Supporting transgender young people in schools: guidance for Scottish schools

Guidance for schools on supporting transgender young people

Overcoming barriers

In this section:

  • Bullying and safety
  • Coming out
  • Changing name, recorded sex and pronouns
  • Toilets and changing rooms
  • School uniform
  • Social dancing, PE and school sport
  • Promoting Health and Wellbeing
  • Day and residential trips and other activities

This section explores some common barriers to learning experienced by transgender young people, and suggests how teachers and schools can be inclusive and supportive.

Bullying and safety

The Scottish Government's anti-bullying strategy 'Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People'(2017)[19] provides a holistic approach to anti-bullying which makes clear that all types of bullying, including transphobic bullying, are completely unacceptable. The guidance defines bullying as: "both behaviour and impact; the impact is on a person's capacity to feel in control of themselves. This is what we term as their sense of 'agency'. Bullying takes place in the context of relationships; it is behaviour that can make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened and left out. This behaviour happens face to face and online."

'Respect for All' provides an overarching framework and context for all anti-bullying work that is undertaken in Scotland. The approach aims to build capacity, resilience and skills in young people, and all those who play a role in their lives, to prevent and deal with bullying.

Teachers should be alert to the fact that transgender young people face disproportionately high levels of bullying. All teachers should address and respond to bullying behaviour, including transphobic bullying.

Transphobic bullying

Transphobic bullying is behaviour or language which makes a young person feel unwelcome or marginalised because of perceived or actual transgender identity or transgender expression.

Sometimes the bullying directed at a trans young person also includes aspects of homophobic or biphobic[20] bullying because of confusion between gender identity and sexual orientation.

Transphobic bullying can include:

  • Name calling, rumour spreading and gossip about a young person's transgender identity
  • Physical attack (which may become a police matter).
  • Excluding someone from conversations, activities and games
  • Stealing from someone or damaging their property with homophobic, biphobic and/or transphobic graffiti
  • Threatening someone or spreading rumours through texts or social media
  • 'Outing' or threatening to 'out' someone to peers, teachers or family
  • Gestures, looks and other non-verbal communication
  • Harassment and/or intimidation
  • Deliberately using the wrong name and/or pronoun. This is different from people trying their best and making a mistake.

There is a need to address the root cause of prejudice as well as effectively respond to incidents as they arise in school settings. Transphobic bullying can also be directed at someone who is not transgender such as by referring to them in a derogatory manner on the basis they are perceived to be transgender. Some young people experience bullying:

  • Because others think that they are transgender
  • Because they have transgender family or friends
  • Because they are seen as different or not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes.

Young people who are exhibiting bullying behaviour will need help and support to:

  • Identify the feelings that cause them to act this way
  • Develop alternative ways of responding to these feelings
  • Understand the impact of their behaviour on other people
  • Repair relationships.

School staff need to help young people who demonstrate bullying behaviour by providing clear expectations about behaviour as well as providing a range of ways to respond. This can include taking steps to repair a relationship, and where appropriate, supporting them to make amends. School staff need to challenge prejudice and offer the opportunity to learn and change behaviour.

All education authority schools in Scotland are expected to use the SEEMiS management information system, to record and monitor bullying incidents in schools. SEEMiS now enables schools to record any underlying prejudice or other negative attitudes reported in an incident of bullying, including those relating to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Therefore, schools are expected to record incidents of transphobic bullying, specifically detailing the transphobic elements. This allows schools to accurately monitor incidents; how they responded; and the impact[21].

A bullying incident may be one-off or ongoing. It may occur in school grounds or in other settings, such as online or in the community. Regardless, school staff should address any issue which is impacting on a young person's health and wellbeing and is creating a barrier to their learning.

Transgender people in same-sex relationships may also experience homophobia or homophobic bullying.

Is transphobic bullying a hate crime?

There is no crime of bullying as such. Whether an instance of bullying behaviour constitutes a hate crime will depend on the individual circumstances of any case.

Some bullying involves criminal behaviour, such as assault, graffiti or breach of the peace. If the bullying behaviour in any given case is criminal, the statutory aggravation relating to transgender identity provided for in hate crime legislation[22] applies where the offender evinces (demonstrates) malice and ill-will toward the victim based on their trans identity (or perceived trans identity), or where can it be proved that the offence was motivated by malice and ill-will toward transgender people.

Adults and young people can seek appropriate advice and guidance from Police Scotland if they consider a crime may have taken place[23]. Where necessary, a young person who engaged in bullying behaviour that was a crime[24] (whether or not it was a hate crime) and which has been reported to the police may then be referred to the Children's Reporter or, where appropriate keeping in mind that the presumption should be against criminalising young people, the procurator fiscal[25].

Police Scotland's school liaison officers may also be able to proactively assist schools to reduce violent incidents and anti-social behaviour.

More information on reporting a hate crime or hate incident is at:

Dealing with incidents

Young people should feel happy, safe, respected and included in the learning environment and all staff should be proactive in promoting positive relationships and behaviour in the classroom, playground, and wider learning community. Above all, keep the young person at the heart of any and all responses; consider what impact the actions you take will have on their and others' wellbeing. This applies to all young people involved in bullying incidents:

  • Recognise that simply listening can help
  • Explore with the young person the options open to them
  • Take the views of young people seriously, considering what they want to happen next
  • Remember to consider the privacy of young people and any legal impact of sharing information with others
  • Take steps to address any underlying prejudice in the school
  • Address any transphobic language used in school environments.

Helping young people feel safe

All young people benefit when everyone feels safe at school.

If a member of school staff witnesses a young person being bullied because of their gender identity, or perceived gender identity, they should follow the school and local authority's anti-bullying policy or guidance. Bullying incidents should be resolved proactively, using a respectful, proportionate and holistic approach which takes account of the impact of the incident as well as any underlying prejudice or other negative attitudes. If the incident involves a staff member, this should be reported to the senior management team.

School staff can help young people feel safe from transphobic bullying by ensuring that school policies and practice are supportive. Recommendations are:

  • Local authority and school anti-bullying policies should specifically mention transphobic bullying and/or gender identity
  • Staff, young people, parents and carers should know about anti-bullying policies and school procedures
  • Teachers should educate young people about transgender issues and work towards creating a culture of respect. Age appropriate resources highlighted in the resources section in this document may help
  • All incidents of discrimination, intimidation, harassment or violence should be thoroughly investigated
  • Young people should be informed about the outcome of any investigation and supported to recover from the impact of bullying
  • Anti-bullying approaches should be embedded within the whole-school approach to inclusion and respect for all young people.

More information:

The Addressing Inclusion: Effectively challenging homophobia, biphobia and transphobia guidance provides information and guidance to school staff on addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in Scottish schools and complements Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People.

respectme,[26] Scotland's national anti-bullying service, can also provide advice and guidance about anti- bullying policy and practice and information for parents and carers.

Coming out

When someone discloses their gender identity or sexual orientation[27] this is called 'coming out'. Because there is a general assumption that people are heterosexual and not transgender, those who fall into this category don't usually feel that they have to disclose this. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often need to 'come out' to let others know that they identify, and live their lives differently, from the general assumption. Transgender young people often have to choose between hiding how they feel or telling someone. If they don't know that their family, friends or teachers are 'trans-friendly', they may assume that, if they come out, people will reject them. This, along with negative media messages, means that many transgender young people delay 'coming out' or speaking to someone about how they feel.

Transgender people may come out at any age and to varying degrees: some people want to live fully as themselves in all aspects of life; others may want to come out to just a few trusted people. It is important to understand that:

  • Coming out can be a lifelong process
  • Only an individual can decide when and who to tell
  • Coming out is a personal choice; and people should not feel forced to 'come out' to others if they don't feel ready to do so.

See more information on confidentiality, capacity to make decisions, and recognition and development of gender identity on pages 35, 60, and 13 respectively.

Some transgender young people who have socially transitioned may want to be open with others about their gender history. Others treat their gender history as private, and do not disclose this to others.

If a young person transitions at school, other learners and staff will most likely be aware of their gender history. Similarly, if a young person has a non-binary[28] gender identity, being open about this will mean other young people and staff know that that young person is transgender. However, transgender young people who join your school after transitioning may want to keep their gender history private, and this should be respected.

Responding to young people coming out

When a young person approaches you to discuss their gender identity they have often taken a long time to consider who to talk to and are looking for an adult to listen and be supportive. Coming out can be beneficial for young people's wellbeing as it allows them to discuss how they feel and get the support they need at the earliest point possible. A school staff member may be the first person that a young person speaks to.

Some tips for responding to a young person who talks to you about being transgender or about their gender identity include:

  • Don't panic: they don't expect you to be an expert
  • Say 'thank you': the fact that they have trusted you enough to speak to you is a privilege
  • Ask what support you can give: listen to what they say, and repeat it back to check you've understood correctly
  • Don't agree to anything you're not sure of, seek further information and support for yourself and the young person if needed. The resources section in this document may help.
  • Don't say 'it's just a phase' as this can diminish the importance of the issue for the young person
  • Ask what name and pronoun you should use to address them. Check if that's all the time or in certain circumstances
  • Ask if you can share information and with whom
  • Arrange a time to meet up again, to check in and see how they are doing
  • Check if there's anything else they want to talk about
  • Ask how things are at home? Are their family aware that they are considering their gender identity? Are they being supported at home? The resources section in this document may help.

Remember, many young people can be nervous when 'coming out' to others so take time to listen, show empathy and be affirming of how they feel.

If a young person comes out to you, it's also important not to deny their identity, or overly question their understanding of their gender identity. Teachers can of course ask reflective questions that allow young people to express themselves, explore their gender identity and identify their needs.

For more information on supporting transgender young people and practical steps for good practice go to page 41.

For more information on confidentiality and information sharing go to
page 35.

A guide to supporting transgender young people coming out is also available from LGBT Youth Scotland[29].

Changing name, sex and pronouns

Some young people who are transgender change their name and/or pronouns, while others don't. Teachers should respect a young person's wishes and use the name/pronoun they have asked to be used. If you are not sure what name/pronoun they use, ask them in private at a suitable time. It should be noted that anyone can change their name informally as long as it is not for a criminal purpose.

Changing name and recorded sex

Young people can simply choose to tell others informally[30] that they want to use a different name. They don't have to change their name on their official school record.

To keep a record of this and improve consistency in staff practice, education authority schools can update the school records held in SEEMiS using the box 'Known As' which can be used to record other names a young person may use in school. Before updating their record it is important to discuss this with the young person to ensure that they would like all teachers in the school to be aware of their name change.

If a young person wants the school to record the change of name and/or change of recorded sex[31] formally[32], they (with their parents or carers if under 16) should write to the school to instruct this. Letter, email or any other form of written communication is sufficient. Schools do not need to ask for anything else as a name change can be made at any time in Scotland. Changing the recorded sex in SEEMiS has no effect on a young person's legal sex.

A young person or their parent can also officially[33] record their change of name at the National Records of Scotland (see below), however, they are not required to do this to give effect to an amendment to the pupil's school record. Schools should accept the written request from the young person and/or their parent or carer as sufficient to make the change to the pupil's record. There is sample text in the appendix on page 69.

Recognising the rights of all parents and carers, it is recommended that consent is obtained from all of those with parental responsibilities for those young people under 16. Bringing parents into this discussion at as early a point as possible would be helpful.

It is often said that school records are considered a legal record. This reflects the processing of the information within the school record in line with a regulatory requirement. However, no legal steps are required for a change of name or recorded sex within a school record.

How to change the record within the SEEMiS system.

Once the letter has been received, the school can then change the name and sex recorded on the official administration recording system (SEEMiS[34]) and other school files. With the correct level of SEEMiS administration access, such as the school's business manager or senior management team, the school can then update the name and recorded sex of young people.

Change of name and recorded sex screen on SEEMiS in Application - Records - Edit
The image is a screenshot from the SEEMiS management information system.  It is a grey box which has two columns.  

On the left hand column, in the centre, there are 9 text boxes.  The top three are grey in colour and have the titles Forename, Known as, and Surname.  The bottom 6 are white in colour and are drop down boxes.  They have the following titles; Date of Birth; Sex, Year/Stage, Reg Group, House, and Guidance.  

On the right hand column, at the top there is a button with the word Pictures. In the centre there is a space for a photograph.  As an example, it contains a picture of a Victorian gentleman.  At the bottom there are two grey text boxes side by side.  They say Clear and Load.

At the very bottom of the box on a light grey background there are three text boxes in the centre.  They say Save All, Cancel All, and Cancel Current.

Changing names and the sex recorded on administration systems does not affect a candidate's SQA number, and the SQA does not require any documentation. The school simply needs to update the young person's candidate record[35]:

Note: At present there is no official way to record a young person's pronoun on SEEMiS, however schools can record this information in the young person's file. There is also no option for non-binary identities to be recorded. Schools can ask if the young person prefers one sex over another to be on the official record

How to change details on Glow

Glow accounts for pupils from education authority schools are provisioned directly from SEEMiS. Therefore if a pupil wants to change their display name in Glow, a request should be made to the school and the school should follow the process described above to change the 'Known As' field in SEEMiS.

Some local authorities also have the ability to make Glow username changes in SEEMiS using the 'UserName' field. For local authorities without the ability to make Glow username changes in SEEMiS, changes can be made in the RM Unify Management Console using the 'User ID' field.

Local authorities should not make name changes in Glow Office 365, G Suite or Blogs services as there is a risk that data will be overwritten and therefore, revert any intended change. There is a Glow Key Contact in each local authority and they would be able to assist their schools if needed.

Glow accounts for pupils in grant-aided and independent schools are manually created. To change Glow details for a manually created Glow account, users with the appropriate admin access should select the 'Sync Users from CSV' button in the RM Unify Management Console. This enables Super Admins to download their user list, make changes and then upload these changes.

Data protection

Data held within SEEMiS[36] is controlled by the local authority and may be shared outwith the school for legitimate education authority functions and council business such as electoral registration.

All school records must be created, processed, transferred, and destroyed in line with the requirements of the Pupils' Educational Records (Scotland) Regulations 2003[37], and the requirements of data protection law[38]. Although changes in recorded sex and name are not specifically flagged to local authorities they will hold this data along with all other information on SEEMiS. Under data protection legislation schools should inform transgender young people and their families[39] that any changes made to SEEMiS will be recognised by the local authority, including for purposes such as the electoral roll – schools should not take any additional steps to share this information. The changes will appear automatically, without needing to be flagged.

How can a child's name be changed in law?

Under 16s

Young people under 16 cannot change their own name; only those who have parental responsibility[40] can change a young person's name.

No formal procedure is required, but a statement of intention to change the name by which a child is known in the form of a statutory declaration will be accepted by most organisations as proof of the change of name. A statutory declaration is a formal statement signed in the presence of a notary public or Justice of the Peace.

If the child's birth was registered in Scotland, or the child is the subject in Scotland of an entry in the Adopted Children Register, or a Parental Order, an application to change the name that appears on the child's birth certificate can be made to National Records of Scotland[41]. Any parent with parental responsibility has to be a party to the application. Otherwise the application can be made by anyone else with parental responsibility.

If there is a disagreement between those with parental responsibility as to a proposed change of name, it is possible to apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order. Here, the court would need to be persuaded that the change of name is in the child's best interests. In these circumstances mediation may be used as an alternative to proceedings to resolve any disagreement.

16 and 17 year olds

Young people who are aged at least 16 can choose to change their name in the same way as adults, by changing their recorded name(s) or with a Statutory Declaration of Name Change.

As noted above, there is no requirement for a formal change of name to have taken place for a change to be made within the school record system.

NB: At present there is no way to change the sex recorded on a birth certificate for those under 18 in Scotland. However, the sex recorded on their passport, medical records, educational records and other documents can be changed.


Typical pronouns are 'he' or 'she'. Some transgender young people, especially those with a non- binary[42] gender identity, are unhappy about people referring to them as 'he' or 'she', and use the gender-neutral pronoun 'they'. Other, rarer, non-binary pronouns include 'zie' or 'ey' or 'per'.

Using particular pronouns is an indication of someone's gender identity. Staff should take care not to 'out' a young person by using a pronoun which differs from the one which the young person usually uses in public. Similarly, staff and young people should avoid misgendering a transgender young person. Using the correct pronouns is the right and respectful approach to including transgender young people. Where the wrong pronoun is accidentally used they should simply apologise and try not do this in the future.

Addressing young people: good practice

If you are supporting a transgender young person, be led by them, checking with them what pronoun and/or name you should use and in which circumstances. This may be different depending on whether it's in public or private, and may change over time. This is part of the process of their transition.

Staff and young people should avoid 'deadnaming'. This is when someone intentionally calls a transgender young person by their previous name. Depending on the situation, it could be distressing for the young person, or be viewed as bullying.

If someone accidentally calls a person by their previous name, they should simply apologise and try not do this in the future.

Toilets and changing rooms

What the law says

Toilet facilities for boys and girls must be provided in schools. Schools are also required to provide accessible facilities for young people with a disability.

In recent practice, schools have been designed to also include accessible facilities which can be used by anyone who requires to use them, with a focus on accessibility of facilities for a range of reasons; recognising the needs of a variety of people including those with disabilities, and transgender pupils. This reflects wider changes in society, where there is increasing provision of gender neutral facilities, and accessible toilets in public spaces. The design of gender neutral facilities should ensure privacy for all young people, this should wherever possible include features such as full length walls and doors and should take account of the particular needs of female pupils.

There is no law in Scotland which states that only people assigned male at birth can use men's toilets and changing rooms, or that only people assigned female can use women's toilets and changing rooms. This is instead done by social convention.

Paragraph 1.26[43] of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's (EHRC) Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland summarises the exceptions that apply to certain types of school as follows:

  • Single-sex schools are allowed to admit pupils of only one sex.
  • Mixed schools with single-sex boarding are allowed to offer boarding to only one sex.
  • Residential schools are permitted, in some circumstances, to restrict access to communal accommodation based on sex or gender reassignment.

Further advice on these exceptions is provided by the EHRC Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland[44]. The Technical guidance also sets out examples of what may be considered a legitimate aim within education.

Therefore, there are a number of considerations to make in relation to the provision of toilets and changing rooms within schools:

  • A transgender young person should not be made to use the toilet or changing room of their sex assigned at birth.
  • Recognise that some transgender young people may not be comfortable using a single sex toilet or changing room that matches their gender identity. In which case providing a gender-neutral space or accessible toilet can be the best alternative.
  • Further advice to support considerations is below, but in summary this does not mean that all toilets need to become gender neutral.

Further information on the relevant legal provisions is set out at page 57 and in EHRC guidance. If school staff are in any doubt they should seek advice from their education authority officer or from the senior management team.

What does evidence tell us?

Evidence shows that young people can feel vulnerable to bullying whilst using toilets and changing rooms[45]. Much has been done to improve the design of toilets in schools to alleviate concerns over dark and enclosed spaces which can leave young people feeling vulnerable to bullying and other behaviours.[46]

Schools should be aware that some pupils may have experienced gender-based violence. In 2018, the Everyday Heroes programme[47] consulted young people across Scotland, including 125 young people through engagement sessions, 439 young survey participants and 71 young abuse survivors. Of the participants:

  • 31% had experienced gender-based violence;
  • 10% had experienced rape or sexual assault; and,
  • 7% has experienced sexual abuse.[48]

In light of the above, toilets and changing rooms can therefore be an area of school where boys, girls and trans young people feel particularly vulnerable. It is known that young people may worry about being teased or bullied and may not be comfortable getting changed in front of others, and may wish additional privacy[49].

For transgender young people these worries may be very prominent, and they may express very particular concerns about experiencing bullying or getting changed with others and may need additional privacy.

Because of being uncomfortable about using school toilets, some young people including those who are transgender resort to going home to use the toilet, or they may limit their fluids/drinks during the school day. Female pupils may also do this as a result of concerns about safety. This has implications for their health and wellbeing, as well as their attendance and attainment. It is therefore important that young people, where possible, are able to use the facilities they feel most comfortable with.

Recommended practice includes:

  • Asking the young person about the facilities that they wish to use and if they have any worries
  • Respecting the young person's gender identity
  • Creating a plan with the young person, outlining what can happen and when
  • Planning discussions should consider:
  • ensuring appropriate arrangements are made for the provision of, and disposal of, sanitary products
  • whether there are toilet and changing facilities available within the school which may afford extra privacy, if this is requested
  • where facilities are limited, and if a young person needs additional privacy, whether they could access a staff facility without compromising their privacy or the privacy of staff members
  • If the young person needs gender neutral facilities:
  • Whether accessible facilities within the school could be used
  • Whether a facility which is currently single sex could be converted to a gender neutral or accessible facility, taking account of the additional privacy requirements for gender neutral facilities.

It is good practice to engage with parents in decision making, working closely with the young people.

As a guide, it is helpful to consider whether:

  • the young people's rights are being respected?
  • the young people concerned are being treated with dignity and respect?
  • all reasonable steps been taken to accommodate the young people's needs?
  • young people are being treated differently from their peers and they are experiencing disadvantage as a result, could this be unlawful discrimination?

Safety concerns

When considering safety concerns for all young people including transgender young people, it is important to assess why a young person feels unsafe and whether this is as a result of any inappropriate behaviours.

It is common practice to carry-out risk assessment for any safety concerns; where possible risk assessments should be measurable and based on evidence of risk and understanding of pupils, their needs and the local provision of facilities. For more information on risk assessments see page 33.

If a young person feels unsafe steps should be taken to discuss their concerns and outline the specific steps being taken, to ensure the safety of all young people concerned, this may include specific plans to support a young person in school. All responses to complaints should be reasonable and proportionate. If the complaint relates to another young person who identifies that they will experience disadvantage as a result, then the school should seek to respect the rights of all. More information on responding to concerns can be found on page 46.

Good practice

  • If a young person is concerned about the changing facilities, listen to what they are saying. It may be possible to let them change separately/privately to meet their needs. Schools could put up modesty curtains in changing areas or consider the provision of further cubicles. Many young people, including transgender and female pupils at school would appreciate that.
  • If a young person repeatedly asks to go to the toilet during class time, it may be because the toilets are quiet then, and they feel safer. Although not ideal, it may be appropriate to allow this, otherwise the young person might not use the facilities at all. Arrange a time to discuss their concerns with them.
  • If young people, or their parents/carers, express concerns about sharing toilets or changing rooms with a transgender young person, it may be because they are concerned that the transgender young person may behave inappropriately. In this instance, schools should seek to dispel any misconceptions: a transgender young person's presence does not constitute inappropriate behaviour.
  • If a young person feels uncomfortable for any reason the school should listen to their concerns carefully and identify if additional support is needed.
  • If a young person raises a concern regarding sharing facilities with a transgender young person and it is established that they will experience disadvantage as a result, then the school should seek to respect the rights of all. To do this the school should seek to come to an arrangement, to accommodate everyone involved, after discussion and consideration of options available.
  • If using existing facilities for disabled pupils to provide a gender neutral option for a transgender young person, ensure this continues to be accessible for disabled pupils with clear signage and/or identifying it as an 'Accessible Toilet' for all.

School uniform

Most schools have a uniform policy or code. There are numerous arguments for and against school uniform: it is up to each school to decide its own dress code. However, forcing transgender young people to wear clothes which do not match their gender identity can be distressing for them, and may constitute discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

If your school has a uniform, the school uniform policy should include a range of options to accommodate the needs of girls and boys and these should also accommodate the needs of transgender young people through gender-neutral options; this can be helpful for many young people. This approach should allow all young people to wear the school uniform they feel most comfortable in.

Schools should not exclude transgender young people because of how they dress, unless it breaches health and safety regulations.

If your school doesn't have a school uniform, it should be clear that young people can wear what they want, including skirts, trousers, shorts, regardless of gender identity, as long as this complies with school guidelines.

Social dancing

Many schools hold ceilidhs, proms and school discos, and include partnered dance in their curriculum. This can be a much-enjoyed part of school life and schools should not be discouraged from teaching dance and social dancing.

However, schools should be aware of the traditionally gendered aspects of dances and should look for ways to ensure that this doesn't exclude transgender young people. Schools can be inclusive of all young people by:

  • ensuring there are no restrictions on who young people can dance with
  • allowing young people to wear what feels comfortable to them.

PE and School Sport

Primary schools and schools sports days

Physical education in primary schools is an important part of supporting young people's health and wellbeing. Young people can learn about teamwork, fair play and respect for others. Therefore steps should be taken to ensure that transgender young people can participate in physical education.

In secondary schools

Some transgender young people find PE classes very difficult because they are concerned about not having their gender identity accepted, or about their physical appearance. Teachers should consider any request for different approaches sensitively.

At its core, physical education is about developing the foundations for an active life and is an important aspect of improving young people's health and wellbeing. Young people can learn about teamwork, fair play and respect for others. Steps should be taken to ensure that transgender young people can participate in physical education.

We recommend:

  • if PE classes are organised by sex, a transgender young person should be allowed to take part within the group which matches their gender identity. For a non- binary young person, ask them which group they would feel most comfortable being with
  • that any school competition should take account of the age and stage of development of the participants
  • for inter-school competitions[50], the same approaches to ensure fairness and safety should apply. It may be helpful to a young person if you speak to the equivalent staff in the other school(s) to let them know there is a transgender young person in your team/competition, but only with the young person's consent.


Good practice in PE, sport and related clothing includes:

  • allowing transgender young people to wear sportswear which matches their expressed gender identity
  • for swimming, skirted swimsuits, baggy shorts, lycra surfing tops or short wetsuits are alternatives for transgender young people (similar to modest swimwear worn by young people from some faith groups).

A transgender boy or non-binary[51] young person who has developed unwanted breasts might bind their chest to flatten it, so they might need to wear a loose-fitting shirt or sweatshirt. Binders[52] can lead to shortness of breath, can be painful during physical exertion and there are health risks associated with wearing binders that are too tight.[53].

Binders can, however, have a positive impact on a young person's mental health so staff should allow a young person to decide for themselves about whether or not to wear a binder, to help them join in. Some transgender young people may be willing to wear a looser binder than usual during PE.

Promoting Health and Wellbeing

In Scotland, education authorities and the managers of grant-aided schools must endeavour to ensure that their schools are health-promoting in terms of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000. Education authorities must plan and report on the measures they have taken to that effect in any year. A school is defined as health promoting if it provides activities, environment and facilities which promote physical, social, mental and emotional health and wellbeing of pupils in attendance at the school.

Mental Health and wellbeing

Prevention and early intervention make a big difference in reducing the risk of developing mental health problems and in providing a positive future for our young people. Within schools, the approach to Health and Wellbeing is designed to help young people develop the knowledge and understanding, skills and capabilities to build emotional and physical wellbeing, creating resilience to manage life's challenges. Young people need support and understanding to develop in this way, which is why all staff in schools share a responsibility for supporting the care and wellbeing needs of their young people. Schools should establish open, positive, supporting relationships across the whole school community, where young people feel that they're listened to, and where they feel secure in their ability to discuss challenges as they arise.

Our approach to education and early years is designed to give children the best possible start in life, from high-quality early years provision, to meaningful access to the full range of opportunities for further and higher education and employment at the end of their school life. Improving outcomes for our children will be key to raising their mental wellbeing. Education authorities and all those working in our schools have a responsibility to support and develop the mental wellbeing of young people, with decisions on how to provide that support taken on the basis of local circumstances and needs.

Healthcare in Schools

It is recognised that young people's health can affect their learning. Some young people will require specific help with their health whilst they are at school, as part of supporting their learning, others may be unable to attend school due to ill health. National policy guidance on supporting healthcare needs in schools[54] and children unable to attend school due to ill health[55] is available.

The individualised planning for young people's healthcare provision, should, in line with national policy, ensure that arrangements for the provision of medication and healthcare deliver the service they need in the way most appropriate to their personal circumstances, with respect for young people's privacy, dignity and rights. For example, when providing vaccination such as that for Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV) arrangements should be made, in consultation with transgender young people, and in line with the guidance above, for transgender young people to receive the vaccine at the same time as other pupils. If the young person is uncomfortable having the vaccine at the same time as other young people they (or their parent/carer) can contact their local NHS Immunisation Team, using the contact details within the HPV immunisation consent pack, ahead of the school immunisation date.

Day and Residential trips and other activities

School activities should be inclusive for all. So, when planning these, staff should take into account the needs of transgender young people.

School day trips are not likely to require any specific arrangement unless a transgender young person wishes to use a single-cubicle toilet. You may need to contact the venue to ensure there will be a toilet accessible for transgender young people.

Specific considerations will be required for residential trips, as young people are in closer quarters than usual. Talking about respect for boundaries, privacy and shared living space will help all young people, including transgender young people. For certain residential accommodation it is possible under exceptions provided by the Equality Act[56] to treat a transgender young person differently in the provision of single-sex communal accommodation if this is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim[57]. This means that schools are not required to place a transgender young person in a dormitory that aligns with their gender identity if this treatment of them is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This will require careful consideration[58].

In considering this, schools will wish to be aware of the guidance provided at paragraphs 9.2 - 9.7 of the EHRC's Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland[59] which sets out the matters which schools must take into account in reaching such a decision.

Schools should take time to consider the needs of transgender young people and support them to engage fully in all aspects of the residential trip. The following good practice points will assist in this.

Good practice

  • It is usual for there to be significant engagement with young people and their families as part of preparing for a residential trip. This can include the allocation of rooms and sharing arrangements. As part of these discussions, appropriate account should be taken of the wishes, rights and needs of all young people, including those who are transgender, this is in line with many other considerations in preparation for a school trip.
  • If a transgender young person wants to share a room with other young people who share their gender identity, they should be able to do so, as long as the rights of all those involved are considered and respected.
  • If any young person, including a transgender young person, is concerned about sharing a room with others, you could consider making alternative arrangements, including giving them their own room where appropriate.
  • If any young person voices a concern, this should be considered - responses should be reasonable and proportionate, taking into account the rights of all young people.
  • If showers are communal, find out if there are single-cubicle or private washing facilities which could be used by any young person, including a transgender young person, who would like greater privacy.
  • You could work out a rota so that everyone can wash in private if they want to. Many young people, including female and transgender young people, are unhappy to use communal showers.
  • Investigate the ethos and practice of the venue beforehand. If you have any concerns, contact the venue to discuss these in general terms, particularly safety and respect.
  • If considering information with others, as part of planning, you should seek the young person's permission before sharing information with others[60].

Risk assessments

Risk assessments can be useful for thinking about how you will keep all young people safe while they are in your care, including transgender young people. Such assessments are routine and can help with trip or event planning, anticipating risks and the measures to put in place to support the safety of all young people. Risk assessment also supports education authorities in meeting their anticipatory duties in respect of reasonable adjustments for pupils with a disability.

Such assessments are most helpful if you involve the young person in determining risk and how to mitigate it. However, note:

  • risk assessments should not be used with the explicit aim of excluding a transgender young person
  • risk assessments should be realistic and based on actual risk
  • risk assessments should be measurable and based on evidence of risk and understanding of pupils, their needs and the local context. For example, understanding friendship groups, any historical concerns, for example of incidents of bullying behaviour within the group of young people.
  • if a trip is to a foreign country, find out if there are anti-LGBT laws and contact the foreign office for advice. Additional information is available from
  • the information contained in risk assessments should only be shared according to the school's confidentiality and information-sharing policy
  • it may be helpful to reassure parents and carers proactively in relating to any risks identified as part of the assessment process.

See confidentiality and information sharing on page 35 of the PDF version.



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