Alongside the decolonisation of traditional academic subjects and the introduction of new lessons in topics such as Citizenship and Personal, Social and Health Education, activist teachers use the school day to promote contested views most notably on gender, race and climate change. This consolidates the transformation of education into indoctrination and drives a wedge between school and home.   

The promotion of transgender ideology in UK schools serves as a useful case study in teacher activism. Over the course of a decade, schools became places where pupils were routinely encouraged to perceive themselves as having a ‘gender identity’ distinct from their biological sex. Those who decided they were ‘born in the wrong body’ were helped to socially transition - in other words, to change their name and pronouns and begin wearing clothes and using toilets and other facilities intended for those of the opposite sex. It was possible for this to occur without a child’s parents being informed. Despite recent attempts by the British government to stop such practices, and the publication of a respected review condemning the NHS’s gender identity ­development service and its medicalisation of gender-confused children, evidence suggests that some schools are defying national guidance and continuing to promote gender ideology. 

Children are formally taught about gender identity in Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) classes. RSE emerged out of sex education but the curriculum extends far beyond the science of sexual reproduction and is closely aligned with the model of Comprehensive Sexuality Education endorsed by UNESCO and the World Health Organisation. Both organisations suggest teachers should encourage pupils to question the social norms that shape the experiences of ‘people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity’. Such ‘norms’ might include the use of gendered pronouns or the expectation that people use public toilets appropriate for their sex.

For many years it was common for British primary school pupils (that is, children under the age of 11) to be taught as part of the RSE curriculum that ‘for some people their gender identity does not correspond with their biological sex’. In this way, the RSE curriculum legitimised activist teachers by empowering them to teach contested ideas as fact. Such lessons were then enforced through routine interactions with pupils. A teacher was recorded telling a 13-year-old pupil that her view of gender as binary was ‘really despicable’ and ‘very sad’. In another school, a teacher instructed a boy to leave the classroom for saying he thought there were only two genders.  

Some schools employ resources provided by external organisations to facilitate RSE classes. One widely used videodesigned for young children features cartoon characters and ‘includes definitions for gender expression, gender roles, sex and how it differs from gender identity, cisgender, transgender, and gender-fluid. It emphasizes that it’s okay to express your gender however you choose, and that everyone deserves respect and support.’ In this way, campaigners are allowed to use the classroom as a pulpit to normalize gender ideology. 

Lessons from RSE classes are reinforced through the broader school culture. Some schools advocate that, ‘wherever possible, individuals should be given opportunities to say how they identify or describe themselves. This is called ‘self-identified gender’.’ Recent analysis of

more than 600 school equality policies found up to three-quarters had rules that faciliatated pupils to socially transition, such as permitting male pupils to use girls’ toilets and changing rooms and dormitories if they identify as girls. Some advise teachers supervising overnight trips how best to assist girls using breast binders while PE teachers are told to monitor students and offer breaks if a binder impairs a transgender child’s breathing. This is in defiance of current UK government guidance and a misrepresentation of national equality legislation. 

Meanwhile, teachers who defy school rules on gender identity face losing their livelihood. In September 2022, a maths teacher was sacked after two students complained about his refusal to refer to a female pupil using a male name and pronouns. The teacher argued it was not his role ‘to confirm the gender transition and social transition of a student’ but an employment tribunal backed the school’s decision to fire him.

Of significant concern is that (again, counter to government guidance) children continue to be allowed to change their gender identity while at school without teachers informing their parents. A group of primary schools in the south west of England advises teachers not to disclose a pupil’s gender identity to their parents without the pupil’s consent. So-called ‘transition care plans’ will be made with the pupil who ‘may request that their parents are not involved’. One mother notes that she only discovered her daughter had changed gender when teachers called her ‘he’ at parents’ evening. In addition, parents can be prevented from seeing the lesson plans used by external organisations in RSE classes as the law protects intellectual copyright. This secrecy undermines parents and threatens the safety of children. 

The potential for conflict with parents is made explicit when schools advise teachers what to do if parents ‘express concern’ about their child changing gender. Under the heading ‘prejudice from parents’, one school notes that, if parents question the school’s approach, ‘this will not affect the schools’ actions regarding that young person – in a similar way in which a parent’s sexist or racist views would not influence school to change their equality policy.’ Activist teachers are inducting children into a set of values that are not shared by their parents. Rather than reinforcing existing social norms, they are attempting to bring new social norms into existence. 

As the examples above show, the influence of activist teachers extends beyond the classroom. Further in their careers, teachers go on to run schools, local education authorities, groups of schools, and work in teacher training colleges where they influence new entrants into the profession. They establish a consensus that promoting values is not activism but being a good teacher. This means that while some teachers are highly motivated political activists who see children as a captive audience, far more simply go along with a politicised and values-laden school culture because they have been convinced this is what teaching requires.