Sexist Remarks 'Should Be As Unacceptable As Racism Or Homophobia'

photo dated 03/12/2003 showing primary school pupils during a lesson. A battery of Government initiatives has reduced children to the status of
photo dated 03/12/2003 showing primary school pupils during a lesson. A battery of Government initiatives has reduced children to the status of
Barry Batchelor/PA Archive

Sexist language among pupils should be as unacceptable as racist or homophobic abuse, while words such as sissy and cupcake may banned in the playground, along with the phrases "man up" and "go make me a sandwich".

New guidelines written by the The Institute of Physics (IOP) are being issued to schools at the behest of the Department for Education, with some schools creating squads of girls to police sexist behaviour, according to the Times.

Janice Callow, deputy head at Fairfields High School in Bristol, one of the pilot schools in the programme, told the paper a volunteer group had been assembled to spot sexist language.

"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 said it would also like to see schools appoint "gender champions" in school leadership teams and introduce a strict policy to ensure all subjects are presented equally to students in terms of relative difficulty.

This would mean teachers should not make any remarks to students about their own abilities in any subject.

When it comes to subject choices or career aspirations, the report found parents are often very influential and sometimes exhibit strong gender bias. It said opportunities should be found to discuss this with parents to break down prejudices.

Another issue highlighted was the common practice of placing students into sets in terms of perceived academic ability, which can sometimes lead to imbalances in the gender make-up of classes and reinforce stereotypes.

While not suggesting that schools impose a limit on the number of girls or boys in each set, the report said that if sets do turn out to be heavily gendered, schools should consider the reasons for the imbalance and take suitable action to rectify the situation.

The Opening Doors guide is due to be launched at a conference looking at gender stereotyping in education.

Dame Barbara Stocking, who is chairing the event, said: "We know we have a problem with gender stereotyping of subjects in schools.

"This is particularly an issue for girls in maths, physics and engineering, boys in modern foreign languages and a general under-performance in GCSE grades."

IOP president Professor Roy Sambles said: "The low uptake of physics among girls has been a long-standing concern of ours and a problem that we've been trying to deal with for some time.

"But we've found that it's not a job we can do completely by ourselves and that there's a lot in common between the low numbers of girls taking physics and similar gender imbalances in other subjects."

The conference in central London is being sponsored by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), which works to further and support equality and diversity for staff and students in higher education institutions across the UK and in colleges in Scotland.

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