Referring to a pupil by their preferred name/pronouns

Question

Answered by Dai Durbridge

What is the legal situation if a pupil requests to change their name and pronouns at school without their parents' consent? The student's mother is aware and fairly supportive, but not the stepfather. We suspect that the pupil's peers will not react well to their decision.

Is there a procedure we should follow, or anything we should keep in mind?

Answer

We assume that the pupil’s request to change their name and pronouns are connected to the pupil wishing to move away from their birth gender. It is not clear whether the pupil has also requested that their gender be changed on the school’s records, and so we have not specifically considered this point.

Under the Pupil Registration Regulations 2006 (the Regs), a school is required to record the full name of every pupil in the admissions register. The DfE guidance on parental responsibility (PR) clearly states that this means the pupil’s legal name and not any other name by which the child is known.

The law is clear that a child over the age of 16 has the right to change their legal name without the consent of those with PR.

Whether a child under 16 can do so is not quite as clear and whether they can or not will depend on the level of maturity of the child in question: do they understand the issue and the implications of changing their name? If this child is deemed to have capacity to make this change, then they can. If not, it falls to those with PR to decide (a stepfather does not have PR unless there is a specific formal agreement/court order in place).

Once that decision is made it is surprisingly easy for a person to change their name. All they need to do is get a deed poll. This sounds very formal, but it really isn’t. Simply handwriting a short document stating the change of name and having that document witnessed is all it takes.

Do they understand the implications of changing their name?

Once done, nothing more formal is required to change a name – the passport office even accepts this approach.

If the pupil changes their legal name, the Regs require you to use that name on the admissions register.

If the pupil does not legally change their name you can still support their wishes if you consider it in their best interests to do so. You would do that by recording the new name as the pupil’s ‘preferred name’. The same goes for the use of a preferred pronoun. However, the register should still show the pupil’s original, legal name.

You also need to have regard to the Equality Act 2010. Gender re-assignment is a protected characteristic under that Act and the protection is open to persons who make a personal decision to move towards changing their gender regardless of any medical procedures undergone. The Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance uses the example of a previously female pupil who has adopted a male name and started to live as a boy at paragraph 3.35.

The guidance is clear that not using the chosen name and not referring to this pupil as a boy would result in direct gender reassignment discrimination. With this in mind, we recommend that if the child has capacity to understand the issues or parental consent has been provided the school records and uses the pupil’s preferred name and pronoun.

Last Updated: 
02 Oct 2018

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