Schools Told to Stop Addressing Parents As 'Sir' or 'Madam' in Gender Equality Drive

LGBT groups have lent their support to new British government-backed guidelines that say teachers must not address parents and staff as "sir" or "madam."

Guidance for head teachers published on Wednesday (December 13) says that addressing letters to parents with gender-specific terms of assignation "automatically assumes stereotypical family units."

The advice, published by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), a trade union, is intended to create an inclusive environment for transgender staff, children and their families in schools.

It also recommended that primary schools ensure books featuring trans parents, or celebrating gender identity and difference, are included in the curriculum.

The guidelines, endorsed by the Department for Education, instruct head teachers to "ensure trans students and children with trans parents feel included in their learning, and trans staff members feel positively represented in lesson content and welcomed in the school environment."

Other guidelines include preventing school's firewalls and IT filters from automatically blocking content containing words such as transgeder, transexual, queer or non-binary.

Teachers were also advised to ensure dress codes for pupils and staff members were modified to avoid gender stereotypes, and to allow transgender staff members to dress in accordance with their correct gender. The phrasing of any dress codes should be gender neutral, with a phrase such as "employees may choose which uniform to wear."

Around 120 state schools in the U.K., including 40 primaries, have allowed girls to wear trousers and boys to wear skirts as part of gender-neutral policies.

The new advice explains that transgender staff can be role models for students if they are allowed to express themselves fully at work.

It said: "When pupils see staff members able to be authentic about themselves within the school community and are treated with equal respect and acceptance, they are more likely to feel able to be authentic and open themselves, as well as encouraged to treat all members of the school community with equal respect."

The NAHT, which represents around 30,000 head teachers, also advised that its members "forbid" complaints from parents, governors or staff that could hinder their commitment to "an inclusive environment" for transgender people in schools.

Starting School
A schoolchild arrives in a primary school September 4, 2012. Schools have issued new guidance to assist LGBT pupils and staff. Charles Platiau/Reuters

Stonewall's 2017 School Report found that almost half of LGBT pupils (46 percent) hear transphobic language frequently or often.

Further guidelines were published supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual staff members on the NAHT website.

Stonewall, the LGBT rights charity, has backed the guidelines. Ruth Hunt, its Chief Executive, said in a statement: "It is good to see the NAHT providing clear guidance to schools on how to support their lesbian, gay, bi and trans staff.

"Being supported in the workplace is important for everyone. For trans people in particular, a lack of understanding from colleagues and managers can be serious and distressing—leaving people vulnerable to victimisation, or feeling forced to hide who they really are while at work."

Monty Moncrieff, Chief Executive of London Friend, a charity that promotes health and wellbeing for LGBT people, said: "These new guidelines offer some very simple suggestions to help support LGB and trans staff working in education settings, as well as to help create learning environments in which LGB and trans students feel included and supported.

"They show how small, practical and thoughtful steps can have a big impact on the work or learning environment, which is essential for both staff and students to thrive and work to the best of their abilities."

But, Chris McGovern, head of the Campaign for Real Education, told The Times it would confuse children: "Indoctrination in the politically correct anxieties, passions and neuroses of adults has no place in school. This latest intrusion into childhood will cause upset, confusion and trauma for many youngsters."