Call for census to include transgender teacher option

24th June 2016 at 00:00
Profession urged to be ‘more inclusive’ by recording data on staff who may not identify as male or female

“Male” or “female” should not be the only choices in Scotland’s annual teacher census if the profession is to better support transgender people, according to a key union figure.

Jenny Kemp, national officer for education and equality at the EIS teaching union, told TESS that schools were becoming more receptive to transgender issues but that there remained ignorance and nervousness around the topic.

She said that giving teachers who identify as trans the chance to choose that option in the census “would enhance what we know about who is in the system and send out a message that the system intends to be inclusive”.

Ms Kemp added that she was not aware of any transgender teachers among the 55,000 members of her union, which itself only records teachers as male or female.

But she stressed that this did not necessarily mean that there weren’t any. Campaigners have told TESS they estimate that between 50 and 500 people out of 50,000 may be transgender.

Ms Kemp, who was speaking after the EIS held its first fringe event on transgender learners at its annual conference, said it could be both a bad and good sign that no transgender teachers had made themselves known.

She said there is a common feeling that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in general may be put off the teaching profession by their own experiences of school, but some transgender teachers may have settled into school life without requiring union support.

Too nervous to come out

James Morton, manager of the Scottish Transgender Alliance, said that his group is aware of several trans teachers but that they are “very nervous about experiencing discrimination if they come out to colleagues”.

The “horrible transphobic ridicule” of transgender teacher Lucy Meadows by some media outlets in 2012 and her subsequent suicide had “a chilling effect on the confidence of trans teachers to come out”, Mr Morton said.

And, given that the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 31 per cent of the public believed someone who had transitioned would be unsuitable as a primary teacher, it was “not surprising trans teachers are scared to come out”, he added.

Mr Morton said that diversity monitoring at work “should be fully transgender-inclusive so long as it is anonymised and all the questions are optional”.

He added: “Initially there would be under-reporting due to fear, but it would send an important signal that being a great teacher isn’t dependent on being any particular gender.”

The call for more data to be recorded on the transgender workforce comes amid a flurry of stories about schools making attempts to become more inclusive of transgender pupils.

The private Brighton College in East Sussex recently introduced a “trouser uniform” and a “skirt uniform” that can be worn by pupils of any gender, in order to make transgender pupils and those with gender dysphoria feel more comfortable.

And last weekend, it was reported that increasing numbers of girls’ schools had stopped calling pupils by gender-specific words such as “girls” and “ladies”, calling them “pupils” or “people” instead.

Ms Kemp said that teachers across all types of school are keen to learn how to support transgender pupils but are often “really nervous” about getting it right.

Residential trips where girls and boys are strictly segregated into dorms can be particularly difficult, she said, and there were also common issues about which toilets a transgender pupil could use and the pronouns that they preferred to be addressed by.

LGBT lunchtime groups are becoming more common but there is still “pretty shocking” bullying and a need for transgender lives to be “normalised” in schools, according to Ms Kemp.

Just as a school would not dream of showing only images of white people on its walls, for example, images of transgender people would send out an implicit but powerful message that school is a safe place.

Cara Spence, policy director at LGBT Youth Scotland, said that “more and more people” were coming out as transgender in Scottish schools and there had been a steady increase in schools seeking support.

In the year to March 2016, her organisation did “intensive work” with 38 schools – including six primaries – on behalf of transgender pupils or young people who “don’t confirm to gender expectations”.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said that it was already “committed to reviewing and reforming gender recognition law for all trans people so it is in line with international best practice”.

@TESScotland

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