A new guide from the Institute of Physics is urging schools to tackle sexist language in order to prevent young people from being stereotyped by gender.
Many schools take a hard line against racist or homophobic talk, but the Institute of Physics argues that they seem less serious about dealing with sexist stereotyping.
This stereotyping can lead to less girls taking science subjects compared to boys, while boys can be subjected to a culture of not trying in school in order to fit in. The guide, called Opening Doors, is to be presented at a conference in a bid to ensure teachers are “not inadvertently transmitting negative messages.”
The Opening Doors guide was created following interviews with staff and young people at 10 schools across England, and while it noted policies were in place to tackle racism and homophobia, sexism was seemingly treated less seriously.
There is some cross-over, however, as the guide noted in cases where students were “being deterred from taking subjects traditionally associated with the opposite gender because they were worried about homophobic bullying.”
The guide continued, “The senior leadership team would assert 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.”
Dame Barbara Stocking, who is chairing the IoP conference, asserted, “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 underperformance in GCSE grades.”
The guide seconded this assertion, saying, “Lack of confidence and resilience can present a barrier for girls taking subjects perceived to be the most challenging and boys can get caught up in a culture of not working hard.”
The Department of Education agreed that the report was useful, but didn’t go as far as to say schools should adopt the recommendations it puts forward. These recommendations included the appointment of ‘gender champions’ among school leaders to stamp out sexist ‘banter.’ It also called for subjects to be presented equally to students – based on difficulty rather than along lines of gender stereotypes.
A DfE spokesman said, “This Government wants young women to feel empowered to make choices about what they do with their life including their choice of career. No woman should feel that their gender is a barrier to their success and nor should they face stereotyping at any stage of their lives.”
The spokesperson went on, “Getting more girls into careers in science, technology and engineering is a key priority for this government, and is why we are encouraging more women to study STEM subjects – helping bridge a gap in our future economy and getting them on the path to some of the highest paid careers.”