Agenda Item No. 4

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET:      18TH JUNE, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM LEARNING AND CULTURE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE: 22ND MAY, 2018

 

 

“53      TRANSGENDER INCLUSION TOOLKIT AND GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS FOR SCHOOLS AND OTHER SETTINGS (CALL-IN) -

 

Councillor Dr. I. Johnson, not a Member of the Committee, had requested that the toolkit and guidance document (which had been approved by Cabinet on 30th April 2018)  be called in for consideration for the reason that “the capacity of the Vale Council and others to successfully and appropriately implement these guidelines should be confirmed before their adoption otherwise they run the risk of becoming warm words that cannot be substantiated and would fail to support vulnerable people that they have been developed to protect”.

 

In introducing the call-in, Councillor Johnson stated that some of the questions he wished addressed related to the support to be provided to young people, the confidentiality issues for young people, the responsibility of the Council to ensure the toolkit’s appropriateness, whether all schools would be accepting the guidelines or whether they would be optional, did the Council have appropriate mental health support for transgender queries and whether the Council was  positively able to influence the outcomes for young people. 

 

The Chairman, in advising of the procedures for the meeting, stated that five members of the public had registered to speak on the matter, and seven written representations had been received, six from members of the public and one from a Councillor, not a Member of the Committee, but who was unable to attend the meeting.  Copies of all the representations had been tabled at the meeting for all present and for Committee’s consideration.  The Chairman also referred to three expert witnesses that she had invited to speak to the Committee who had direct experience and levels of expertise in the field namely Lisa Power MBE, LGBT Historian, previous policy director of the Terrence Higgins trust and a founder of the organisation Stonewall, Lu Thomas Chair of PRIDE Cymru, local school governor and Equalities consultant and Ceri Lambert and her daughter Row Jones. Row was an art student in the Vale and had begun her transition whilst at school.

 

The Safeguarding Officer in presenting the report advised that the Transgender Inclusion Toolkit was a guidance document, the purpose of which was to provide information and guidance for schools and other settings in the Vale of Glamorgan on how it could effectively support transgender, transgender questioning young people and prevent transphobia.  The report also outlined that in 2016 a number of Vale of Glamorgan schools had asked for additional advice and guidance on the subject. The document had therefore been developed in response.  The document had also been developed on behalf of the five Central South Consortium Local Authorities and the report noted that Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council had already adopted the guidance and Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council had announced its intention to adopt the guidance.

 

In drafting the document a lot of consideration had been given to developing the guidance.  Stonewall Cymru had also endorsed the guidance and stated that the document was “one of the most comprehensive pieces of guidance I had seen in Wales”.  The document had primarily been written for headteachers and staff to assist in complying with the legislation and to also provide practical guidance when discussing transgender issues.  When compiling the guidance colleagues had been very careful to note that nothing conflicted with other guidance and a real effort had been made to ensure that there was no conflict of rights with any other group.

 

Prior to any further discussion the Chairman took the opportunity to remind all present of the parameters of the issue under discussion.

 

Following the officer’s summary of the report the Chairman then asked the first public speaker who had registered to speak to make their representations.  The Chairman made it clear that each speaker would have up to three minutes to make their representations and requested all speakers to be mindful of the need for their contribution to relate to the call-in.  

 

Ms. Sarah Tanburn commenced by advising that promoting a safe and inclusive environment was important and stated that she was a long term equalities activist. Ms. Tanburn asked the Committee to consider referring the report back to Cabinet in respect of the nature of the Equalities Impact in respect of a number of characteristics, stating that she was not convinced the Council had a robust Equality Impact Assessment (EIA).  Ms. Tanburn further stated that guidance existed which advised  of a common sense approach when such decisions are taken and that in this particular case the Council would need to take into consideration sex, faith, disability and age and that there had been a lot of debate and case law on the subject that sex was not a gender.  In her view, Ms. Tanburn felt that the EIA should be specific to the Vale and consider the potential discriminatory impacts and where questions of mitigation should be addressed.  In conclusion, Ms. Tanburn advised that she herself had written an EIA, knew how they worked and saw no evidence in the report that a robust assessment had been undertaken.

 

Ms. Sue Quinn-Aziz stated that she was a parent of a teenage child in the Vale of Glamorgan and that she welcomed the Vale’s initiative on developing the document, which she felt needed to be addressed but considered that the report was suggesting a one size fits all solution.  Ms. Quinn-Aziz further stated that it was important to have regard to preparing all cultures and trans girls and boys for using facilities in schools and to understand the culture and issues involved.  In her view the report was silent on safe guarding guidance, health and safety assessments, fairness, gender neutral options.  In conclusion she also queried there appeared to be no reference around age and different age group issues provided within the guidance. 

 

Following a question from Councillor Johnson as to whether Ms. Quinn-Aziz could advise whether she was happy with the scenarios identified in the toolkit in response, Ms. Quinn-Aziz stated that she did not think school staff had been presented with the full range of options and in particular it was important to bear in mind that “one size does not fit all”. 

 

Ms. Carryn Williams, whose background was from working in services for young people, advised that she supported the principle of guidance being provided but that,  in her view, there had been no consideration in the report for girls when menstruating.   With there being over 5000 young girls in the Vale of Glamorgan this was an important aspect she felt that should have been addressed.  There were also other vulnerable groups that could be affected in particular those with autism who themselves may lack judgement and require assistance in dealing with such matters.  With regard to the teachers, there was no reference to capacity in schools and in particular how a teacher would advise children.  In conclusion, Ms. Williams asked the Scrutiny Committee to refer the report back to Cabinet having regard to the implications she had outlined. 

 

Ms. Jennifer Charles advised that she was a trans woman parent and a member of the Wales Equality Alliance.  In referring to statistics, Ms. Charles referred to a recent all-Wales survey undertaken in 2017 in partnership with the Centre of Equality Research at Cambridge which advised that 84% of trans people had self-harmed, 45% had attempted suicide and 95% had received death threats.  Such incidents having been caused by bullying and hostile environments that people had found themselves in.  Ms. Charles stated that being trans was not a condition or illness and it was wrong to stop a child from dealing with their gender issues and indeed if anyone did so they would go against NHS guidance on the matter.  In her view trans children should be allowed to reassign gender if they wished to do and should receive support to do so.  There was considerable evidence that the wellbeing of transgender people when supported had improved as a result.  In her view the toolkit provided that the Vale was in accordance with the Equality Act and working to community cohesion and urged the Council to roll out the toolkit throughout all schools in the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

Mrs. Anne Greagsby stated that the toolkit promoted a dangerous myth that children were born in the wrong body.  In her view, gender was a social issue and that children had vivid imaginations and they needed support in acknowledging changes in their body.  On two occasions the Chairman asked Ms. Greagsby to refrain from making comments inappropriate and unrelated to the call-in.  In conclusion Ms. Greagsby stated that she would not want to be referred to as si or sis and teachers had been advised to address pupils in such manners which she did not think was appropriate. 

 

Having heard from members of the public who had registered to speak, the Chairman then asked Ms. Ceri Lambert and Row Jones to address the Committee, advising that they had both been invited to the meeting as expert witnesses with first-hand experience on the subject.  Ms. Row Jones advised that informing trans children about the medical issues required was important and that trans children also themselves tried to inform themselves before any changes were made. 

 

Ms. Lambert advised Committee that she had three children all of whom were currently attending schools in Penarth.  Row was her eldest daughter and was transgender and had the full support of family and friends.  Ms. Lambert advised that she had studied the guidance and had no hesitation in recommending this for approval for use in Vale of Glamorgan schools.  In referring to previous speakers she said that the vast majority had not been unkind.  She had been slightly concerned when the toolkit had been called-in as there had been a significant increase in verbal abuse online as a result, the form of abuse being levied in similar form to abuse directed at gay people in 1970s.  As a result, in her view there was even more reason for the adoption of the Transgender Toolkit to stop trans bullying in schools and on social media.   Ms. Lambert also stated that there was an even greater need for a sympathetic environment and considered that a significant amount of the abuse was as a result of misinformed panic.  Both Ms. Lambert her and her daughter endorsed the toolkit and hoped that it would enhance the sterling work that equalities in schools was undertaking. 

 

Ms. Lisa Power, MBE, who had also been a founder member of the Stonewall organisation and was an LGBT historian, stated that there were parallels today similar to the way in which attitudes to lesbian and gay men had been in the 80s and 90s and asked the question “do you want to go down that road again?”   Ms. Power referred to a recent announcement by Welsh Government in relation to LGBT education and advice in schools stating that this was an important step to supporting guidance for children and school teachers alike.   Ms. Power referred to the fact that only a small number of people actually undertake transition but that everyone was entitled to respect and support.  Toolkits like the Vale’s suggested document were about supporting teachers in schools in addressing and dealing with issues.  Under the Equality Act 2010 single sex changing rooms had been established and trans people when starting transition were entitled to use these facilities. There had also she stated not been any documented examples of issues that had been raised to date. Ms. Power also referred to the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 and the well informed statistics for example that 45% of young trans people had attempted suicide and in her view schools had a vital part to play in supporting pupils.  Similar toolkits had already been agreed in other localities and were currently in use. 

 

The Chair of Pride Cymru and a school Governor in the Vale of Glamorgan, Lu Thomas, also informed the Committee that 54% of trans people were bullied.  1 in 10 were subject to death threats and nearly 80% of pupils had never learnt the meaning of transgender.  1 in 3 transgender pupils were not able to be known by their preferred name and 84% of trans people had self-harmed.  The toolkit she stated meant something to trans children and their parents and although not perfect was a start.  Committee was informed that “We all want our children to be safe and supported and create active, positive, engaging students and that treating people with respect was important”.  It was also important, Ms. Thomas advised, that we should think about what message we will be sending to children if the toolkit was not adopted.  Section 28 she said failed, and it had been a pointless and mean spirited piece of legislation.

 

At this stage the Chairman took the opportunity to remind all present of the written representations that had been received for consideration during the meeting and which had been previously circulated to Committee Members.

 

The Head of Achievement for All, in referring to the report, commented similarly to previous speakers that the toolkit although not perfect was a start.  It had also, he said, been long overdue as schools had been requesting guidance for some time.  In referring to the report, he stated that the Council was not dictating to schools it was about presenting scenarios and options, to consider provision and address issues.  The statistics in relation to young people being bullied, death threats etc. were scandalous in his view and although the guidance would not answer every single question that may be asked, he was proud that the Council was at the forefront in Wales of promoting the adoption of the toolkit.

 

The Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture, with permission to speak, stated it was important to have such a debate and took the opportunity to thank Councillor Johnson for submitting the call-in.

 

Following the presentations of evidence the Chairman then referred to Members of the Committee.  In considering the document a number of Members commented that it was important that teachers and staff had such information as guidance in order to handle required situations.  A Member also asked whether there had been any feedback by other Local Authorities who had adopted such guidance with the Head of Service advising that no evaluation had as yet been made, although he could advise that discussions had been positive in respect of the toolkit.  The guidance he further advised offered schools guidance for examples of what types of questions should be considered. 

 

Following on from information received from the speakers a Co-Opted Member commented that sympathetic approaches need to be ensured and referred to an example in her own experience of a child being able to use their preferred name in schools as opposed to their birth name.  Another Councillor who had worked at events in conjunction with Pride Cymru stated that it was important to have a vigorous debate on policy, schools were asking for advice and guidance and it was important for the debate to be undertaken in order that appropriate guidance could be rolled out to schools.  The Member also considered it important that Governors of schools also had similar debates to decide their schools’ policy.  The document itself Members commented also pulled together other documents that already existed and it was important to have diverse views in order for considerations to be given. 

 

To this end, all Members in turn thanked the public speakers and the expert witnesses for attending the meeting. 

 

Following a further question as to whether the Committee would have further opportunity to revisit the document to assess its impact once rolled out into schools, the Head of Achievement for All stated that it was important that a period of reflection took place and views obtained from young people including its impact on young people.  The Head of Service reiterated that the document was not about one particular group it had been framed for equalities for all. 

 

The Safeguarding Officer informed Committee that the second edition of the guidance was currently being developed and took the opportunity to thank everyone present at the meeting including all speakers as the information they had provided would inform the second document.  A Member also took the opportunity to thank Ceri Lambert and Row Jones for attending and providing details of their own personal experiences and referred to the importance that everyone was treated fairly and respectfully.

 

The Director of Learning and Skills reiterated that the document was guidance not policy and that the piece of work deserved to be in the public domain.  The feedback received had been positive and the document would meet the needs of young vulnerable people.

 

Councillor Johnson, in being offered a further opportunity to respond, advised that comparisons to Section 28 were directly comparable.  He did however, have some concerns as to the amount of support that would be available for young people and suggested that the document be also forwarded to the Corporate Parenting Panel for their consideration.

 

During further discussion, the Chairman advised that it was important for the Scrutiny Committee to identify matters as part of their Work Programme and that it would also be important in her view to invite schools to the Committee to talk about their experiences 12 months after the toolkit had been rolled out.

 

Having fully considered the report and the representations received it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED -

 

(1)       T H A T the Transgender Inclusion Toolkit and Guidance Document for Schools and Other Settings attached at Appendix A to the report be endorsed.

 

(2)       T H A T the Scrutiny Committee receives a report in 12 months assessing the impact of the toolkit, in partnership with schools. 

 

(3)       T H A T Cabinet be requested to refer the document to the Corporate Parenting Panel for their consideration.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       To enable the Guidance document to be adopted as guidance for schools in the Vale of Glamorgan and rolled out to schools.

 

(2)       In order that the Scrutiny Committee can monitor and review progress.

 

(3)       For the Corporate Parenting Panel’s consideration.”