UK Schools To Appoint ‘Gender Champions’ To Police ‘Sexist Language’

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 04: Pupils at at King Edward VI High School for Girls take part in a biology lesson on 4 October, 2006, Birmingham, England.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

UK schools will appoint ‘gender champions’ tasked with monitoring the language of schoolchildren as young as five in order to stamp out sexist terms such as “sissy”, “cupcake” and to challenge stereotypes.

Under new guidelines to be published tomorrow, senior teachers will be named ‘gender champions’ in schools to help headteachers promote ‘male subjects’ – science, economics, technology, engineering, and mathematics – to girls, while pushing boys towards humanities and languages.

The aim of the guidelines, drawn up by the Institute of Physics (a London-based scientific charity that works to advance physics education) and promoted by the Department for Education, is to eliminate gender stereotyping in schools from the outset, targeting pupils as young as five-years-old.

The Institute’s Professor Peter Main told The Sunday Times:

“The government is backing this. They have told us to send our good practice guide to every school in the country. Sexist language has a considerable impact but in our research we found that it was often dismissed as just banter and was much more common than teachers were aware of.”

Examples of the oppressive language to be targeted have come to light after a pilot programme was run in some schools. At one, volunteer girls were assigned with the task of spotting sexist language in the playground and reporting the perpetrators to staff.

Janice Callow, Deputy Pead at Fairfields High School in Bristol, explained:

“We have always had clear policies on racist language but now we are making it clear to staff that any kind of sexist language is not acceptable.

“We used to say ‘Man up, cupcake’. We’ve stopped that. Saying ‘Don’t be a girl’ to a boy if they are being a bit wet is also unacceptable. Language is a very powerful tool. You have to be so conscious of what you are saying to children.”

Ms. Callow did not explain what she meant by saying a boy could be “a bit wet”.

Dame Barbara Stocking, head of the female-only Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, will help launch the guide at a conference this week. She says that in contrast to China and eastern Europe, British girls “who take physics are sometimes described as ‘lesbians’ and boys who take languages as ‘sissy’.”

The Department for Education funded the research in 10 schools and reported there was a pattern of girls choosing ‘female’ GCSE subjects in places where a wider culture of sexist attitudes and language exists.

The results have been extrapolated to all 24,372 schools in England (according to government numbers in January 2012).

As a result of the research the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, who doubles up as Minister for Women and Equalities and has previously withdrawn funding for schools that fail to match her agenda, has announced an assessment of the gender pay gap.

The report’s promoters say the difference between the subject choices of boys and girls fuels the gender pay gap whereby women earn on average 19 per cent less an hour than men, claiming that ‘female’ A-level and university subjects lead to lower-paid careers.

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