Still running a girls’ school

I’ve written and said a lot in recent years about teenage mental health issues. The challenge for transgender young people is one that has come to the fore recently. When Sir Ian McKellen visited JAGS last year, he spoke about the great sadness homosexual men had in his generation because they could not be open about their orientation until later in life. This also has been the case for transgender people until recent years.

At JAGS, we pride ourselves on developing a pastoral system which caters for the needs of individual pupils. Here, I have had my own first experiences of supporting just one transgender pupil. He was welcomed at an HMC conference to speak to other heads about his journey and is now a successful undergraduate. All of us looking after young people are on a learning curve in this area and I am keen to share experiences where it might be helpful.

The headline attached to my name in The Sunday Times this morning is not helpful and I never said the words attributed to me in it. Obviously, our pupils are girls – it’s in the name of the school! There are no plans to stop using the word. We spend huge amounts of time discussing the portrayal and experiences of young women but no one sees that as news. My comments about the need to be gender neutral and use terms such as ‘students’ were only applied in my interview to occasions when I knew that a transgender pupil was present and I wanted to break my every day habit in order to be sensitive to them. They were in response to questions about how we coped with that challenge. Similarly, trousers have been on the JAGS uniform for over twenty years and are a free choice for all pupils and staff. As for short hair, the suggestion that this somehow denotes gender identity is alarming – of course some of our girls have short hair and we call them by their preferred names without reference to gender. Think of all the Millies and Vickys that have gone through our corridors, never mind the Frankies and Harrys! I don’t want to go back to a place where girls think they have to dress or behave in any specific way because of their gender.

I am pleased to be attached to any discussion of the needs and development of young people. The challenge of being transgender is only one of these – but it’s a shame for those involved that it continues to be the one that attracts and generates the sensational headlines. I will keep talking about teenagers and the issues we have to consider when entrusted with their care. And it’s still very much a girls’ school!

Sally-Anne Huang, Headmistress, James Allen’s Girls’ School


See Sunday Times, 24 September 2017

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  • Peter Tait | Sep 25, 2017 at 11:28 am

    A really sensible and measured article – well-balanced and sensitive, pragmatic and appropriate – unlike many of her detractors.

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