Primary school boys should be allowed to wear tutus and high heels if they want to, the Church of England has said in its first guidance for teachers on transgender issues.
Children should not be restricted by their gender when dressing up, and girls should be able to wear a tool belt and fireman’s helmet if they choose, the document says.
The guidance for teachers in Church of England schools, endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, says that children “should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision”.
The document comes as a growing number of children coming forward to express doubt about their assigned gender.
Figures released earlier this year by the Gender Identity Development Service show that the number of under-18s referred to the north London clinic has grown from 314 in 2011 to 2,016 last year.
The guidance says: “For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self imagining.”
The document, which gives teachers guidance on how to challenge transphobic bullying, also says young children “should be afforded freedom from the expectation of permanence.
“They are in a ‘trying on’ stage of life, and not yet adult and so no labels need to be fixed.”
Teachers in Church of England schools should “avoid labels and assumptions which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today’s play preferences,” it adds.
Introducing the document, entitled Valuing All God’s Children, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide.
“Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God.”
An increasing number of schools have begun to liberalise their uniform policy to allow boys to wear skirts and dresses if they wish.
Under-18s who say they have been born in a body which does not match their gender are not offered surgery, but are sometimes given hormones which suppress puberty. Figures released to the Mail on Sunday earlier this year suggest that more than 800 children are receiving this treatment.
Critics say that the medical risks are not well-enough understood.
But advocates say the trauma caused by going through puberty in the “wrong” body can lead to mental health problems and an increased risk of suicide in teenagers.
Earlier this year Education Secretary Justine Greening announced plans to speed up the process for adults to change gender.
The guidance adds that teachers should work on discouraging children from using terms such as “gay” in a negative way, such as “you’re so gay” or “your pencil case/trainers are gay”.
However, it also said that they should avoid focusing on “any aspect of differing sexual practice” in order to “safeguard the latency of childhood”.
Secondary school pupils should be allowed to “‘try on identities for size”, it adds, explaining that teenagers “need to be offered the freedom that was afforded to the child in nursery of the metaphorical dressing up box of trying on identities without assumption or judgement”.
Charities and LGBT organisations welcomed the document, which updates previous guidance on homophobia with specific reference to transphobic bullying.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Respecting the unique worth of every person is an integral part of Barnardo’s values, so we wholeheartedly welcome this move by the Church of England.”
A spokesman for Stonewall said: “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.
“We would like to congratulate the Church for sending a clear signal that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying must never be tolerated.”
The Church of England has 4,700 schools, collectively teaching a million pupils.
The document acknowledges that members of Anglican churches hold a wide range of views on sexuality and gender issues, and says the topic is “sensitive”.
In February the Church’s governing body narrowly voted to reject a bishops’ report which upheld its current stance on sexuality, in a move which was interpreted as signalling support for a more liberal policy.
In July it voted to condemn “conversion therapy” designed to change someone’s sexuality, and to explore offering services for transgender people.
Last week an evangelical member of the senior body the Archbishop’s Council resigned her post, citing “heretical” Church teachings.