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Girls will be girls and boys will be boys? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 29 November 2017

November 29, 2017
Girls will be girls and boys will be boys

Girls will be girls and boys will be boys?

‘Gender neutral’ focus

At the recent Girls’ School Association’s annual conference, a former Department for Education mental health advisor, Natasha Devon, urged teachers to consider using ‘gender neutral’ language. This would mean they would stop using ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ when addressing the young people and, instead, use the terms ‘pupils’, ‘students’ or, simply, ‘people’. Ms Devon suggested that it may not be helpful to keep reminding pupils of their gender in a learning environment. (Sadly, Ms Devon has now faced online abuse and death threats since making these remarks.)

Cheryl Giovanni, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, has now tried to deflect such criticism by saying there ‘are much bigger issues for us to be debating in a way that actually help move society forwards.’ She told the Telegraph: ‘Gender inequality is one, gender pay gap is another, under-representation of women in most professions, under-representation of girls taking STEM subjects.’ For me, this is where the main ‘battleground’ lies.

The Ballard Family

Ballard Food technology gender

Food technology is a subject taken by both girls and boys

Whilst I am sure we shall continue to use traditional gender-specific terms at Ballard – and also refer to our community as a whole as ‘the Ballard Family’ – I can see that much in this debate is helpful in raising awareness once more about the importance of equality for all irrespective of age or gender. I am delighted to note that there is a difference of only three pupils across the whole school where the numbers of boys and girls are concerned. Whilst not trumpeting it unnecessarily, we do have a transgender policy in school which we have applied positively on two occasions to date and have made appropriate adjustments to facilities, uniform and activities. I am also delighted to note that we regularly ‘buck the norm’ and have girls taking STEM subjects at GCSE and have boys doing Food Technology. (It was interesting to note just this week that author and illustrator Adam Hargreaves had invented a new character for his Mr Men and Little Miss series: Little Miss Inventor – described as a ‘positive role model for girls’.)

Ballard – Sport, Arts, STEM, Life!

Ballard Girls Rugby win

Girls’ rugby at Ballard – a winning team!

Performing Arts has also attracted both sexes at Ballard although dance remains predominantly a girls’ preserve as far as GCSE is concerned – but not when extra-curricular activities are considered. This term’s Upper Prep (Y6-8) production, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has a girl in a lead role as Willy Wonka (and a boy as Charlie). Girls are now playing rugby here – and one of our lady PE staff is a leading ladies’ rugby coach – and have their first tournament next term. They have been joining the boys in mixed tag rugby teams for many years and recently our girls triumphed in a football festival. Boys have been playing netball and, again, one of our male PE staff coaches netball regularly.

I do hope that this debate over gender remains healthy and positive. We need to get away from ‘name calling’ and focus on equality of opportunity. Men and women, boys and girls, are different – in my understanding this is what God intended – but there is so much each can learn from the other both here in school and in society at large.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster and father of two girls and one boy!)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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