Can an all-boys or all-girls school enrol a student who is transitioning into a member of the opposite sex?
It is a question that principals are increasingly having to confront as transgender children come forward in greater numbers.
In a recent example, The Sunday Telegraph reported that a boy attending all-boys school Cranbrook was allowed to complete his studies while transitioning to become a girl.
The student – who will continue wearing the boys’ uniform and use existing unisex toilets – will complete Year 12 under her new female name.
A spokeswoman for Cranbrook said the school supported the student’s decision.
“We believe our prime responsibility as a school is to protect, uphold and enhance the safety, happiness, health and prospects of students under our care. This guides all that we do,” she said.
One important step the school undertook upon becoming aware of the student’s decision was consulting with a gender identity counsellor.
Dr Elizabeth Riley, who provides clinical supervision and training as a counsellor at a private practice in Sydney, is an expert in gender identity.
Riley told The Educator that in terms of harnessing a school culture that recognises and respects LGBTI students, many factors must be taken into account.
She pointed out that as well as schools having bullying policies in place that are actively applied, children must also be given choice regarding activities and sports.
“Schools should have an environment not just of tolerance but of celebrating difference,” she said.
“Children need to be supported so they can explore where they fit, who they want to play with and what gives them the optimal opportunity to thrive, engage and be successful.”
Riley added that a culture must be sustained where provision of training for all students in emotional intelligence is provided “to increase the ability for empathy, kindness and self-responsibility of emotions”.
“Schools can also offer education in gender variance and make this training available to all staff, children and parents,” she said.