Education – in the House of Commons on 27th February 2023.
What steps she is taking to tackle transphobic bullying in schools.
The tragic death of Brianna Ghey will be at the forefront of all our minds. An investigation is ongoing and we should not assume the facts of the case. However, I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest sympathy to her family and friends.
Schools should be safe, supportive and calm places where children are taught to respect each other and staff. The Government are clear that bullying is unacceptable. Since 2016, we have provided a total of more than £5.5 million to a number of anti-bullying organisations, including the Anti-Bullying Alliance and others, to support schools to tackle bullying.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response. According to research from Stonewall, students identifying as transgender are more likely to report having a bad experience at school or at college as a result of bullying. Can she commit to ensuring that schools and colleges are obligated to record incidents of transphobic bullying, and providing guidance on how to support students to report such incidents?
All schools are required to have a behaviour policy, which will include anti-bullying, and Ofsted holds them to account on that. We also recognise that issues relating to sex and gender can be complex and sensitive for schools to navigate. I am currently working with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities to develop guidance to support schools in relation to transgender pupils. It is important to consider a wide range of views to get the guidance right and we have committed to holding a public consultation on the draft guidance prior to publication.
May I take this opportunity to add my thoughts and condolences to the friends and family of Baroness Boothroyd? Voting for Betty to become the Speaker was the first vote in which I ever took part in this House. In the five years that that Parliament took up, I think that it was the only vote that we won.
Research shows that LGBT+ young people are twice as likely to be bullied as their peers in school. For trans pupils, this can be even worse. The Secretary of State’s predecessor promised last September to issue draft guidance on supporting trans pupils. It still has not appeared, so can the Secretary of State tell us when this guidance will appear, as pupils need it and teachers are crying out for it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that that guidance is very much required and that schools are waiting for it. We are working on it—I am working on it right now with the Women and Equalities Minister—but it is very important that we get it right and have a long consultation on it, because, as we know and as we have seen, this is quite a sensitive topic, and we do need to treat it very sensitively. We are working on it.
At least 80% of schools now have children with trans identities, up from just a handful a decade ago. Vulnerable children, especially those who are autistic, have been abused or are in care, are significantly over-represented among children who report gender distress. But instead of safeguarding these children, many schools continue, possibly unlawfully, to encourage or affirm their transition, leading them down a potentially irreversible path towards sterility and exploitation. This is the safeguarding scandal of our generation, yet the Department still has not produced this guidance for schools, despite the reports of Dr Hilary Cass. What are the delays to this safeguarding guidance being produced?
I would not say that there are delays, but we are working right now to get the guidance right. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also be speaking to the Minister for Women and Equalities to make sure that all the views are represented. It is very important that we protect victims of bullying and hate-related bullying, including those who also have special educational needs. As we know, there are many crossovers between those who are different for different reasons and get an increased amount of bullying, and we must do everything we can to stop that.
Alongside young people’s academic recovery, surely supporting their mental health and wellbeing must be a priority in all of our schools. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this Government are investing an extra £7 million this year to train senior mental health leads for schools and colleges?
Yes, I can confirm that my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have been investing in senior mental health leads in each school. On top of that, mental health support teams are being rolled out across schools. I think it is about 26% of schools at the moment, and the target is 35% by 2024-25.