A headteacher in East Sussex has been forced to defend her decision to hold a discussion with children about transgender issues.

Emma Maltby, who runs St Mary the Virgin Primary School, wanted to explore issues around gender with the children and allow them to develop an understanding of what it means to be transgender. However, a number of parents complained about the workshop and some have even withdrawn their kids from the school.

Ms Maltby has said she stands by her decision, since holding an information session with parents on Monday evening.

She said it was important for children to understand and be aware of gender issues.

“As part of the national curriculum, we spend time talking to the children about British values of tolerance, respect and celebrating differences,” she said.

“We have had a very positive response to the event and the opportunity to learn more about this relevant topic, although three families have chosen to withdraw their children from school.

“St Mary’s is an extremely inclusive school which embraces and celebrates difference and encourages children to be themselves. While some parents may have felt uneasy discussing a topic such as gender identity, our priority is to give pupils a well-rounded education and help them become responsible, independent people able to respect others.”

However, one parent, who would not be named, said: “There is great unease among the parents, there have been complaints to the headteacher, and some parents announced their intention to keep their children from school on at least one day.

“Parents have said that they feel the welfare of their children is under threat from the instructions given in this document.”

The school had worked with Allsorts Youth Project, based in Brighton, to develop a course suitable for children.

Recently, a headteacher of a primary school near Manchester refused to apologise for staging a “gay play” that “borders on paedophilia”.