Speak Up for Children's Rights

Schools must not teach belief systems as facts

In September 2020, the Ministry of Education released the updated Relationship and Sexuality Education resource Relationships and Sexuality Education: A guide for teachers, leaders and boards of trustees.

This resource contains a central premise that children have a gender identity and can choose to change it. This is deeply problematic, particularly for the health and wellbeing of girls and young women. A comparable programme in Australia 1 has recently been withdrawn in response to similar concerns to those we raise.

Our concern is that the concept of gender identity is presented in the resource as a fact rather than as a contemporary belief system.

Children are encouraged to consider the possibility of changing their sex if their personalities do not fit into categories of expected male and female gendered behaviour. This idea of ‘mis-fit’ is prioritised at the expense of examining the limitations of traditional gender expectations.

In addition the resource does not acknowledge that the transition process itself can be problematic.

And that some who transition will also detransition (return to presenting as their biological sex) with all the additional stress and trauma that involves, as they navigate managing the permanent changes to their bodies wrought by medication and often surgery. 2 3 4

The phenomenon of girls aged 11 – 21 developing gender dysphoria was unknown in scientific literature until recently. Since 2012 there has been a 4,000% increase in the phenomenon of girls in this age group developing gender dysphoria and expressing a desire to transition.5

We are concerned that no one is asking questions about this increase.

Instead there is an ‘affirm only’ policy in schools and medical environments and any discussion or expressions of concern about the appropriateness of this approach for young people are shut down.

The role of schools is to protect and encourage children to express themselves in their own way, including expressing themselves differently than usual gender stereotypes allow. We are shocked that this document suggests advising children to consider participating in long-term medical interventions to develop self-expression.

The new guidance discriminates against (biologically) female students as well as lesbian and gay students.

In respect of these cohorts the MOE seems to have shelved its obligation to uphold both the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act.

For example: The Human Rights Act recognises that for reasons of safety, dignity and privacy, the sexes sometimes need separate facilities and services.

For women and girls this is particularly important.

This new resource ignores this accommodation.

To suggest that “those who are trans, non-binary, or intersex, may feel vulnerable having to change clothes in front of others” (and) “should be able to choose a toilet and changing room that matches their gender identity” and that “trans girls should be able to use the female toilets if they prefer to” bypasses the fact that natal girls often feel vulnerable having to change clothes in front of transitioning male students.

There are international studies that show girls have skipped school when they have their period so to avoid changing their sanitary products in unisex facilities. This resource encourages schools to implement policies that will alienate girls and potentially prevent them from attending school.6

In addition to centering the unscientific concept of gender identity, the resource conflates sex and gender which is both inaccurate and confusing.

From the glossary:

"Gay: A person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to the same gender and "Sexual orientation: A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender or genders to which they are attracted."

But sexual orientation is the sex we are attracted to, not the gender.

Gender is a social construct. Not an innate feeling or state of being and sexual attraction is about biology not gender.

In contrast to New Zealand’s Ministry of Education’s retrograde step, the UK Government has just updated their sexuality guidelines given to schools:

"You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material. While teachers should not suggest to a child that their noncompliance with gender stereotypes means that either their personality or their body is wrong and in need of changing, teachers should always seek to treat individual students with sympathy and support". 7

We are calling on the Ministry of Education to withdraw and amend their guidelines, in line with international best practice as seen in the UK guidelines.

Action for Concerned Parents

Use our draft letter to contact your local school to let them know of your concern. Schools do not have to follow the Ministry of Educations guidelines. If your school has adopted these new guidelines, remember, you have the right to withdraw your child from Relationship and Sexuality Education.

Action for Teachers and School Boards

Ensure that if external providers are involved, they are evaluated considering the concerns we’ve raised

  1. You do not have to follow the Ministry of Education’s guidelines. Instead, consider using the resources of UK organisation Transgender Trend who have been looking at the classroom issues related to gender ideology for several years.
  2. Encourage discussion of the many alternative ways of ‘being in the world’ that may challenge traditional ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman.
  3. Keep provision for separate girls’ and boys’ facilities for natal girls and boys. The requirements of the new resource can be met by building or assigning a significant number of separate cubicles, ceiling to floor, gender neutral toilets and changing sheds.
  4. Carefully consider a safeguarding approach that addresses the needs of girls on school trips and in sports.
  5. Ensure that the concept of gender identity is recognised as a belief system not a fact.
  6. Ensure that all presentations are scientifically credible eg they do not suggest that it is possible to change one's sex or that sex is a spectrum.
  7. Ensure that if external providers are involved, they are evaluated considering the concerns we’ve raised.