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Banning gendered language in schools ‘inappropriate and unnecessary’

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Published on 22/02/2022

Banning gendered language in schools is “completely unnecessary”, the Government had said.

The news follows reports in the Telegraph that teachers were advised to use gender-neutral language in a lecture organised by the NEU teaching union, replacing words such as “boy” and “girl” with “pupil” or “student”.

Dr Elly Barnes, chief executive of the Educate & Celebrate charity, told an NEU webinar that teachers could be addressed as “Teacher” followed by their surname rather than “Mr”, “Miss” or “Mrs”.

One of the attendees raised concerns that this could also mean the banning of terms such as “sir” or “miss”, which pupils often use to get the attention of their teacher.

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A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said that banning gendered terms “in the classroom is inappropriate and completely unnecessary”.

“It should not be happening in our classrooms,” they added.

An attendee at the webinar told the PA news agency that the suggestions made around language were examples to illustrate how schools could start a conversation about gender-neutral language, rather than policy directives.

“There are people who neither identify as male or female working in positions where the traditional Mr/Sir or Ms/Mrs/Miss no longer fit,” he said.

The attendee added that the comments about pupils using an alternative to “sir” or “miss” were “a question (that) came in from someone who was watching the webinar that the presenter was responding to”.

He said he understood the response to the question as a suggestion for schools to think about alternative ways of addressing trans and non-binary pupils and members of staff.

“Historically, look at ‘sir’ and ‘miss’ in education,” he said.

“A married female teacher would be forced to leave being a teacher to become a family maker. So the use of the word ‘miss’ is really quite outdated. I tell the kids that I have not been knighted and don’t deserve the title ‘sir’ yet.

“I identify as he/him and obviously Mr is my prefix, but for someone who is they/them they have the right to decide how they are addressed.”

The teacher said Dr Barnes had included a school overseas as an example of how schools might use more inclusive language where the prefix “Teacher” was used instead of Mr, Mrs or Miss.

“I have students who are ‘they/them’ and they should feel comfortable with the schools they attend,” he said.

“The webinar was about beginning a discussion about it, not a policy change for the whole education system.”

An NEU spokesperson said: “An increasing number of teenagers are identifying as non-binary, and education needs to respond to this – but the NEU does not believe that schools can or should adopt gender-neutral language across the board.

“This training came from an external provider and was organised locally. The NEU will review its contents to ensure it is consistent with our policies.”

The DfE is due to publish guidance on political impartiality for schools this week, which is expected to include advice on teaching about gender identity.

On Sunday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The new guidance I will issue clarifies the requirement for teachers to make a balanced presentation of opposing views on political issues, so that the complexity of many of these important questions is understood.

“It is not for teachers to tell people what they should think on political issues or how they should vote.”


What do you think about removing gendered language from schools?  Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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