Should pupils be taught about gender identity in schools?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
May 17, 2024, 7:56 AM GMT+0

With new government guidance coming in, a new YouGov survey asks Britons when and if pupils should be taught a range of sex education topics

Yesterday news emerged that the government is planning to ban sex education for children before Year 5, and to ban schools from teaching anything about gender identity entirely.

The new guidance sets minimum age limits on a host of sex education topics, which has been criticised by some head teachers. Speaking to The Times, Paul Whiteman, general secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, said:

“We have serious concerns about how potential ‘limits’ would work in practice. Some children and young people are already accessing information from different sources outside school. This may even risk them seeking information from less reliable sources.”

Drawing heavily on the list of subject matter that was trailed ahead of the announcements, as well as from areas already covered in the Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum, a new YouGov survey has asked the British public at what age they think it is right for schools to cover various sex education topics with pupils – or if they should be covered at all.

The results suggest around three in ten Britons don’t want teaching about gender identity issues to take place in school: 29% said that schools should not teach that people can be transgender / change their gender identity, and 31% said they should not tell children that people can be non-binary / identify as a gender other than male or female.

Among parents of a child younger than 18, around a quarter (25-26%) say these subjects should not be covered. The views of parents across the study closely mirror those of the wider public.

Nevertheless, around six in ten Britons – and two thirds of parents – indicate that schools should teach these topics, although the public are relatively evenly split on at what age that should happen. The most common answer in both cases was that teaching should take place from Year 7 (when children are 11-12 years old), at 17%.

One in seven Britons also say that it is not ok for schools to teach that people can be gay or bisexual (15%). Other content that the public are most likely to say should not be taught in school are ‘explicit discussion of sexual acts’ (23%), pornography (19%), and revenge porn (14%).

Should sex education be taught to children before Year 5?

With the government’s policy to not teach sex education before Year 5, the results show that few Britons feel that any of the topics we asked about should be taught before this point either. The biggest exception is ‘How to stay safe, including “appropriate boundaries” and how to report concerns’, which 32% say should be taught before Year 5.

One in five (21%) think that teaching about gay and bisexual people should begin before Year 5, and 20% said grooming should be covered before then as well.

In fact, in pretty much all cases, where adults think a concept should be covered in sex education the most common point from which they say that should take place is Year 7.

The biggest exceptions are the aforementioned ‘how to stay safe’, which people tend to think should be taught at a younger age, and revenge porn and explicit discussions of sexual acts, which people tend to say should be taught from Year 9, when pupils are 13-14 years old.

How do attitudes towards what should be taught during sex education differ by age, gender and voting intention?

Across all groups, the biggest differences are on gender identity topics. Women, younger people, and Labour voters are notably more likely to say that transgender and non-binary identities should be covered in sex education than their male, older and Tory voting counterparts.

Men and women don’t tend to differ much on most other topics, although women (81%) are slightly more likely to say that sexual identity should be taught in school than men (74%).

The results show that there is only one topic that men (71%) are more noticeably likely than women (65%) to say should be included in sex education: explicit discussions of sexual acts.

Younger Britons are also more keen that sexual acts should be discussed during sex education – 80% of 18-24 year olds say so, compared to 60% of those aged 65 and above. Younger Britons are also more open to discussions including pornography, its body image risks, and revenge porn.

Those who voted for the Conservatives in 2019 are also noticeably less likely than those who backed Labour to want to see many of the concepts we asked about taught in schools. This closely mirrors the age divide – unsurprising given that age is such a clear factor in how people vote – with the gender identity issues being the most problematic for Tory voters, followed by explicit discussions of sexual acts and porn-related issues.

See the full results here

What do you think about sex education, gender identity issues, and everything else? Have your say, join the YouGov panel, and get paid to share your thoughts. Sign up here

Photo: Getty