If you’re busy bringing up little feminists at home, don’t forget the influence that school has on their beliefs and attitudes. Whether it’s actively teaching children about sexism or unconscious gender bias within policy or classroom materials, school has a huge part to play. Below are some issues that you might want to ask about – whether at Open Days or parent-teacher evenings – or to speak to your child(ren) about.
Further reading at the bottom of post.
1. How does the curriculum address issues of gender?
Are efforts made to study equal numbers of male and female historical figures, authors, artists etc?
Do you discuss gender equality or stereotyping in class?
2. Are classroom resources non-sexist?
Do any textbooks or classroom materials promulgate overly-traditional gender roles?
Do resources include non-sexist books which celebrate the achievements of women?
Which books are included on the reading lists for each year group?
3. Are boys and girls treated differently?
Are activities or tasks ever segregated by gender? For instance, girls are asked to wash paintbrushes while boys are asked to move furniture.
Do teachers allocate their time fairly between the sexes?
4. How are children paired or grouped?
Are classes and groups split equally between girls and boys where possible?
5. Are sports and extra-curricular activities open to both sexes?
For instance, can girls join the football team? Are dance lessons open to boys? Are sports lessons segregated at all?
Are there ever any instances where boys and girls would be offered different activities? e.g. cooking vs woodwork.
6. What is the uniform policy?
Are there any differences in what girls and boys are required to wear? Can these be justified?
7. What is the policy on sexual harassment among children?
Yes, young children can experience and commit sexual harassment. In fact, it’s relatively commonplace. Sexual harassment can include sexual jokes or name-calling, displaying photos or pictures of a sexual nature, deliberately brushing against someone, sexting, lewd comments etc.
Not only is it good practice to have such a policy, schools and colleges have a statutory duty to safeguard children, as well as being legally obliged to have a bullying-prevention policy in place. They should bear in mind their responsibilities under the Human Rights Act (for instance it is unlawful for schools to act in in a way that breaches a pupil’s right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment).
There’s a lot more background here.
8. What is taught in relationships and sex education?
(From 2017, Relationships Education is compulsory in all primary schools, and Relationships & Sex Education is compulsory in all secondary schools. See the current education guidance here.)
The government has admitted that its curriculum is out of date, and is consulting on changes, so you might want to quiz teachers about what supplementary topics they are now including. For instance, do they cover:
- Staying safe online
- Sexual harassment
- Body image
- Violence in relationships/exploitation/abuse
The NUT’s Breaking the Mould project studied primary schools and pupils to produce resources aimed at helping classroom and nursery teachers to challenge gender stereotypes.
Campaign group Let Toys Be Toys have lesson plans for teachers as well as information on how to raise an issue with a school.