The body deferred to established law, not Stonewall law
We live in strange times when schools are applauded for applying the law. The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), which represents 25 schools across England, has revised its admissions policy for pupils who identify as transgender.
Unfortunately, the headlines in the press have been somewhat misleading. “Trans pupils are turned down by girls’ schools as threat to status,” said one. But this policy is not about gender reassignment; it is about sex.
As the law stands, children in the UK cannot acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate which means they cannot change their legal sex. So that means that there is no question about girls’ schools excluding girls who choose to identify as boys: they are still female legally as well as biologically. Trans-identified girls are not being turned down.
The group being excluded are boys who identify as girls, but not because of their gender identity. One only needs to look as far as the Equality Act 2010, which allows single-sex schools to “refuse to admit pupils of the opposite sex” [my emphasis]. Those boys remain legally male and therefore ineligible.
The Equality Act does permit single-sex schools to make some exceptions without losing their single-sex status, but those are limited and pragmatic. For example, a girls’ school may offer certain courses that are not offered to boys in their own school. A colleague who taught in a Birmingham girls’ school for 14 years told me that:
Boys did join us for some A-Level classes but it worked because their own school was only next door, so they were never too far from their own facilities. All our pupil toilets and changing rooms were for girls.Teacher
But boys who identity as girls and seek admission to a girls’ school would hardly want to use the facilities in the neighbouring boys school. If they have been led to believe that they are girls, then they are likely to demand to use the girls’ toilets and changing rooms. In other words: expect the girls to budge up and make room. That is unreasonable and thankfully the law is clear about it.
But while that might be the real law, for too long the trans lobby has been promoting Stonewall Law — “the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be” — in the words of barrister Akua Reindorf, recently appointed as an EHRC commissioner.
No doubt the lobby will be upset by the GDST policy, but schools must not be misled by them. In the recent past Stonewall Law has been introduced into too many organisations without apparent challenge. But this stand by the GDST is one more sign that things might be changing and both the real law and common sense might be returning. For that they should be applauded.
* This article was first published by Unherd on 3 January 2022: A win for common sense at the Girls’ Day School Trust.