Supporting transgender young people in schools: guidance for Scottish schools

Guidance for schools on supporting transgender young people


The Scottish Government is committed to enabling all young people[1] to reach their full learning potential, recognising the importance of their health and wellbeing. This aim is supported through policy and legislative frameworks which support equality, equity and excellence in education. Together, these provide the framework of support to enable all young people, including those with protected characteristics, to realise their human rights, experience equity and excellence, and to receive support for their learning.

This non-statutory guidance is framed within the legal framework of the Equality Act 2010 and other relevant education and children's legislation. The publication of this guidance was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The information and statistics contained within it are current.

The Equality Act 2010 places specific requirements upon education authorities, managers of grant-aided schools and proprietors of independent schools, to prevent unlawful discrimination in their schools. The protected characteristics of disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation apply in relation to schools.

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 places duties on certain public authorities, including local authorities and health boards, to report every 3 years on the steps they have taken in that period to secure better or further effect of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) requirements within their areas of responsibility. The Scottish Government remains committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC to the maximum extent of the Parliament's powers and to commencement of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation)(Scotland) Bill as soon as possible.

Local authorities, as any public authority, have a duty not to act in a way which is incompatible with human rights protected under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). This applies to all young people, including girls and boys and trans young people. They all have rights and protections and strengths and vulnerabilities. All young people should experience privacy, safety, dignity and respect.

In 2019, there were 697,989 pupils in Scotland's public schools[2]. It is known that around 200 young people per year receive support from the Young Person's Gender Service with their transition[3].

Purpose of the guidance

This guidance aims to help school staff in Scotland's education authority, grant-aided and independent schools to provide transgender young people with the best possible educational experiences. It is recognised that in order to achieve this, there are a number of considerations which schools and school staff must respond to. These have been reported by schools, education authorities, families and young people. The guidance provides practical advice, information and signposts to age and stage appropriate resources to support schools and their staff, to secure the best possible educational experiences for all their young people, including transgender young people. The guidance may also be used by schools to support young people who identify as non-binary[4].

The guidance is not exhaustive, it is intended as a reference document, and is therefore presented thematically with links to relevant sections and further information throughout. The guidance also signposts to other sources, legislation, guidance and resources throughout. The document aligns with guidance for schools prepared by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Further information is available in the Additional Resources section.

Status of the guidance

This guidance is non-statutory and is designed to help education authority, grant-aided and independent schools to make decisions effectively but cannot be prescriptive about what is required in individual circumstances. Education authority, grant-aided and independent schools are responsible for ensuring that their policies, practices and information take full account of the legal requirements of the relevant legislation. The guidance includes quotes and reflections from young people and school staff on their experiences; and examples of good practice and scenarios to illustrate some of the processes and considerations involved in applying the main legislative provisions. This guidance does not interpret the legislation since this is a matter for the courts. It is for education authorities and managers of grant-aided and independent schools to take their own legal advice on such matters, as appropriate.

This guidance has been developed from Supporting Transgender Young People which was developed and published by LGBT Youth Scotland in 2017. The guidance is therefore based on the experiences of transgender young people and good practice approaches suggested by school staff, and a wide range of professionals with expertise in the field of education and human rights.

If someone needs more information or support for a young person, they can speak to their school management team, the education authority or other agencies and partners.


This guidance has been developed at a time when there is significant public discussion about the rights of transgender people, including young people. These discussions include debate about the impact of meeting transgender people's needs and the potential impact for women and girls.

We recognise that there are men who seek to abuse women and we want women to be safe from that violence. We have taken action to change the law to protect women from such abuse. This is a global issue and not a new issue for Scotland or indeed the UK. It is not the fault of trans people. It is the fault of the abusive men. Which is why we will continue to address violence against women and girls through our Equally Safe strategy which takes a gendered approach.

As indicated in the Ministerial foreword, gender-based violence is a recognised concern within schools which the Scottish Government is committed to addressing. This guidance also recognises those matters, within the context of meeting all young people's needs, but due to the forthcoming specific work, does not address those issues in significant detail.

Language used[5]

The guidance uses the terms 'transgender' and 'trans' as umbrella terms[6] for those whose gender identity differs in some way from the sex assigned at birth. Young people and their families may prefer to use other terms.

The term 'gender reassignment' is the protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 which relates to transgender people. Under the Act a young person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment[7] if they propose to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone any part of a process for the purpose of reassigning their sex. This is a personal process, rather than a medical process, for example the young person may propose to change their name and pronouns. More information can be found in the legislation section on page 57. There is more about language on page 48.

Why is this guidance needed?

In terms of experiences of young people, research[8] carried out with around 700 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) young people in Scotland showed that:

  • 82% of transgender young people had experienced bullying in school on the grounds of being LGB or T
  • 68% of trans young people who had experienced bullying said that it negatively affected their educational attainment
  • Only 24% of LGBT young people would feel confident reporting transphobia in school
  • 27% of trans young people left education as a result of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia[9] in the learning environment

Throughout the survey responses trans young people highlighted examples of the discrimination they faced:

"I was often called a 'tranny' or 'dyke' and told to kill myself by numerous pupils throughout the school". – Trans Young Person

"I was told I was disgusting and in PE I was forced to change in a disused shower cubicle in case I 'stared at' any of the girls."- Trans Young Person

"I was deliberately misgendered and excluded from activities". – Trans Young Person

The same study[10] found that

  • 63% of transgender young people experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours
  • 59% of transgender young people had self-harmed, and that
  • 83% of transgender young people who had experienced mental health problems, had been bullied at school.

In addition, a review of prevalence of mental health problems in trans youth, which included 15 studies from 2011-2016, found that trans young people have increased rates of depression, suicidality and self-harm, and eating disorders compared to their peers[11].

The Scottish Association for Mental Health estimates that one in four people in Scotland will have mental health problems at some point in their lifetime. LGBT young people are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems than other young people as a result of[12]:

  • Prejudice and discrimination resulting from (actual or perceived) sexual orientation[13] or gender identity
  • Negative responses and rejection (feared or experienced) from friends, family[14] and services
  • Pressure to conform to gendered norms and expectations of heterosexuality
  • Not coming out as a result of these pressures and fear of experiencing homophobia, biphobia or transphobia

When asked 'what makes for positive mental health?' one young person said:

"Talking about it in schools and removing the stigmas around it… so that they are more comfortable to talk about it and get help" – Trans Young Person

It is recognised that it is essential that the needs and rights of transgender young people, as with all young people, should be met and respected. This guidance aims to provide a framework through which schools and school staff can provide this support.

Principles and practice

The following principles are good practice recommendations shaped by the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC):

  • All young people (including transgender young people) have the right to an education and to participate in the broader life of their school
  • All young people (including transgender young people) should be protected from discrimination, harm and abuse
  • All young people (including transgender young people) should be involved in all decisions affecting them, understand any action which is taken and why; and be at the centre of any decision making
  • All young people (including transgender young people) have the right to an identity and for this to be respected
  • All young people (including transgender young people) have the right to a private life. Being transgender is not a child protection or wellbeing concern in itself (see more on confidentiality and information sharing' on page 35).

Professional values and standards

Professional values are at the heart of General Teaching Council(GTC) Scotland's Professional Standards for Scotland's Teachers 2021. These Professional values[15] guide teachers in all their work with learners and are helpful when thinking about how best to support transgender young people. Teachers are not expected to be experts and to have all the answers. What matters most is having a respectful and inclusive approach.

The professional values of trust and respect, integrity and social justice are core to what it means to be a teacher in Scotland and include:

  • Promoting health and wellbeing of self, colleagues and the children and young people in my care.
  • Building and fostering positive relationships in the learning community which are respectful of individuals.
  • Embracing global educational and social values of sustainability, equality, equity, and justice and recognising children's rights.
  • Respecting the rights of all learners as outlined in the UNCRC and their entitlement to be included in decisions regarding their learning experiences and have all aspects of their wellbeing developed and supported.
  • Committing to social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive, and sustainable policies and practices in relation to protected characteristics, (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, sexual orientation) and intersectionality.

GTC Scotland's Code of Professionalism and Conduct (COPAC) sets out the standards of conduct and competence expected of registered teachers. and includes:

"2.1 treat sensitive, personal information about pupils with respect and confidentiality and not disclose it unless required to do so by your employer or by law;"

"2.7 be aware of the general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, regarding equal treatment, the child's best interests, and giving appropriate weight to the views of the child."

"5.1 engage and work positively with pupils, colleagues, parents and carers in an open, inclusive and respectful way, in line with the law and with a non-judgemental approach whatever their background, personal circumstances, cultural differences, values and beliefs; "

"5.2 help pupils to understand different views, perspectives, and experiences and develop positive relationships both within the educational establishment and in the local community; "

"5.3 recognise that they are a role model and therefore should be aware of the potentially serious impact which any demonstration by you of intolerance or prejudice could have upon your standing as a teacher and your fitness to teach."

As the independent professional body for Scotland's teachers, GTC Scotland [16] is committed to promoting equality and diversity within the profession. Central to teacher professionalism is an expectation that all teachers are positive role models to all young people in showing respect to transgender young people, and also to help learners understand different views, perspectives and experiences.

Trade unions

Some unions give teachers support and advice about working with transgender young people, and about challenging discrimination in the workplace. For example, see for a range of resources and guidance for LGBT members.

All main teaching unions are committed to promoting equality and respecting diversity. Some may have designated equality representatives who support teachers to promote and advance equality and diversity in the workplace. While this guidance is aimed at supporting transgender young people, schools should work to ensure they are inclusive environments for staff as well as learners.

Recognition and development of gender identity

Recognition and development of gender identity can occur at a young age. Some young people are exploring their gender identity in primary school settings. Primary schools need to be able to meet the needs of these young people to ensure they have a safe, inclusive and respectful environment in which to learn. This guidance is, therefore, applicable to primary school settings although careful professional judgement must be applied to ensure support offered is age appropriate.

If a young person in the school says that they now want to live as a boy although their sex assigned at birth was female, or they now want to live as a girl, although their sex assigned at birth was male, it is important to provide support and listen to what they are saying.

If others deny this, it may have a detrimental impact on the young person's wellbeing, relationships and behaviour and this is often clearly apparent to teachers, parents and carers.

If a young person would like changes to be made in order that they are supported to learn, then consider 'what is in the best interests of the young person?'. You may also want to get support and advice from school leadership, local authorities or an outside agency.

Parents and carers play an important part in a young person's life and in any decision making process, particularly for those in a primary school setting. Where possible, consider the best approach to involving and including the young person in any decision making. If information needs to be shared with others, take time to consider the young person's view and understand the impact this decision may have on their wellbeing. You should make sure that any sharing of information complies with the relevant legal requirements.

All young people who have capacity to form their own views have a right to express their views freely in matters that affect them, under Article 12 of the UNCRC. There are particular considerations for young people's legal capacity in relation to their own decision making when they are under the age of 12 years in certain decisions. Further information on legal capacity is available on page 60, Information on involving young people is available from page 47.

Many children behave in ways which do not conform to gender stereotypes, and they may experience bullying as a result. Although this guidance was not developed specifically for young people who do not conform to gender stereotypes, who are not transgender, this guidance may still be useful to inform school practice.

In general, being alert to gender stereotypes[17] and being aware that not every child will identify as the sex they were assigned at birth, will help create an environment in which all young people can flourish.

In primary schools this awareness could mean:

  • Ensuring play and learning options are gender neutral
  • Ensuring feedback is consistent (boys and girls aren't praised for different things)
  • Using books and resources which challenge gender stereotypes and include transgender people
  • Participating in transgender commemorative and celebratory days (such as LGBT History Month and Transgender Day of Visibility alongside other commemorative days (such as International Women's Day).

Not conforming to gender stereotypes is a healthy and normal part of growing up and should not lead to any assumptions being made that the child may be transgender, or lesbian, gay or bisexual. The distinction between 'gender non-conforming behaviour[18]' and transgender young people is that transgender young people are likely to be 'persistent and insistent' that their gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.



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