Pay attention to detail next time you are in conversation with someone or listening to a presentation. Really listen. Do you ever hear the subtle, underlying messages that I heard today?
No teacher looks forward to a staff meeting; if you are in the profession you know the ones. Sat in a stuffy hall after a tiring day teaching, listening to things that you either already know or could have been put in an email. After one of the hottest days of the year this is the situation I found myself in today. First on the agenda was an outside speaker talking about how to support young carers.
In a sense, the topic of his presentation does not matter, it was the underlying gender stereotypes which caused irritation. I decided to carry out my own little test. As our guest spoke I began to notice him referring to ‘mum’ when giving examples of people who needed care. At the top of my notes pages I wrote ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. I kept a tally. In the 20 minute presentation our speaker referred to the person being cared for as ‘mum’ six times; not once did he refer to them as ‘dad’.
‘So what?’ I hear you say. ‘It’s just a figure of speech’. ‘Don’t be so sensitive.’ ‘You’re such a feminist.’
Sensitive: no. Feminist: unapologetically yes.
Why was it mum and not dad on every occasion? Is it that a woman’s role is to be the carer? Women are seen as the ones who do the cooking and cleaning, looking after their family. Maybe it’s because women have historically been submissive and need protecting. Could it be that it would be weak for a man to admit he needs help? Is a man less likely to need the support of others?
Whatever the reason, clearly no malice was intended. I am also fully aware that we all have some innate gender bias. However, if this is to change for future generations we need to challenge each other and think more carefully about the impact of, what we deem to be, insignificant comments.
An article in the Telegraph, on 3rd March, stated that some academy chains are considering opening grammar schools, particularly aimed at disadvantaged pupils, to aid social mobility. This is seemingly going to become a reality after Philip Hammond announced in his budget that there would be funding of £320m for 110 new free schools, taking the total to 500. The conservative government have also given the green light for these new free schools to be selective grammars. This is all set with a backdrop of shrinking school budgets leading to larger class sizes, staff redundancies and increasing teacher workload. Is this really the time to build new, selective schools that divides the teaching community rather than unites?
My perspective is perhaps not one that you would expect: I am a beneficiary of the grammar school system. Growing up in Kent I passed my 11+ and spent seven years at an all girls grammar school. It was a wonderful school with brilliant teachers and a range of extra-curricular opportunities. I was surrounded by, on the whole, like minded individuals who wanted to achieve. I gained the results I needed to access the university course of my choice and a vast majority of my year group did similarly. Did I benefit from the school I went to? Yes. Would I have achieved similar outcomes at one of the local comprehensive schools? Likely.
I am not fully opposed to grammar schools; there is logic to grouping students of a similar ability together. However, I disagree with the concept that intelligence is determined at 11 and therefore fixed. As a teacher I have countless examples of students who haven’t shone until 13, 14,15 or even 16; these young people, in a grammar system, could potentially miss out on educational opportunities. A grammar system can only truly work if there are multiple entry points but what student would willingly leave their original high school to move to the local grammar?
The aforementioned Telegraph article focused on the Inspiration Trust, an influential academy chain in the East of England, and their desire to open a grammar school for disadvantaged students in Norwich. It was revealed that the trust has been in talks with the Department of Education about the possibility of opening the new free school. Speaking as both a teacher and a local resident I strongly oppose this move. Many schools in the local area are seeing real-term spending cuts that are impacting on disadvantaged students. Money should be spent on ensuring better provision for all students in the schools that Norwich and the surrounding area already has. If class sizes continue to rise and vital support staff within schools are cut due to budget deficits then the disadvantaged will be the most likely to suffer. A grammar school is not the answer to improve social mobility. We have an abundance of talented professionals working in education all of whom share the ethos that every child, regardless of background, wealth and privilege, should be able to fulfil their potential. Our education system should be one that mirrors the rich diversity of our society; segregation is not the answer.