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“We are trying to replace the word girls”: should single-sex schools be more gender neutral?

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Education leaders have advised single-sex schools to drop overly gendered labels, in a bid to ensure transgender children don’t feel ostracised and ‘other’ from their peers.

The guidelines follow the recent Girls School Association (GSA) annual Summer Briefing for Heads, where it was suggested that teachers adopt more gender neutral language, such as replacing the word ‘girls’ with simply ‘students’ or ‘pupils’.

But while some may consider all-girls schools to be notorious reinforcers of gender stereotypes, the heads of several girls’ schools across the UK are already ahead of the curve, with more set to follow in their footsteps.

girl at school

“We are trying to replace the word girls with students or pupils, when transgender pupils are present and where relevant to the audience,” explains Ena Harrop, head of City of London School for Girls, whose staff have all attended trans awareness training sessions with community interest group Gendered Intelligence.

Discussing the briefing in a blog post, Caroline Jordan, president of the GSA, writes: “The crux of the matter is that schools have a duty of care to all pupils, including those who decide to transition.

“Language is one part of this complex pastoral issue and GSA schools, which have a long history of excellence in pastoral care, are at the forefront of showing best practice in including transgender pupils.

girl at school

“For the avoidance of doubt, we believe that using certain terminology – such as ‘pupils’ or ‘students’ rather than ‘girls’ – is appropriate in certain circumstances, and particularly when transgender pupils are present,” she writes.

Talking to the Sunday Times, Jordan, who is also head of Headington School in Oxford, further clarified her position on the terminology that she’d like to see replaced.

“Where relevant to the audience, in assemblies, for example, instead of saying ‘Girls, go to lessons,’ staff should consider saying ‘Pupils, go to lessons’ or ‘Students, go to lessons’.

“Every year there are more and more young people posing questions around their gender identity. I do not want anyone to think that girls’ or boys’ schools are invested in one way of being a girl or one way of being a boy.”

Dr. Jay Stewart, co-founder of Gendered Intelligence, has played a key role in advising the GSA on how to best approach gender issues within the school environment, and hopes that phrases such as ‘young ladies’ and ‘young women’ will be dropped.

“Young people want to feel they belong in their school environment and they are not made to feel ‘other’ or weirdos or freaks,” he tells Sunday Times.

 

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