Teachers must not "reinforce harmful stereotypes" by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality or fashion choices, the government has said.
New guidance on how schools can plan their relationships, sex and health curriculum, published today by the Department for Education, also states that some secondary content may be taught in primary schools, with parental permission.
The section of the guidance entitled "ensuring content is appropriate" states that schools should not work with organisations which produce materials suggesting that "non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity".
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The DfE guidance states: "We are aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive matters to navigate.
Guidance on sex and relationships education
"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 non-compliance 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."
The fact that teachers should not suggest children might be a different gender based on certain personality traits was not mentioned in the statutory guidance on relationships and sex education (RSE), published last year.
The words "gender identity" were only mentioned in the section of the 2019 document relating to secondary schools, and the list of topics for which students should be made aware of "relevant legal provisions".
The guidance stated: "Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way.
"All pupils should feel that the content is relevant to them and their developing sexuality. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be explored at a timely point and in a clear, sensitive and respectful manner.
"When teaching about these topics, it must be recognised that young people may be discovering or understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity. There should be an equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same-sex relationships.
"This should be integrated appropriately into the RSE programme, rather than addressed separately or in only one lesson."
The DfE guidance also says that schools can "introduce secondary requirements in primary" for some pupils.
It states: "Use your knowledge of your pupils to choose whether to:
- Introduce secondary requirements in primary with pupils who are ready (with parental consultation and consent).
- Include primary requirements in secondary teaching where pupils have gaps in their understanding, to build their knowledge before they progress (this is likely to be needed as the new curriculum is introduced).
"Try to identify what pupils already know at the start of a lesson or topic. Topics should be revisited, as necessary," the guidance adds.
In June, the government announced that schools could delay teaching the new RSE curriculum until the start of the summer term in 2021, if they felt they needed more time to prepare due to the Covid-19 crisis.
But schools that felt ready to deliver the new curriculum were encouraged to start lessons from 1 September, or ideally within the first few weeks of the academic year.