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Tips for primary school teachers

Ideas for action to challenge sexism in the primary classroom.

The ideas and messages that lay the foundations for sexism are learnt from an early age. But schools are also a key site for bringing about change – in the lives of students and society as a whole. As a primary teacher you can challenge stereotypes, shift the culture and inspire children to take positive action for equality.

Over a third (34%) of primary school teachers say they witness gender stereotyping in their school on at least a weekly basis.

– “It’s just everywhere”: A study on sexism in schools and how we tackle it, UK Feminista & National Education Union, 2017

1. Tackle gender stereotyping

Gender stereotyping reinforces distinct ideas about what is expected and acceptable behaviour from girls and boys. These sex-role stereotypes can have a deeply harmful impact, placing arbitrary limits on children while fuelling prejudice and discrimination.

Stereotypes can be challenged through the resources students use, the activities they do, the visual environment they see each day and the conversations they have with teachers and peers. For example, when you see or hear gender stereotyping in the classroom, use it as a ‘teachable moment’ – an opportunity to have a discussion with students on the issue. Encourage inclusive language (e.g. ‘firefighter’ rather than ‘fireman’), and use display boards to counter stereotypical images and provide a diverse range of role models.

2. Challenge sexist language

Research by UK Feminista and the National Education Union found that 45% of primary teachers are aware of sexist language being used in school on at least a termly basis. Over three quarters (77%) of the examples primary teachers gave of sexist language they heard involved boys using overtly female- pejorative statements like ‘don’t be such a girl’ and ‘don’t cry like a girl’.

Ensure you are familiar with your school’s policy and procedures relating to sexist language. Consistently challenge sexist language when you hear it and, where appropriate, use incidents as ‘teachable moments’ by having a discussion with the class about the language and the impact it has.

45% of primary school teachers are aware of sexist language being used in school on at least a termly basis; 15% witness it on at least a weekly basis.

– “It’s just everywhere”: A study on sexism in schools and how we tackle it, UK Feminista & National Education Union, 2017

3. Promote equal participation

Monitor students’ participation in activities and group discussions. If group discussions, play areas or resources are dominated by or associated more with boys or girls, look for ways to challenge barriers to participation and open up involvement. For instance, you could select students to speak or participate in activities, rather than waiting for volunteers, and establish ground-rules to facilitate a respectful environment.

4. Champion a whole school approach

Individual activities and one-off events addressing sex inequality can make a real difference. However, embedding comprehensive, long-term change requires a ‘whole school approach’. This means that action to promote equality between girls and boys is guided by an over-arching framework and involves all members of the school community.

Propose the whole school approach to your senior leadership team. Use UK Feminista’s resources to highlight why this approach is necessary and how it can be implemented. UK Feminista can provide additional training, advice and resources to schools wanting to develop a whole school approach to tackling sexism.

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