Sexism in schools ‘must be treated seriously like homophobia and racism’

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A government-backed report calls for a clampdown  on sexist language in the playground, after a similar push to challenge homophobia.

New government-backed guidelines released today say that sexist language such as “don’t be a girl” and “sissy” can be just as damaging to students as racist or homophobic comments.

The guidelines were drawn up by the Institute of Physics (IoP) as part of its “Opening Doors” research project which released its report today.

It says: “[Sexism] is just as unacceptable as racist and homophobic language.”

Noting examples from existing schools, it continued: “All the schools had policies to counter racist, homophobic and sexist language.

“However, in almost all cases, infringements in the last case were treated less seriously than the other two.

“Often, during a visit, the SLT would assert that there was no problem with sexist language, only for the classroom teachers to refer to some cases and the students to report that it was an everyday reality.

“Such language was often dismissed as ‘harmless banter’, but many of the students, particularly girls, did not see it as such, and, in extreme cases, it verged on bullying.”

The IoP is being funded by the Department of Education to seek ways to get more girls studying Science and other subject areas where girls are under represented.

Currently, according to the report published by IoP, only 21% girls go on to study A-level physics and 81% of schools are not doing enough to address the imbalance.

Combatting sexist language makes up a small part of the guidelines which mostly focuses on the appointment of “gender champions” amongst senior school staff to ensure equal access to subjects for boys and girls, training in unconscious bias for other staff members and student involvement in combatting sexism in schools.

The Sunday Times has reported that some of the test schools have started enlisting volunteers from the female students to “police sexist language and behaviour and report back to teachers.”

Clare Thomson, from the IoP, told the Sunday Times: “Even low-level comments are potentially an issue with teachers using phrases such as ‘man up’.”

Janice Callow, deputy head of one of the test schools, told the newspaper: “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.”

The IoP are also researching LGB representation in education.