Frequently Asked Questions about Stonewall’s work in schools and colleges
Log in
What you can do

Frequently Asked Questions about Stonewall’s work in schools and colleges

Published in June 2021

We are incredibly proud of our School & Colleges Champions programme.

At Stonewall, we imagine a world where all lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, and ace (LGBTQ+) people are free to be themselves and can live their lives to the full. Inclusive schools, colleges and children and young people’s services have a huge part to play in making this world a reality. But inclusion is not a given. 

Our education work was set up in 2004 to give practical support to teachers following the end of the Section 28. We now work with primary schools, secondary schools, special schools, colleges, multi academy trusts and local authority children and young people’s services. 

Our programmes give advice, support and resources to organisations in England, Scotland and Wales on supporting LGBTQ+ children and young people on inclusive education, tackling bullying, meeting their safeguarding responsibilities and their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. We also provide support and tools for organisations to improve their practice beyond the legal minimum, to ensure that they are creating a culture where all of their LGBTQ+ children and young people can thrive. 

Over the last few months there has been some incorrect information in the press about our work with schools, colleges and children and young people’s services and so we wanted to answer any questions that might have been raised. 

A note on acronyms: our work is so that all LGBTQ+ people are free to be themselves, however some links or statutory regulations we refer to below may use LGBT, and in which case we will mirror that language.  


Do all schools and colleges need to work on LGBTQ+ inclusion?

Getting LGBTQ+ inclusion right is really important. This includes schools’ legal and statutory requirements, including under the Equality Act 2010, the Public Sector Equality Duty (where applicable) and the statutory guidance on RSHE.  

The Equality Act 2010 outlines nine protected characteristics: 

  • Age
  • Disability 
  • Gender reassignment 
  • Marriage and civil partnership 
  • Pregnancy and maternity 
  • Race 
  • Religion or belief 
  • Sex 
  • Sexual orientation 

The Act protects people from unlawful discrimination, harassment or victimisation on the basis of any protected characteristic. 

The Public Sector Equality Duty requires all state-funded schools, colleges and settings in England, Scotland and Wales to: 

  • eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Act – including because of the protected characteristics of sexual orientation and gender reassignment  
  • advance equality of opportunity 
  • foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it – e.g. between LGBT pupils and those who are not LGBT 

To help meet these duties, schools, colleges and settings should tackle all forms of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying and take proactive steps to promote respect and understanding of LGBTQ+ people and the issues that affect them. They should also set specific, measurable and age-appropriate equality objectives, such as reducing levels of HBT language and bullying. 

In England, Ofsted will inspect the extent to which a school ‘complies with the relevant legal duties as set out in the Equality Act 2010, including, where relevant, the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Human Rights Act 1998’. Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook states that 'records and analysis of bullying, discriminatory and prejudiced behaviour, either directly or indirectly, including racist, sexist, disability and homophobic/biphobic/transphobic bullying, use of derogatory language and racist incidents' should be made.  

In Wales, ESTYN are responsible for ensuring that schools adhere to their statutory requirement to “promote equality eliminate discrimination and foster good relations on the basis of ‘protected characteristics”. Last year ESTYN produced a thematic report on good practice for supporting LGBT learners, which highlighted that schools must record all instances of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and that instances should be recorded and trends identified and acted upon.

The Department for Education’s Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education Statutory guidance states that:  

"In teaching Relationships Education and RSE, schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met, and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect. Schools must ensure that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, (please see The Equality Act 2010 and schools: Departmental advice), under which sexual orientation and gender reassignment are amongst the protected characteristics.

Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate in approach and content. At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.’"

For English schools who want to know more about best practice consult our LGBT-inclusive RSHE: Putting it into practice guide. 

The Scottish Government agreed in 2018 to implement a series of recommendations from the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group in full, with Scotland set to become the first country in the world to have LGBT inclusive education embedded throughout the curriculum. The LGBT Inclusive Education Implementation Group has been facilitating the implementation of the recommendations, which includes reforms to practice and guidance, inspections, the recording of bullying incidents, and the development and delivery of professional learning and teaching resources. The recommendations to be taken forward also include publishing new LGBT inclusive Statutory Guidance on the Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education, and developing specific LGBT Experiences and Outcomes at the next review of Curriculum for Excellence. 

The Welsh Government are currently in the process of designing and implementing the first Curriculum for Wales. A key, and now mandatory component of the new curriculum, is an overhaul of RSE provision. Proposed RSE provision in Wales will be far more comprehensive and embedded with a whole school approach, the teaching of LGBTQ+ relationships and identities will, as it stands, be a mandatory part of the new RSE curriculum. The proposed RSE Statutory Code and Guidance are currently out for public consultation.   

Is Stonewall’s advice on the Equality Act robust and correct? 

Yes it is. Our advice is based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice, which was recently reaffirmed in the High Court, and the Department for Education’s advice for schools on the Equality Act

There have been several reports that suggest we are misinterpreting the Equality Act’s protected characteristic of gender reassignment in our guidance and advice to organisations. 

In most contexts, gender identity is an appropriate, inclusive, and well-understood term, so – in line with the UK Government and with international standards – we talk about gender identity in our everyday communications. Similarly, when we describe the Equality Act’s protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’, we refer to ‘gender identity’ to explain who is covered by the law and how they are protected, as the EHRC does in their Code of Practice. 

Is Stonewall’s support for trans inclusion in line with guidance? 

Stonewall proudly provides expertise to schools, colleges and children and young people’s services to support their work with LGBTQ+ children and young people.  

Our advice for schools in England is based on the Department for Education's advice for schools on the Equality Act. This states that the definition of ‘gender reassignment’ includes trans children and young people, who ‘will not necessarily have to be undertaking a medical procedure to change their sex but must be taking steps to live in the opposite gender, or proposing to do so’ in order to be protected under the Equality Act. That means that children and young people who are ‘socially transitioning’ will likely fall under the protection of the Act. The Department for Education’s statutory guidance states: 

"This broad, non-medical definition is particularly important for gender variant children: although some children do reassign their gender while at school, there are others who are too young to make such a decision. Nevertheless they may have begun a personal process of changing their gender identity and be moving away from their birth sex. Manifestations of that personal process, such as mode of dress, indicate that a process is in place and they will be protected by the Act."

Our resources and training are focused on equipping schools, colleges, teachers and other professionals with our expertise and good practice we’ve seen from in children and young people’s settings across the country. This is informed by key pieces of guidance that support schools. In our Introduction to Supporting LGBT children and young people: A guide for schools we share good practice and key considerations for schools to make as they seek to ensure trans children and young people are safe and supported at school.

This includes sharing our expertise and good practice on supporting trans children and young people to use facilities that match their gender, including toilets, residentials and sport facilities. Our support is focused on equipping practitioners with key information about LGBTQ+ children and young people, along with a wide range of legal and good practice considerations, to help practitioners confidently support inclusion.   

The Scottish Government committed in their 2019-20 Programme for Government to “produce updated guidance for schools to help them to support transgender pupils, within the current legal framework.” In March 2021, the then Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills responded to a parliamentary question in relation to the guidance on supporting trans young people in schools: 

“Guidance will be published when all pupils have returned to school, or at the earliest opportunity in the new Parliamentary term. Education Authorities and schools should continue to use resources and guidance that they have determined responds positively to the needs of all pupils.” 

Are schools allowed to work with Stonewall, in keeping with DfE guidance?

In England, the Department for Education lists Stonewall’s inclusive education guidance as a key resource in Annex B of the Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education Statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams, teachers (page 46).  There is no guidance advising against working with Stonewall.  

Founded in London in 1989, Stonewall is a national charity working in each nation of the UK and with established partnerships across the globe. We help create transformative change in the lives of LGBTQ+ people through our campaigns, research and change and empowerment programmes. We continue to fight for a world where LGBTQ+ people everywhere can live our lives to the full. As a charity, we work in a non-partisan way to bring about rights and protection for LGBTQ+ people. Since 2001 we’ve been working with employers and schools to support them to bring about LGBTQ+ inclusion in their communities. We are proud of the inclusive change we’ve all created together. 

Some activists have been sending template letters to schools suggesting that they should not work with Stonewall. They allege that work supporting schools to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for trans children and young people goes against this non-statutory guidance issued by the Department for Education in September 2020, which states: 

"We are aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive matters to navigate. You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material. While teachers should not suggest to a child that their non-compliance with gender stereotypes means that either their personality or their body is wrong and in need of changing, teachers should always seek to treat individual students with sympathy and support." 

Stonewall’s work does not fall in scope of these concerns.  

Our resources focus on providing teachers with knowledge and confidence to ensure all pupils learn about different gender identities and a diverse range of trans role models is part and parcel of learning about equality, diversity and respect. Challenging gender stereotypes is at the heart of our approach, and we agree with the view that nobody should assume a child or young person who doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes is LGBTQ+. 

Our work with schools includes support for pupils who are or who might be lesbian, gay, bi or trans, as well as pupils who are questioning their gender identity or sexual/romantic orientation. It also includes pupils with LGBTQ+ family members and loved ones.  

Does Stonewall advise not to use the term 'boy' or 'girl'?
No. Being LGBTQ+ inclusive means recognising that there are boys and girls and some people who are non-binary. We do encourage staff to think about the language that is used in school or college and how far it plays into gendered stereotypes e.g. not using phrases such as ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be such a girl’. We also advise to take care to be inclusive of non-binary people; avoiding addressing groups of students using gendered language such as ‘boys and girls’.
Does Stonewall advise against using the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she?
No. Being LGBTQ+ inclusive means not assuming people’s pronouns, sharing your own when you introduce yourself if you feel comfortable, and recognising that some people use ‘they’ (for more information please see page 45 of our Introduction to supporting LGBT children and young people).
What guidance should I not be using? 
It’s important to feel sure you’re choosing and using quality LGBTQ+ inclusive resources, especially if you’re using resources made by someone else. A good place to start looking for RSHE resources is Annex B to the statutory guidance on RSHE, which lists suggested resources, including resources by Stonewall and others. When you’re looking at guidance, we advise that you check:
  • it covers the basics
  • that it is from a reputable source
  • it is inclusive - both in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusion and with regards to other protected characteristics too
  • hat any claims and assertions are backed up with evidence from reliable sources

There’s a more detailed checklist in LGBT-inclusive RSHE: Putting it into practice. Be sure to take a look.