Schools and other educational settings

Schools and other educational settings - Introduction

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  1. Identify key issues for trans young people in their specific educational setting
  2. Identify how to access further educational support and information

Part 1. Early childhood education in various settings

Before viewing this video, it is important you understand gender variance/non-conformity in children and social transitioning. If you have not done so, please consider reviewing the Life stages and Social transitioning modules at this time.

Please note this module covers issues related to early childhood education and care services, including infant classes in primary schools, creches, nurseries, pre-schools, Irish language preschools, playgroups, and other day care services.

Part 1. Transitioning in early childhood education

With a young child who is or may be gender variant / gender non-conforming, it is important to listen to what the child wants and needs. For some children, this may involve wearing clothes they prefer, while others may also wish to be called by a different name and pronoun. It is important for family members, especially parents/guardians, to reassure the child and to know themselves that a child can ‘change back’ or reverse any decisions they make.

All playschools are different, and many can be quite flexible and open to change. While there is no single set way to manage a social transition within a playschool, listed below are key things to consider.

Within discussion between the student, parent/guardian, and school, consider developing a transition plan that considers and accounts for:

  1. Starting date of social transition
  2. Name, language, and pronoun: The student’s preferred name, gender identity, and pronoun (he, she, they) should be discussed and decided (if applicable).
  3. Clothing: The student’s preferred clothing should be discussed and decided (if applicable).
  4. Informing the staff: The playschool teacher should inform the playschool staff and administration. In-school education and resources should be provided to these staff to support them in understanding issues around gender and gender non-conformity in children.
  5. Informing other families: The playschool teacher may inform other parents by letter or individually depending on the size of the school about the social transition. The teacher should make themselves (and sometimes TENI) available after school to answer any questions they have particularly about how to explain about the transition to their own child. Many parents need reassurance that experimentation with gender expression is not something their child will ‘catch’ and that this transition will not encourage their child to want to ‘change’ gender.
  6. Informing the students: The teacher might also consider reading story books to the other students in the play school about gender and identity. There are a number of story books suitable for this age group that teachers may use. It should be noted that young children at this age generally do not need much explanation; they are usually quite accepting of the transition.
  7. Bullying: The playschool teacher and administration are responsible for ensuring that no bullying is allowed amongst the students.

Part 2. Primary and post-primary schools

Before viewing this video, it is important you understand social transitioning. If you have not done so, please consider reviewing the Social transitioning module at this time.

Part 2a. Primary school guidelines

Within discussions between the student, parent/guardian, and school, consider developing a transition plan that considers and accounts for the following. Remember that all aspects of this will likely require negotiation with the school.

Please consult ‘Being in LGBT in School’ and ‘Essential elements of a transition plan for a school context’ (GLEN, 2016) for further guidance.

  1. Starting date of transition
  2. Name, language, and pronoun: The student’s preferred name, gender identity, and pronoun (he, she, they) should be identified by the student.
  3. Informing staff/administration: The primary school teacher should inform other staff and administration within the school. In-school education and resources should be provided to these staff to support them in understanding issues around gender, gender non-conformity, and being transgender in school.
  4. Informing other families: The transgender child’s parent or guardian may consider informing other families about their family member’s transgender identity. This is something that should be discussed between the student, parent/guardian, and school. It will not be the right option for every situation; some parent/guardians have informed other families before, while others have chosen not do this. If it is decided to inform other families within the school, one possibility is to consider writing a letter informing other families about their transgender family member. Another option is for the school to compose a letter on behalf of the student and their family; however, any letter like this should be signed off on by the student and parent/guardian before going out to other families within the school. This may be done with the assistance of the Family Support Officer in TENI.
  5. Informing the students: The teacher should consider how to discuss gender, gender non-conformity and being transgender within the classroom. They might consider the use of storybooks. They should explain that sometimes a person’s outside body does not always match what they feel on the inside and that sometimes a person has to change the way they look on the outside so it matches what is on the inside. This will include how they want others to see them and so they sometimes need to change their appearance, name and pronoun.
  6. Behaviour amongst students: The teacher should remind students about rules around bullying. Mistakes made with names and pronouns are okay, but persistent or purposeful misuse of these, teasing, name calling, threats, or any other forms of bullying will not be tolerated. Depending upon the school context, teachers should consider encouraging other students to be allies for the transgender student through a message of pro-active anti-bullying. This might involve using role play or other scenarios showing what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and what to do if you see someone engaging in inappropriate behaviour.
  7. Facilities: The two main facilities for consideration are the toilets and locker rooms/changing facilities. Typically within primary schools in Ireland, there are single stall, ungendered bathrooms. However, in the case that there are gender-specific toilets, negotiations must be made between the student, family, and school. In this case, the use of disabled toilets for the student should be considered. In terms of locker rooms or communal changing facilities, there may be some difficulty. There are often single stall changing areas but this: a. leaves a child unsupervised and they may not be of an age to get changed themselves and b. if a teacher were to supervise them there would need to be two teachers for safety reasons of both the child and the staff. When this situation occurs, TENI can assist in finding a solution. Generally, they have resolved it by having a family member or neighbour go on the bus with the class and help the child; however, it is all individual and up to negotiation.
  8. Single-gender activities: Transgender students should be included in the gender group that matches their identity, when it comes to single-gender identity, such as SPHE.
  9. Physical education and sports: Transgender students should be encouraged and enabled to participate fully in physical education and the sports - in the gender they identify with. This may be more complicated depending upon the specific sport and league and negotiations may be required.
  10. Uniforms: Many schools require students to wear uniforms, and many schools have a variety of options available in the uniform (e.g. trousers, skirts, tracksuits). However, in some cases, there may not be as readily available options. Uniforms can be very much part of a school’s identity and there may be some resistance to changing them; however, schools should be encouraged to begin the journey by negotiating with the board of management as official uniform changes can take time. Negotiations for appropriate uniforms should be made between the student, family, and the school. Ultimately, a gender neutral uniform option will reduce difficulties for the student, family, and school. No transgender student should be forced to wear a uniform that does not correspond to their gender identity.
  11. Organisational: All school forms should be updated to include ‘male’, ‘female’, and ‘other’ gender options. All policies should underline that there is a zero tolerance policy towards any transphobic or LGBTI-bullying from students, staff, or administration. Respect and appreciation for diversity should be encouraged within the cultural ethos.
  12. Supports and further resources: The school/teacher should provide supports and further resources for other students, families, and staff who may have questions.
  13. (PDF download available in the ‘Further supports and resources’ section)

Part 2b. Post-primary school guidelines

Within discussion between the student, parent/guardian, and school, consider developing a transition plan that considers and accounts for the following. Remember that all aspects of this will likely require negotiation with the school.

Please consult ‘Being in LGBT in School’ and ‘Essential elements of a transition plan for a school context’ (GLEN, 2016) for further guidance.

  1. Starting date of transition
  2. Name, language, and pronoun: The student’s preferred name, gender identity, and pronoun (he, she, they) should be identified by the student.
  3. Informing staff/administration: The school should decide how to inform staff and administration within the school. In-school education and resources should be provided to these staff to support them in understanding issues around gender, gender non-conformity, and being transgender in school.
  4. Informing other families: At post-primary level, generally, other families within the school are not informed of the student’s transition. At this level, teachers generally acknowledge that the transition will not have any impact or bearing on others students’ education, and it is therefore, considered unnecessary to inform other families in the school. If families of other students enquire or complain about any particular aspect of having a transgender student in the school, one option is to provide these families with contact details for TENI. Another option is to make an experienced person, such as a representative of TENI, available in-person to answer any questions.
  5. Informing the students: The teacher should consider how to discuss gender, gender non-conformity and being transgender within the classroom. This should be considered carefully, particularly whether the transgender student is going to be present or not for these discussion. The teacher might consider providing an age-appropriate reading list or information handout to the students. They should explain that sometimes a person’s outside body does not always match what they feel on the inside and that sometimes a person has to change the way they look on the outside so it matches what is on the inside. This will include how they want others to see them and so they sometimes need to change their appearance, name and pronoun.
  6. Behaviour amongst students: The teacher should remind students about rules around bullying. Mistakes made with names and pronouns are okay, but persistent or purposeful misuse of these, teasing, name calling, threats, or any other forms of bullying will not be tolerated. Depending upon the school context, teachers should consider encouraging other students to be allies for the transgender student through a message of pro-active anti-bullying. This might involve using role play or other scenarios showing what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and what to do if you see someone engaging in inappropriate behaviour.
  7. Facilities: The two main facilities for consideration are the toilets and locker rooms/changing facilities. The school may consider re-labelling a disabled toilet as a unisex toilet and changing facility. This requires negotiation and depends upon the needs of the student and the specific circumstances in the school. TENI can assist in finding a solution in these situations.
  8. Uniforms: Many schools require students to wear uniforms, and many schools have a variety of options available in the uniform (e.g. trousers, skirts, tracksuits). However, in some cases, there may not be as readily available options. Uniforms can be very much part of a school’s identity and there may be some resistance to changing them; however, schools should be encouraged to begin the journey by negotiating with the board of management as official uniform changes can take time. Negotiations for appropriate uniforms should be made between the student, family, and the school. Ultimately, a gender neutral uniform option will reduced difficulties for the student, family, and school. No transgender student should be forced to wear a uniform that does not correspond to their gender identity.
  9. Single-gender activities: Transgender students should be included in the gender group that matches their identity, when it comes to single-gender identity, such as SPHE.
  10. Physical education and sports: Transgender students should be encouraged and enabled to participate fully in physical education and the sports - in the gender they identify with. This may be more complicated depending upon the specific sport and league and negotiations may be required.
  11. Organisational: All school forms should be updated to include ‘male’, ‘female’, and ‘other’ gender options. All policies should underline that there is a zero tolerance policy towards any transphobic or LGBTI-bullying from students, staff, or administration. Respect and appreciation for diversity should be encouraged within the cultural ethos.
  12. Supports and further resources: The school/teacher should provide supports and further resources for other students, families, and staff who may have questions.
  13. (PDF download available in the ‘Further supports and resources’ section)

Personal Stories

In this part, take some time to read stories from other families and trans young people about their experiences in schools and other educational settings.

I suppose all teenagers have challenging times but for a trans teen the journey to self-acceptance is an enormous struggle. It is emotionally draining at times to share that journey and to stay strong for your child. One area that is particularly challenging was keeping our son in the education system. He decided to change school…He was shown great kindness by the vast majority of staff; however, I did have to deal with a [names type of teacher] who was ignorant, transphobic and very challenging to deal with. You learn very quickly how to stand up for your child.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
My school has been very facilitating of me apart from the fact a few students make trans jokes at my expense.
Trans young person
When he started college I thought that it would get much easier as he doesn't look female and he can just be a regular male student. What I didn't understand was that as he was in a new environment and making new friends and, of course there was no knowledge of his history and people were befriending him on face value - happy days you would think? I found that he made one or two very close friends and he felt very guilty that even though they were sharing close and intimate details of their life, he had this huge secret that he felt at times he should have shared earlier but he didn't know their personal feelings on the trans issue and as their friendship grew he felt that if he disclosed it now it might make him seem deceitful. He eventually made a very public disclosure…and he was very well received…I can see him going through exactly the same thing now as he makes new friends and acquaintances [on a different course]. He speaks to a counsellor most weeks and she helps him with making the choice of whether to tell or not.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
I've had a lot of issues in school. People asking [inappropriate questions]. Teachers didn't allow me wear the school tracksuit bottoms in school. My school has no gender neutral bathrooms…
Trans young person
I go to a very accepting school, and it's amazing. The administration and guidance councillors are so supportive. That being said, the education system has a long way to go before trans youth are able to exist without having to fight for it…
Trans young person

Key messages summary

There is no right way for a child or young person to be trans in school. It is recommended, however, that any decisions related to gender identity and expression should be made in consultation with the trans child or young person, the family, and the school. Further assistance in working with schools and other educational settings is available from TENI.

Activity

Ask your family member if you can speak to them for a few minutes about their experiences in their school/educational setting (playschool, primary school, or post-primary school). Ask whether they have any concerns about their school/educational setting? If so, discuss what they may be.

Review some of the guidelines presented in this module and discuss which might work for your family and specific educational setting. Brainstorm a strategy with your family member. Write a plan of action for how you want to move forward.

Further resources related to this module

Brill, S. and Pepper, R. (2008). Chapter 7: The educational system and your family in ‘The transgender child: A handbook for families and professional’ by Brill, S. and Pepper, R. [Book available to buy from Amazon.co.uk or other booksellers]

Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN). (2016) ‘Being LGBT in school’: A resource for post-primary schools to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying and support LGBT students. Dublin: Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) and Department of Education and Skills. Available from: https://www.education.ie

PDF: ‘Essential elements of a transition plan for a school context’ from Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN). (2016) ‘Being LGBT in school’: A resource for post-primary schools to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying and support LGBT students. Dublin: Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) and Department of Education and Skills. Available from: https://www.education.ie

PDF - ECCE guidelines.

PDF - Primary school guidelines.

PDF - Post-primary school guidelines.

Sources used in developing this module:

Brill, S. and Pepper, R. (2008). Chapter 7: The educational system and your family in ‘The transgender child: A handbook for families and professional’ by Brill, S. and Pepper, R. [Book available to buy from Amazon.co.uk or other booksellers]

Department of Education and Skills. ‘Early Childhood’ [webpage]. Accessed on 8 November 2016. http://www.education.ie

Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN). (2016) ‘Being LGBT in school’: A resource for post-primary schools to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying and support LGBT students. Dublin: Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) and Department of Education and Skills. Available from: https://www.education.ie

Subject Matters Experts (SMEs) in Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).