Experiences of school

Experiences of school and education were very meaningful to the young people we spoke to. They talked at length about experiences in the classroom, with teachers, and with other pupils. In this section you can find out about the following school related experiences:

  • Coming out
  • Changing names and pronouns;
  • Toilets, changing rooms and uniform
  • Dealing with bullying and transphobia;
  • Positive groups and friendships;

Coming out at school

Many young people talked about coming out and transitioning whilst at school. The Equality Act 2010 protects pupils who transition at school from discrimination, regardless of seeking medical intervention*. Some people talked about the support they received at school. Charke said that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were in touch with the school ‘about seven/eight months before’ to try and organise coming out at school.

Some people were aware of school policies for trans pupils transitioning but others had little information. Kat said that single sex schools were, ‘not great for trans people.’ She said at her school there was ‘no policy regarding trans students so I was kind of slightly worried I’d just be kicked out if I came out’. *2

Kat talks about the process of making changes in a single sex school as trans girl.

Age at interview 15

View profile

Changing names and pronouns at school

Young people talked about staff and other pupils using their correct name and pronouns, and changing names and pronouns including the formal process through obtaining a deed poll. They talked about mixed experiences with pupils and teachers using their correct name and pronouns. Jacob said other pupils ‘teased but only for a day and then…used the correct pronouns. They used the correct name. I don’t think there was anyone in the year group who didn’t.’

Bailey said ‘the teachers have all been really good.’ Similarly, Evelyn said that, ‘none of the teachers got my name wrong. I think one or two times they did it, a teacher did it wrong, but they were very quick to correct themselves’. Some young people had difficulties with specific teachers that did not use the correct name or pronouns*3. Eel spoke about an English substitute teacher who would ‘constantly’ get his gender wrong.

Finn describes the experience of changing his gender at school and the highly negative effect of being deadnamed.

Age at interview 16

View profile

Rosa remembers how at school nobody used my name or pronouns’ apart from the after school LGBT group.

Age at interview 19

View profile

Toilets, changing rooms and uniform

People talked about changes to spaces such as toilets, changing rooms and taking part in sport at school, as well as uniform changes and how these situations were handled by their school. The National Education Union (NEU) for supporting trans and gender questioning students has guidance on the legal obligations.

Many people spoke about the provision of toilets/bathrooms and changing rooms at school. Evelyn said she and her parents contacted the school and had a meeting about what was going to happen. The school said they would change ‘toilets and dressing rooms and things like that for PE’. Eel said that he ‘felt really comfortable going into the boys’ ‘bathroom’ because most of the teachers ‘tried their best to make me feel the most comfortable and the most accepted’. Beth felt that, ‘in schools… children should be allowed to use whichever toilets they feel that are necessary.’

Declan talks about the changes he made at a single sex school including toilet provision.

Age at interview 20

View profile

Sport was often missed or avoided by people because of issues with changing in front of others and being segregated by gender. Eel said, ‘I didn’t do PE in year ten’ because he felt ‘very very dysphoric’. Erion said, ‘I couldn’t figure out why when they were like splitting us into things like boys and girls and I was always like yeet into the boys side.’

Tom talks about being uncomfortable going to swimming lessons and using changing rooms.

Age at interview 13

View profile

Declan talks about being an advocate for sport and the changes that can be made.

Age at interview 20

View profile

School uniform was another important change people talked about. Ezio said at his school there was a choice between ‘a trouser uniform’ and a ‘skirt uniform’. He said he ‘always wore the trouser uniform and you actually had like a tie and I actually felt like, felt like I was a businessman going to work.’ Tom wore the boys uniform. Evelyn described a similar uniform across the genders at her school. Declan, at a single sex school, felt that ‘the uniform was actually quite good. It was you could wear like trousers, skirt whatever but you had like a jumper and a shirt. There was like no tie or anything, so it was quite nice; I didn’t mind it’.

Charke talks about their difficult experience transitioning at school and the changes made.

Age at interview 17

View profile

Dealing with bullying and transphobia

Some people had a difficult time coming out and transitioning during school. Charke described experiencing ‘constant abuse’ from other pupils and ‘being misgendered, dead named daily’.

Transphobia, misgendering and bullying had a significant impact on people we spoke to. Some found dealing with their emerging feelings a difficult process which was amplified by tensions at school. Declan said ‘I suffered quite badly at school from like bullying and stuff so my mental health around puberty just declined completely and it stayed like that until I came out and since then the only kind of bad mental health I’ve experienced is due to like my academic life’.

Tom tells a story about being in PSHE with an annoying guy in my class’ trying to spot’ a trans person.

Age at interview 13

View profile

Some people missed school or left altogether because of bullying and an unsafe school environment. Sally said she dropped out of school at 14 because she didn’t want to go out. Loges said he ‘took all my revision home and worked from home’. He said ‘people misunderstanding [my gender] was affecting my mental health quite badly and making me feel like I’d learn a lot better if I was in my own environment with no people who were not understanding of me.’ Declan said he ‘was having trouble with school phobia so I just wouldn’t attend school’.

Positive groups and friendships

People talked about their friendship groups at school and the impact of having safe LGBTQ+ spaces at school. Some people spoke about their frustrations with making friends. Jacob went to a private girls’ primary school and talked about his difficulty making friends there. He said, ‘I didn’t have any other boys to sort of take influence from and realise that maybe I didn’t fit in with the people in my school.’

Ezio talks about his experience of making friends at school.

Age at interview 23

View profile

Many people talked about the benefit of having LGBT groups at school. Evelyn said ‘we have this group that LGBT kids in Year 9 and above can go to …it’s just like you know for LGBT people… it can be supportive to know that like you’re not the only LGBT person in school.’ Rosa spoke about the benefit of an LGBT group at her school, ‘the only time that anybody would know was in the after school LGBT group with like the friend that I first told and the trans people and my other friends from that group. But even then, I didn’t use my name and pronouns with them because it was still in the school building’. Henry said that schools should, ‘allow and create safe spaces for young trans people to explore who they are.’

N talks about the need for positive representation at school and safe spaces.

Age at interview 34

View profile

See:

Mental health services, psychological therapies and counselling

Journeys to identifying as trans and gender diverse

Experiences of puberty and puberty blockers

*1 Equality Act 2010 *2 The Equality Act 2010 states “pupils undergoing gender reassignment should be allowed to attend the single sex class that accords with the gender role in which they identify”. *3 As per the Equality Act 2010 “students who want to use a new name, wear new clothes or ask for a new pronoun to be used are protected under the law, regardless of whether they have, or want to have, any medical treatment” (NEU, 2021).

Views on LGBTQ+ education

The young people we spoke to talked about their experience of being taught about LGBTQ+ issues and lives in school and made suggestions about how...