Ideas and a template letter to help you raise the issue of gender stereotyping in your child’s school.
If you’re concerned about gender stereotyping in school, the first port of call will be your child’s teacher. Depending on the issue, the best approach may be simply to ask the teacher to clarify their position and their approach, particularly if you’re going by what your own child has told you.
We are all very accustomed to the ‘gender norms’ of our society, and some issues – for example naming all the science groups after male scientists, or a home corner that’s overwhelmingly pink – may be oversights that are quickly changed once you draw attention to them. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Read what happened when Megan approached her daughter’s school about a homework assignment which assumed all inventors are men.
Better still may be to raise the issue before there’s a problem – ask at parents’ evenings or open evenings about the school’s policy on equality, you can use the links below to help explain your interest.
Offering a positive alternative will often get a better response than criticism – try our ten ways to challenge gender stereotypes in the classroom for ideas you could suggest.
On other occasions, it may be useful to go into more detail to explain why you think stereotyping is a problem. The Gender and Education Mythbuster goes through unhelpful myths about gender and education and offers research evidence to help you counter them in conversation with teachers, or other parents – there are a few more useful links below.
We hope the template letter below will give you a starting point. Feel free to use and adapt it to suit your own situation, and please do let us know how you get on, or if you have experience of raising this issue with teachers – comment below or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m [child’s] mum/ dad / carer / and we spoke recently about [xxxx].
I was disappointed to discover from my child that [insert details here.]
I am very concerned that [this action/event/activity] reinforces harmful and limiting gender stereotypes.
[If the issue is to do with dividing children up, eg pink and blue coat pegs or home boxes] Dividing children up into boys and girls may seem quick and easy, but it gives them the constant message that being a boy or a girl is the most important thing about them and has been shown to link with more stereotyped beliefs and behaviour in children.
[If the issue is activity aiming to promote boys’ reading] There is no evidence that targeting activities specifically at boys, or ‘boy friendly’ curricula have any benefit in reducing the difference between boys and girls in average reading attainment. On the contrary – The Boys Reading Commission report identified stereotyped attitudes as a key factor driving the reading gap, in particular “Male gender identities which do not value learning and reading.” Labelling books and activities for girls and boys reinforces those stereotyped identities. The Commission Report lists a number of interventions for improving boys’ reading which have been shown to be effective – none of them is gender-specific.
Believing certain things are ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ limits children’s choices and opportunities to learn, and can feed into bullying. As they grow older, narrow ideas of what boys and girls are like can further damage their chances as some boys pick up the message that learning and reading is ‘unmasculine’, and girls are less likely to pursue interests in science and technology subjects that they’ve learned are ‘unfeminine’.
The NUT’s Breaking the Mould report includes their research into gender stereotypes in the classroom, and shows how children still often limit themselves according to what they think boys or girls can do. I/we do our best at home to support my child in believing that any subject and any career is open to them – when I heard about [the activity/statement] I was very disappointed that you were therefore limiting the expectations and aspirations of the whole class.
Challenging gender stereotypes is likely to have positive effects in terms of improving educational and life outcomes for boys and girls alike, helping young people and adults to have respectful relationships and improving behaviour in our classrooms. Indeed, a significant body of research already exists to support this argument.
I’d like to remind you that under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for a school to discriminate against a pupil or prospective pupil by treating them less favourably because of their sex or sexual orientation. Indeed, I refer you to the school’s own Equal Opportunities Policy [link to your child’s school website, if they have an Equal Opportunities Policy] which sets out how all children are to be treated equally, regardless of sex, race, disability, faith or sexual orientation.
[If there’s no Equal Opportunities Policy refer the Head to the government’s advice for schools on the Equality Act and say: Ofsted requires schools to publish and monitor equalities objectives, and to show how they are fostering equal opportunities.]
Please can you let me know your view on this [incident/policy/activity], and the schools’ approach to supporting equality. I would like to see [the activity] changed so that gender stereotypes are not reinforced [for example by ….]
I’d also like reassurance that this issue will be taken seriously across the school. The Let Toys Be Toys campaign website has a number of resources that may be useful, including simple tips for challenging stereotypes in the classroom as well as lesson plans and links to research: www.22.214.171.124/lettoysbetoys.org.uk/schools
NUT’s Breaking the Mould report: https://www.teachers.org.uk/educationandequalities/breakingthemould
Let Toys Be Toys schools resources: www.126.96.36.199/lettoysbetoys.org.uk/schools
Highlighting gender promotes stereotyped views in pre-schoolers: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101116081430.htm
Boys’ Reading Commission Report: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf
Gender issues in school, what works to improve girls’ and boys achievement: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/9094/1/00601-2009BKT-EN.pdf