27 January, 2022
It has recently been reported that two single sex schools, within the Girls' Day School Trust, have changed their admissions policy and will only be admitting pupils based on their legal sex, recorded on their birth certificate, rather than their gender identity. The decision has been taken in order to protect the Trust's history of single sex statuses, considering that the purpose of the Trust being founded was to give girls an education they had been denied on the basis of their sex.
Sex and gender are two separate terms, with 'sex' referring to biological traits such as genitals, internal reproductive organs and hormones and 'gender' referring to the socially constructed ideas about human behaviour, actions and roles in relation to ideas of masculinity and femininity.
Furthermore, whilst transitioning refers to the process of someone coming out and living in their gender identity, rather than the gender they were assigned at birth, the process generally involves numerous elements and stages. For example, changing social identity, legal identity or gender expression.
In support of their stance, the Trust has said that existing students who begin to transition whilst already at one of their schools will be supported to remain at the school for as long as they wish to do so, and young people exploring their gender identity need space and time to make decisions, free of pressure.
Under the Equality Act 2010, single sex schools are permitted to implement gender specific admissions policies and are able to refuse to admit pupils of the opposite sex. Nevertheless, under the legislation is an exemption that single-sex schools are able to maintain their single-sex emption whilst admitting pupils of the opposite sex in exceptional circumstances, or in relation to particular courses or classes only.
The decision has caused unhappiness, with Labour MP Nadia Whittome accusing the Trust of 'hiding behind' the Equality Act and with an anonymous individual claiming to be a student, commencing a petition to get the decision to be reversed. At the time of writing, the petition has over 4,500 signatures.
Whilst schools can, legally, make the differentiation as under the policy, schools are advised to remain vigilant and should make it a priority to continually review whether there are particular practices which could result in unfair, less favourable treatment of one gender as opposed to the opposite gender. The safest course of action would be to make decisions on a case by case basis, to approach the situation carefully, and to continually monitor the interpretation of the legislation.
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