A new study has shed light on the significant challenges faced by parents and educators of trans or gender non-conforming children who require meaningful support at primary school level. The findings reveal an absence of clear national education directives and guidelines for supporting transgender and gender variant children in primary schools. Adequate training and resources for teachers was also found to be in short supply.
The study entitled Exploring Gender Identity and Gender Norms in Primary Schools, was conducted jointly by Dr Aoife Neary of the School of Education at the University of Limerick, and Catherine Cross, Education and Family Support Officer with Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI). Seven primary school educators together with parents of eleven children aged between 5 and 12 who were strongly gender non-conforming from the time they could communicate were interviewed for the study.
Launched in Dublin yesterday by Moninne Griffith, Director of Belongto and Chair of the Gender Recognition Review Group, the study identified significant gaps in the knowledge of primary school staff in relation to gender identity. It also noted that while concern was expressed about the reactions of other parents to gender identity issues, particularly given the age of the children, the benefits for children and schools of adopting a more supportive approach were clearly identified.
Difficulties for parents were also highlighted, with many parents recounting feeling continuously judged by family members and health professionals. This led to constant internal struggles on how best to support their child. Everyday negotiations with schools and health services were also affected by economic, social, cultural and symbolic resource often resulting in grave inequalities in the treatment of some children and their families.
Speaking in advance of the launch, report author and lead researcher Dr Aoife Neary said:
“This study underlines the need for a proactive, multifaceted approach to gender and gender identity in primary schools. It highlights how many practices in primary schools are needlessly gendered which can restrict all children, including trans and gender variant children.
Highlighting the role that educational authorities could play, Dr Neary added, “Provision should be made within the current primary schools curriculum for distinct learning related to gender identity. This should be developed in consultation with parents and in line with international best practice.”
Co-author of the study Catherine Cross of Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), who works directly with schools and families, said:
“Many families, across Ireland, are struggling with these issues and simply want to live ordinary lives, but need support to do so. We hope that the findings of this study will help to generate a conversation with key stakeholders in order to explore how we can help support schools and families alike.”
The report was funded by the Irish Research Council and launched with the support of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO).
The report made a total of nine key findings in areas including varying approaches to gender identity; pressure faced by parents in relation to the gender identity binary (male/female identity); use of highly gendered systems, practices and language caused significant difficulties for children in the study; educators lack knowledge about gender diversity; approaches to gender identity in schools were largely reactive.
The report is available for download at: http://www.teni.ie/attachments/6d5d22d4-801c-4f2d-b456-299291cc17de.PDF