry about being teased or bullied and may not be comfortable getting changed in front of others, and may wish additional privacy

“For transgender young people these worries may be very prominent, and they may express very particular concerns about experiencing bullying or getting changed with others and may need additional privacy.”

The Government has recommended that staff develop a plan with pupils around the use of toilets and changing rooms, and suggests considering whether existing facilities could be “converted” into gender neutral ones if possible.

The guidance also suggests that transgender pupils could use “accessible” toilets, or even staff facilities, in schools “where facilities are limited, and if a young person needs additional privacy” as long as it does not compromise “their privacy or the privacy of staff members.”

According to the government, parents should also be consulted alongside young people when it comes to toilets and changing rooms.

The guidance states that schools should consider if the “young people’s rights are being respected” and that “all reasonable steps” have been taken to “accommodate the young people’s needs”.

It adds that schools should also consider if young people are being treated differently from their peers, and are being disadvantaged, and whether this could be “unlawful discrimination”.

A host of LGBT youth groups have supported the new guidance, with the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign saying: “ Transgender young people can often experience a range of issues at school which impact on attainment and wellbeing, including prejudice-based bullying.

“It's important that schools and teachers know how to provide support. We welcome this new guidance.”

Zero Tolerance, the charity which works to tackle male violence against women, added: "We are delighted to see this new guidance to support transgender children.  The inclusion of transgender children in schools is vital for recognising and achieving gender equality and an education system where all children can thrive."