Boys should be allowed to dress up in tiaras and heels and girls should be allowed to wear tool belts and superhero capes without judgement, according to new Church of England guidance for schools.
Children are “in a ‘trying on’ stage of life”, the updated advice tells teachers and childhood should be a “sacred space for creative self imagining”, particularly in primary school.
“Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing-up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision.
“For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, toolbelt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment.”
The report, entitled Valuing All God’s Children, contains the Church’s official guidelines for teachers overseeing the pastoral care of the approximately one million pupils in its 4,700 schools.
School staff should “avoid labels and assumptions which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic” when it comes to gender, the guidance says.
“The letter also told the schools that they must no longer separate uniforms into ‘boys’ and ‘girls’,” says the Daily Express.
The new advice comes as “an increasing number of schools have begun to liberalise their uniform policy to allow boys to wear skirts and dresses if they wish,” the Daily Telegraph notes.
Some social conservatives expressed concern that the Church was departing from traditional teaching to promote a “genderless society”:
I'm afraid the Church Of England has become the church of DreamLand, Never NeverLand. Where is their theology, their humanity their common sense. Tragic to send message of Genderless Society.
— Birdy (@sherianbird) November 12, 2017
If they are trying to suggest that it should be acceptable for young boys to wear skirts and tiaras as an every day item at school, then I must protest. Gender roles are pillars of society and the faster we work to destroy them, the faster we destroy ourselves. That's how it is.
— Wildermancer %uD83D%uDC04 (@Wildermancer) November 13, 2017
However, the criticism was met with a tongue-in-cheek riposte from Church of England vicar and TV personality the Reverend Richard Coles.
Anglican traditionalists reel at news that boys may now wear dresses in CofE schools. pic.twitter.com/OFsFhMf65z
— Richard Coles (@RevRichardColes) November 13, 2017
The new amendment is not the first time the document has been updated to reflect evolving social trends. Three years ago, the CofE inserted text dealing with responses to homophobic bullying, which has now also been expanded to include biphobic and transphobic behaviour.
In a foreword to the updated guidance, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that any form of bullying “causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide”.
“This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion,” he wrote.
LGBT charity Stonewall welcomed the specific highlighting of biphobic and transphobic bullying alongside homophobia.
“Our research shows that nearly half of lesbian, gay, bi and trans pupils are bullied for being LGBT at school: a situation that desperately needs to change,” a spokesman said.