Education & Family

Sexist banter 'should be tackled' in schools

Woman in lab Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Early stereotyping can put women off certain careers, the report suggests.

Schools are being urged to tackle the use of sexist language to avoid youngsters being gender stereotyped.

An Institute of Physics (IoP) guide argues schools do not take sexist "banter" as seriously as they do racist or homophobic language.

This can lead to gender stereotyping and turn girls away from studying science subjects as often as boys.

"No woman should feel that their gender is a barrier to their success," the government said.

The guide, Opening Doors, to be presented at a conference hosted by the IoP, also urged teachers to reflect on their own language to ensure they are "not inadvertently transmitting negative messages".

It is based on the results of interviews with staff and young people in 10 schools in England.

'Patchy knowledge'

It acknowledged that all schools had policies to counter racist, homophobic and sexist language placed "somewhere" on their websites.

But, in general, teachers' awareness was very patchy, it said, adding that sexist language was treated less seriously than the other two.

Homophobic attitudes survived in some schools, with cases cited of "students being deterred from taking subjects traditionally associated with the opposite gender because they were worried about homophobic bullying," it added.

The report said: "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."

The chair of the conference, Dame Barbara Stocking, 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 underperformance in GCSE grades."


Interestingly, the report referred as much to the gender stereotyping of boys as much as girls.

It said: "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 for Education said the report was a useful one but stopped short of saying schools should adopt its recommendations.

These included calls for a gender champion to be appointed in school leadership teams and ensuring that sexist language is as unacceptable as racist and homophobic language.

It also called for a strict policy to ensure that all subjects are presented equally to students in terms of relative difficulty.

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.

"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."

In June, Royal Society scientist Sir Tim Hunt had to resign from his post as honorary fellow of University College London, after comments he made about girls working in laboratories.

He said: "Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry."

The British biochemist, who was knighted in 2006, said the remarks were "intended as a light-hearted, ironic comment" but had been "interpreted deadly seriously" by his audience.

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