Schoolzone blog: Are schools institutionally sexist?

Are schools institutionally sexist?
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27 Nov 2014

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Boys and girls may well be different, but we're all different. Let's get that out of the way first.

However, schools make sure that we keep the differences alive and well, so that any stereotyping inflicted (by others) is easier to accept. How do schools do this? Here are just a few examples ...

Class lists are often separated into boys and girls. Why? Because then, to find a child on your list, if you know their gender, you only have to look at half the list. Why not separate them by hair colour instead - then you have even shorter lists to look at, How about skin colour? Could you get away with that?

School uniform: while most schools are enlightened enough to allow girls to wear trousers, they almost all define uniforms separately for boys and girls. Why? Why not just list the options for everyone - surely parents can work out for themselves which options their children will want to wear. Are schools worried that boys will turn up in skirts? Leaving aside the fact that it would be highly unlikely - why shouldn't they?

School websites: have a look at your home page - what's the main image on it? We looked at 50 school websites the other day and found that 34 of them had a pleasant-looking girl on the home page, whereas, of the 12 that showed boys, seven showed them playing a vigorous sport, whereas girls tend to be pictured being academic. Not an exhaustive study, we admit, but worth thinking about.

Boys sports and girls sports: some schools offer football to girls, but most are not catching up on the national trends here, or in other sports. This isn't very surprising and probably isn't a big deal for most girls, but schools could do more at an extra-curricular level to increase opportunities.

Achievement: this is last on our brief list of examples because it's already widely appreciated that most summative assessment tends to favour girls. However, we still include it because it's worth considering how we value the achievements of boys and girls generally. For example, at prize-giving: do boys only get the same number of prizes as girls simply because you have separate boys and girls prizes? If so, that's probably an acceptance that you are assessing them against gender-biased criteria. Why? If you don't have separate boys/girls prizes - which sex tends to get more? We can probably guess. Teachers tend to recognise the "nice handwriting" achievements of girls more than the oral contributions of boys in class. You can probably think of many other instances of this kind of thing, if you put your mind to it.

You may say that some of these are trivial, compared to some of the other inequalities in society - true - but why do we have them at all, since the effect of them is to encourage us to treat boys and girls differently, re-emphasising stereotypes and limiting boys and girls alike.

Starting at Reception, let's look at all the instances where we treat boys and girls separately, regardless of how trivial the instance and ask the question: is this strictly necessary?


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