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ESFA 'refuses to legitimise' non-binary students

Non-binary students who don't identify as male or female 'forced to misgender themselves' to access education, NUS warns

Non-binary students at colleges are being forced to misgender themselves by data gathering processes

Non-binary students who don't identify as male or female 'forced to misgender themselves' to access education, NUS warns

Strict data gathering processes are forcing students who do not identify as male or female to “misgender themselves”, an NUS students’ union officer has said.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has released its 2019-20 specification for individualised learner records (ILR). An ILR must be completed for each student at an FE provider in order for them to be funded and this is usually done as part of the enrolment process.

In the “sex” category, the specification only allows for an “M” or “F” response. LGBT charity Stonewall defines non-binary as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.”

'Still a barrier'

NUS LGBT+ officer Eden Ladley said she was “very disappointed” there was not going to be a non-binary option for the ILR next year.

She added: “This will have a negative impact on students in further education, and forces non-binary students to misgender themselves just in order to access education. In a period where we've made progress with data collection in other areas, this is still a barrier despite the massive ballooning of the non-binary student population."

Steve Hewitt, an FE funding and data expert, said the rules mean that if the male or female box is not completed then a learner cannot be funded. He said since 2012 the Higher Education Statistics Agency has recommended three options for higher education institutions to identify sex: male, female and other. Scottish and Welsh funding bodies also allow for an "other" category to be selected. 

Mr Hewitt added: “Imagine being someone coming to terms with being non-binary, college is a safe space where you feel happy with how you define yourself and then you have to use a term that has brought you pain and misery over years just because some ignorant people refuse to legitimise your existence. I've spoken to the people who make the ILR for years about his and I’ve never had a halfway reasonable explanation as to why we can't just add another option or even just make it non-mandatory.”

A spokesperson for the ESFA said the agency had "nothing to add" at this point.

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