The cat self-identity row gripping an East Sussex school

Heated conversation between a teacher and pupils sparks renewed row over gender identity in the classroom

Downing Street cat Larry
Downing Street has commented on the row over whether children can self-identify
(Image credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

A heated discussion over the issue of self-identity, between pupils and a teacher at a school in East Sussex, has reignited the debate over how the topic is treated in schools.

The conversation, secretly recorded and posted on TikTok, appears to show a teacher defending a pupil’s right to self-identify as a cat, while two other pupils vehemently disagree with her.

During the conversation, which took place in a Year 8 class on “life education” at Rye College in East Sussex last Friday, students were told to “be who you want to be – and how you identify is up to you” by their teacher. In response, a pupil is heard to say “If they want to identify as a cat or something then they are genuinely unwell – crazy.”

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When the pupils insist there are only two genders, the teacher says their views are “really despicable”. She adds that there are three biological sexes and lots of genders.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has reportedly asked the Department for Education’s regional director for the South East to visit Rye College and investigate the matter, according to The Telegraph.

‘Let kids be kids’

“Damaging nonsense” is how Nadhim Zahawi, the former education secretary, branded the discussion, joining a chorus of Tory backbenchers who have urged the prime minister Rishi Sunak to stand up to schools and “let kids be kids”. A spokesman for the PM said children should not be taught “contested opinions as fact”.

Nor has the right-wing press hesitated in joining the conversation. Piers Morgan described the “woke teacher” in the recording as peddling “brain-warped thinking” on Sky News Australia. “Ironically, as I read this, I began to hiss and bare my feline fangs in fury,” he wrote. GB News host Michelle Dewberry went one step further, appearing on her show dressed as a cat.

Rye College said it was “committed to offering our pupils an inclusive education”, but would be reviewing its processes and “working with the relevant individuals to ensure such events do not take place in the future”.

‘Not a genuine phenomenon’

Other schools are “allowing kids to identify as cats, horses and dinosaurs”, claimed the Daily Mail, but not everyone was convinced.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he had not heard about children identifying as animals as an issue in schools, but added: “There are nine million children in England’s schools so it is not surprising that all sorts of things crop up in discussions in classrooms.”

Similar claims were made in the US, but Reuters Fact Check said experts dismissed it as not a “genuine phenomenon”, and that children were possibly identfying as “furries”. These are “people with an interest in anthropomorphism, who may create their own alternative animal personality known as a ‘fursona’”, the website explained.

Michael Bronski, professor of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard, told the website: “People who identify as ‘furries’ do so for fun; it is not a primary identification.”

Reuters added that it had “fact-checked claims around ‘furries’ in US schools in the past and found no evidence of them disrupting classrooms, or schools developing a policy of including them as a formal identity”.

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