Pupils taking exams this summer have been offered the chance to opt out of gender classifications for the first time.
Pearson, the education company that owns the exam board Edexcel, made the step forward, by presenting candidates with the option of removing the male or female classification for their qualifications.
The idea of a gender-neutral category for exam entrants at GCSE and A-level was mooted last summer, when Sharon Hague, senior vice-president of Pearson, said the organisation was actively working with Stonewall, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender charity, to consider how gender diversity could be more accurately recorded in the results.
Now Pearson has confirmed that the ‘gender flag’ has been removed altogether from documents it sends out to students, and it is also giving them “the option of removing the male/female flag on our qualifications systems by requesting this through their school or college”.
Having more inclusive data will help schools create more welcoming environments
A spokesperson said: “We are working with charity Stonewall on a number of initiatives to support diversity and inclusion. In February we sponsored the launch of Stonewall’s Inclusive Curriculum Guide, to help schools build an LGBT inclusive curriculum which reflects the diversity of people’s lives and experiences in modern Britain.
“We are continuing to look at how non-binary students can have the option of signalling that they do not wish to be classed as either male or female when they register for a qualification and receive results with Pearson Edexcel.”
Sidonie Bertrand Shelton, head of education programmes at Stonewall UK, said the move was positive, as “historically, non-binary identities in schools have been invisible in statistics”.
“It’s great to see organisations like Pearson taking steps to be more inclusive of all gender identities.
“By offering non-binary students a voluntary way to express their identity schools will get a better understanding of who makes up their student body.
“Having more inclusive data will help schools create more welcoming environments and ensure every student is accepted without exception.”
Since 2010, the number of children under the age of 10 referred to the NHS for treatment related to transgender issues has more than quadrupled.
In January 2016 the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published a report on transgender equality, which included recommendations such as looking into the need to create a legal category for individuals with a gender identity that is non-binary.
It was followed by a response in July 2016, in which the government agreed to make changes including assessing how to measure the size of the UK’s transgender population, and conducting a cross-government review on removing unnecessary requests for gender information, including on official documents.
The Department for Education has also focused more on LGBT issues. In March 2015, eight organisations were awarded a share of a £2 million fund to help eradicate homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Then in July ministers pledged to extend the programme, which is supposed to reach 1,200 schools by next March, by providing additional funding to make it last until March 2020.
While the other exam boards OCR and AQA have not made the same move as Edexcel yet, work is in the pipeline.
An AQA spokesperson said: “This is something we’ve been building into the new systems we’re developing, so students will be able to choose not to specify a gender in the future.”
While a spokesperson for OCR commented: “Our systems already enable schools and colleges to listen to their students and choose not to specify gender when they submit exam entries, but we are looking into how we adapt our systems further.”