Supporting transgender young people in schools: guidance for Scottish schools

Guidance for schools on supporting transgender young people

Supporting transgender young people at school: steps for good practice

1. Put the young person at the centre and keep them there:

  • Allow them to talk about how they are feeling, and thank them for their courage in coming to see you
  • If you don't know the answer to something, explain that, and offer to find out more information
  • Let them know that you will not share their information with anyone unless they give their permission or there is a risk to themselves or others
  • Find out the young person's views before sharing information with others, where possible, seek permission and/or inform them of what will be shared and why[71]
  • Ask them if they are getting support elsewhere
  • Check whether or not the young person is being bullied or feels safe in school
  • Ask the young person how they would like you and the school to support them
  • Ask the young person if they plan to transition at school and if they would allow the school some time to prepare (if necessary)
  • Set a date to meet again.

2. Consider information sharing carefully:

  • Do not disclose the transgender identity history or any sensitive information about a transgender young person to anyone inside or outside the school, without considering the young person's view and what is in the best interests of the young person
  • Find out the young person's views before sharing information with others, where possible, seek permission and/or inform them of what will be shared and why
  • You can, however, discuss situations in general terms with a colleague of a member of the leadership team, ensuring that you do not share personal information or 'out' the young person unintentionally
  • If you have a child protection or wellbeing concern, let the young person know that you will need to follow procedures, and share information with the relevant staff or agency.

3. Get advice and support (if required):

  • Speak to a colleague or a member of the senior management team for advice and guidance. They may have experience of supporting transgender young people or have a school policy to guide practice
  • Contact a specialist service which can provide additional support for the young person, for example groups and on-line support, or training for staff
  • Contact your local authority education officer and/or equality officer or member of the senior management team. They may provide practical guidance and support, or information about the law and school responsibilities.

4. Arrange support meeting(s):

  • With the young person's permission, arrange a meeting to plan how the school can reduce any barriers to learning and (if required) support their transition. This could include a plan with goals and clear timescales
  • Arrange a meeting with parents/carers, and/or outside agencies as required; if the young person is happy for this to take place
  • If they are under 16 and there is a clear wellbeing concern, follow your school procedures and arrange relevant meetings as required
  • Let the young person know who will attend any meeting, what will be discussed or if possible, support them to attend.

5. Keep in touch with the young person:

  • Make sure the young person knows how the school will support them and, if they are transitioning at school, that the young person is happy with the plans
  • Check in regularly with the young person to offer support.

A whole-school approach

In this section:

  • Staff learning and confidence
  • Policies and procedures
  • The learning environment: trans-inclusion and visibility
  • Responding to concerns
  • Involving young people

This section considers a whole-school approach to supporting transgender young people and creating a transgender-inclusive environment.

Whatever a school chooses to do, it should make it clear to young people, staff and the wider learning community that it is an inclusive environment for everyone, including transgender people.

Staff learning and confidence

School staff have a key role in creating an inclusive learning environment.

No one expects all staff to be experts in transgender inclusion. However, all staff are expected to actively ensure that all young people including those who are transgender are accepted, respected and supported. GTC Scotland guidelines specify that all teachers should treat all young people with respect, and provide the best learning environment they can.

Many teachers have already received training in transgender inclusion, and are actively supporting transgender young people across the country. Details of the support which organisations can provide to individual schools on supporting transgender young people and LGBT awareness and inclusion is provided in the Additional Resources section. It may also be useful to ask the local authority to provide joint training for all schools in the area.

Policies and procedures

School policies and procedures help to make the school's approach to supporting transgender young people clear and consistent. They can increase confidence in your school's approach. For example, transgender young people will be able to see a commitment to making them feel supported and included.

Equality policy

An equality policy is useful both for framing your school's approach to inclusion and for sending a clear message to staff and young people that your organisation is transgender inclusive. The equality policy should:

  • Make direct reference to the Equality Act 2010 and all relevant protected characteristics[72]: disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and pregnancy and maternity'
  • Show the school's commitment to reducing inequality, improving opportunity and fostering good relations between different groups

Where possible policies should also outline unacceptable behaviour relating to each protected characteristic, including examples of transphobia, biphobia, homophobia, sexism, misogyny, racism, sectarianism, islamophobia, and so on.

Anti-bullying policy

An anti-bullying policy demonstrates that your school has taken steps to prevent and address bullying and harassment. The policy supports young people and the wider community to feel safer in school environments, and provide guidance for schools staff on how to deal with incidents. An anti-bullying policy should:

  • Reflect the key messages outlined in 'Respect for All' Scotland's National Approach to Anti-Bullying[73]
  • Include specific content on prejudiced-based bullying (including transphobic bullying)
  • Identify procedures to respond to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

Scotland's anti-bullying service, respectme[74], works with adults involved in the lives of young people to give them skills and confidence to support young people who are bullied and those who bully others. It provides practical support for schools and local authorities, including free training:

For more information on bullying go to page 16.

Environment: trans-inclusion and visibility

Research shows that LGBT young people would feel safer and more supported in education if their identities were reflected in the life of the school. Understanding equalities and diversity is also important for all learners, allowing them to appreciate and respect the diverse range of people whom they will meet and interact with in their lives.

The curriculum

Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence is based on a set of core values, including that the curriculum must be inclusive, must be a stimulus for personal achievement and must, through broadening of experience, be an encouragement towards informed and responsible citizenship.

The Experiences and Outcomes in the curriculum are designed to allow teachers the flexibility to include different contexts and themes based on what their learners need to know, that is age and stage appropriate. It may be helpful to share this information with parents and carers. As transgender identities are discussed more and more in society, it is important the curriculum reflects that, and enables learners the opportunities to explore this topic.

In 2017, Education Scotland published guidelines on what it expects to be covered through Health and Wellbeing[75]. It notes that learners working in Level 2 and higher should be able to 'demonstrate an understanding of diversity in sexuality and gender identity'.

Additionally, young people notice the things that schools don't mention[76]. Excluding transgender voices, identities and topics in schools, even unintentionally, when young people already know about them, can send out a negative message.

The best approach is to ensure transgender identities and experiences are explicit within subject- specific experiences and outcomes.

Posters and displays

Transgender identities should be included alongside other identities in classroom/school displays. This is to ensure transgender young people feel respected and included in their learning environment, examples are provided below.

Schools could also harness their young people's creativity, and ask them to design posters to show that:

  • the school has an inclusive approach to people of all gender identities;
  • everyone is treated with respect, and
  • the school will challenge gender stereotypes[77].
There are images of two posters, as an example of ways in which to support Transgender visibility.

On the left hand side the poster says ‘We Celebrate Transgender Visibility’ in large purple writing.  The centre of the poster has three speech bubbles in blue, purple and lilac.  One speech bubble says ‘She’, one says ‘He’ and the third says ‘They’. Below the three bubbles there is blue text which says ‘Respect everyone’s gender identity, use the pronouns people ask you to use’.  At the bottom of the poster there is a blue stripe horizontally across the poster with contact information for LGBT Youth Scotland.  

On the right hand side the poster says ‘We Celebrate Transgender Visibility’ in large purple writing.  The centre of the poster has an image of a white square with a purple outline and the word girl in purple writing.  There is an image of a padlock in purple in the centre and a white square outlined in blue with the word boy in blue writing.  At the bottom of the poster there is a blue stripe horizontally across the poster with contact information for LGBT Youth Scotland.

Role models

As long as they are suitable role models for young people, highlighting prominent role models including transgender people as part of age and stage appropriate learning can be helpful for transgender young people. Some examples are:

  • Aydian Dowling – fitness instructor and trans man. Finalist in the US Men's Health Ultimate Man contest and featured in Men's Health magazine
  • Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski – film-makers. Both siblings are trans women
  • Jin Xing – Chinese ballerina, contemporary dancer and trans woman
  • Rachael Padman – stellar evolution (formation of stars) and trans woman
  • CN Lester – classical musician and non-binary[78] person
  • Juno Dawson – author (young people's fiction and non-fiction) and trans woman

The focus on these individuals should be in relation to their contribution to their field, as a stimulus for lessons. In the same way that teachers no longer talk about 'lady scientists', 'trans scientist' is not appropriate. However, if teachers explain at the end of the lesson that a particular professional is transgender, it has a normalising effect and demonstrates inclusion.

Resources produced by Time For Inclusive Education include Icons: Who Made LGBT History[79] and Moments: That Shaped LGBT History[80] and may support the approach outlined above.

Responding to concerns

When dealing with concerns, whether from young people, parents or staff, the most effective approach is to communicate a consistent and accurate message. Their concerns may be based on misconceptions or misinformation, and it may be possible to reassure them.

  • School staff concerns: If school staff raise concerns about an inclusive approach, the management team should make it clear that, the school has obligations to support all young people, and has a duty of care to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of all young people, including transgender young people.

If a teacher wants to know more about their professional responsibilities, their union, the GTCS or, where applicable, the local authority can provide this.

  • Parent and carer concerns: Parents' and carers' concerns should of course be taken seriously. If parents or carers of another young person at the school raise a concern, it can be helpful to meet with them to discuss this further. In general, the school's response should be framed in the context of equality for all young people, while being mindful of the school's confidentiality policy.

See more information on Confidentiality and Information sharing on page 35. There is legislation on personal data and sharing information. More Information on Data Protection Law is on page 59.

Next steps can include:

  • Take time to listen to their concerns
  • Explain that school has an inclusive ethos and is committed to equality and inclusion
  • Address any misconceptions they may have
  • Identify whether any additional arrangements or actions are needed to meet the needs of all young people.

Whatever a school chooses to do, it should make it clear to young people, staff and the wider learning community that it is an inclusive environment for everyone, including transgender young people and other young people, where all are respected.

If an issue is raised, it is important to respect the rights of all young people, including transgender pupils and others, while ensuring that all legal requirements are met.

If the decision is that the rights of a young person, or a group of young people, should be restricted (i.e. they are asked to use a separate facility) that decision can only be made where the legal requirements are met. It is always preferable to seek mutual agreement from those involved to all arrangements.

Involving young people

One of the best ways to encourage inclusion is to involve young people directly and support their engagement and participation, in a way that suits the young person. It is an opportunity for them to learn and gain support; it allows them to influence the school culture; and helps the school make the right changes and improvements for their young people. Their involvement and participation needs to be relevant and focused.

Some methods which schools in Scotland have used include:

  • inviting young people to participate in or lead working groups on equality and inclusion
  • conducting learner-voice surveys to capture young people's views about how well the school supports LGBT inclusion, identify young people's experiences and allow the schools to identify success and improvements These should be anonymous
  • setting up an LGBT and allies group, 'Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Alliance' (GSA), or similar, in school to create a safe space for LGBT young people, their friends and anyone questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The group may also be interested in leading and developing initiatives which support an inclusive ethos. School staff may wish to support young people with this.

Many schools in Scotland run extra-curricular groups to include and support young people with sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Involving parents and carers

The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 provides the legal framework for the formal involvement of parents and carers in the life and work of the school and their engagement in their children's learning. The Act[81] is about improving parents' involvement all aspects of school life as well as their engagement in their own child's education and in schools more generally.

Parental involvement is about parents and teachers working together in partnership to help young people become more confident learners. All the evidence shows when parents, carers and other family members are effectively involved in their children's education, the outcome for their children is better.

Communication between parents and carers, school staff and young people – based on positive, honest and constructive relationships are essential to supporting young people and their learning, in dealing constructively with challenges arising, and matters related to young peoples'' relationships with others, the young people's identity, or potentially changing identity.

It is important to recognise that some parents may be separated but should be involved in their child's learning unless there are specific and already established reasons why this should not be the case. In the circumstances where parents are separated schools should:

  • use their already established methods for ensuring communication and engagement with both parents
  • recognise that parental separation may complicate matters for the young person and the school, and make appropriate arrangements to continue to engage parents and the young person. Strong relationships with parents will support positive engagement.

Language and terminology[82]

In this section:

  • Why language is important
  • Some common terms and underlying concepts
  • Transgender identities and terms
  • Sexual orientation and being transgender

Why language is important

Ensuring that language is respectful and inclusive is central to equality and anti-discriminatory practice. When a teacher uses the correct language , it raises awareness amongst young people, and is reassuring.

This section sets out some of the concepts and language used in this guidance. Many people will be unfamiliar with these terms and concepts. This is understandable, and teachers are not expected to be experts in this language. Key points to remember:

  • it's always best to check with young people about the words they use and feel comfortable about
  • language is constantly evolving, and terms that might seem unfamiliar at first become commonplace
  • if anyone, whether teacher, young person, parent or carer, does not understand a particular word or underlying concept, it is fine to ask.

Some common terms and underlying concepts

'Gender stereotypes' – despite some recent progress, in society, boys are generally expected to be unemotional, strong, attracted to girls, sporty and to conform to ideals of masculine physical attractiveness. Girls are generally expected to be nurturing, emotional, helpful, attracted to boys, and to conform to ideals of feminine physical attractiveness. These are called gender 'stereotypes', 'gender norms' or 'gender rules'.

Many young people find these 'stereotypes' too restrictive; they can experience peer pressure to conform to them or may experience bullying if they are seen to break the 'rules'.

Transgender young people 'break' these gender rules because their gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth, or they express their gender in a way that others do not consider 'normal'.

Gender identity – a person's deeply-felt internal and individual experience of gender. This may or may not correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Gender expression – a person's gender-related appearance including clothing, speech and mannerisms. Young people may express their gender in ways which are not considered traditionally feminine or masculine. Transgender identities and terms

'Transgender' and 'trans' are umbrella terms for people whose gender identity differs in some way from the sex assigned to them at birth.

The diagram shows the most common identities which come under the 'trans umbrella'.

An image of an open umbrella, it is covered in aqua and green triangles. The word Trans Umbrella is in the centre of the open umbrella in white writing.  Under the Umbrella are the words trans boys/men, trans women/girls, and, non-binary people in aqua coloured text.

Teachers can show young people that they have some understanding if they use these terms. Using them correctly also validates young people's identities and experiences. It's worth remembering that:

  • Many transgender young people don't know all these terms
  • Their understanding of their identity may be developing
  • Language is constantly evolving.

The most helpful thing to do is to ask a young person how they identify themselves. But, if they don't have an answer, there is no need to press them. They don't need a label to receive support. It is helpful if teachers are led by the young person, and allow them to explore their own definition and understanding of gender.

Trans boys/men

People whose birth sex is female but who identify as boys/men. Sometimes, the term 'female-to-male' (FTM) is used to describe the direction in which someone is transitioning or wishes to transition.

A trans boy is likely to be distressed about being seen as female. They are likely to assert a male gender identity consistently and persistently. The prospect of going through female puberty, especially breast-growth and menstruation, is often traumatic.

This is different from a girl who some people might describe as a 'tomboy' because she enjoys rough, noisy activities or the clothes or toys traditionally associated with boys.

Trans boys/men will likely use he/him pronouns.

Trans girls/women

People whose birth sex is male but who identify as girls/women. Sometimes the term 'male-to- female' (MTF) is used to describe the direction in which someone is transitioning or wishes to transition.

A trans girl is likely to be distressed about being seen as male. They are likely to assert a female gender identity consistently and persistently. The prospect of going through male puberty, especially facial hair growth and voice breaking, is often traumatic.

This is different from a boy who some people might perceive as 'feminine' because he enjoys gentle, caring activities or clothes or toys traditionally associated with girls.

Trans girls/women will likely use she/her pronouns.

Non-binary people

People who do not identify exclusively as a boy or as a girl. Among young people, the words 'genderqueer' or 'genderfluid' are popular alternatives for non-binary.

Some people describe gender as a spectrum with 'boy' at one end, 'girl' at the other, and non- binary in the middle. This is too simplistic:

  • some non-binary people may have a gender identity which incorporates various aspects of being a boy and being a girl
  • some non-binary people may strongly reject all aspects of being a boy or a girl
  • some non-binary people may find that how comfortable they feel in any gender fluctuates
  • some non-binary people experience distress about the physical sex characteristics of their body and/or the prospect of pubertal changes – others do not

The degree to which a non-binary person expresses femininity, masculinity and/or androgyny (combination or absence of masculine and feminine characteristics) is very individual.

Non-binary people also vary in whether or not they wish to change their name. Many prefer to use the gender-neutral pronoun 'they' and may find it distressing to be referred to using gendered pronouns (he or she). Some use a mixture of different pronouns from day to day, and a few use more unusual gender neutral pronouns such as 'per' or 'zie'.


A multi-step process as transgender people begin living their lives in a way that affirms their gender identity.

In schools, this will primarily consist of a social transition: young people changing their name, pronoun use and physical appearance (hairstyle, clothes and so on).

A small number of young people may begin medical transition while in school. Schools and teachers do not need to be involved in this. The young person may wish school staff who are supporting them to be aware of it.

Gender non-conforming people

People who do not conform to gender stereotypes in clothes and accessories; speech or mannerisms; interests and behaviour.

Being gender non-conforming is not the same as being transgender or non-binary. Nonetheless, gender non-conforming people may experience the same sort of bullying and similar issues at school as trans boys, trans girls and non-binary people.

Sexual orientation and being transgender

Being transgender is separate from a person's sexual orientation. Sometimes these two different concepts are conflated, and assumptions made. It is therefore, helpful for teachers to understand the differences:

  • the term transgender describes a person's gender identity
  • sexual orientation describes who an individual is physically and/or emotionally attracted to
  • transgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or any other sexual orientation.



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