Gender Respect Project 2013-2016

Aiming to help children and young people to understand, question and challenge gender inequality and violence.

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Teacher Blog: Stephen

Stephen continues to challenge young children’s stereotypical views in his school Nursery. Here are a few examples of recent conversations:

Careful with your nails

This morning three girls were sitting in the home area. This term it has started as a bedroom. They were pretending to put on make up etc. I sat down and joined them. They were talking about painting nails. I suggested I would like my nails painted. They smiled. I then asked for pink please. One of the girls looked bemused.

‘You can’t have pink nails’. Then a pause. Then she said,

‘You just can’t. Men can’t have pink.’

I then talked about the colour pink and how it was a colour that both boys and girls might choose. I can like pink if I make the choice. We can all make our own choices about what we like and don’t like.


Not a girl

New to nursery and during his second week, one of the boys with a very assertive stance proclaimed his dislike towards girls in nursery.

This developed into a conversation between a member of staff, Mrs Scholes, and the child.

‘Why not girls?’

‘Because I don’t.’

‘Do you like mum?’

‘Yes I like mum.’

‘Do you like me?’ (Mrs Scholes)


‘Do you like Miss Aspinall?’


‘We’re all girls so if you like us then you do like girls after all.’

Teaching is so more meaningful when you can take your lead from a child and expand their understanding. This helped a young child realise that perhaps he didn’t like all girls!


Who said it’s your turn?

We opened the outdoors and the children wanted a ramp building before we got the bikes out. The group consisted of four girls and two boys. The girls worked together with the ramp carrying the large blocks. The boys briefly observed them, then moved to the slide. The girls finished the ramp so we went to the bike shed. The boys returned seeing the shed door open.

They pushed forward expecting a bike. I explained that the bikes were for the ramp builders and as they had moved away they would have to wait.

Staff can teach children that pushing to the front when it suits them doesn’t work. How often do children muscle others aside and if left unchallenged we make it a successful strategy. How often do boys muscle girls off the computer keyboard when they want a turn? Very often with the words ‘Let me show you…’


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Teacher Blog: Stephen

Gender Respect Pupil Conference: What happened next

The four school council members who attended the pupil conference were buzzing on the train home to Barnsley. I wasn’t sure if this was just a feel good factor or a sustained desire to bring about a change.

You can see what they planned to do on this film from the pupil conference:

By Thursday of the following week, they were knocking on the nursery door with a list that they had already completed. They explained they had started a presentation, made a poster for around school, were working on leaflets and now needed our Headteacher to allocate a whole school assembly.

Our Headteacher was delighted and taken aback by their passion. He quickly provided a date for an assembly for them to work towards. Dearne FM, the local radio station, were at school the next day spreading the news about how eager the children were to address Gender Respect.

Today they were very professional, confident and worked clearly in a team to share the message to the rest of school. I’m delighted that the ‘pupil voice’ is now discussing more than dressing up days and fundraising and that children are supporting their own community by voicing their feelings and desires.


It was interesting that after numerous days working together, the boys didn’t show for one of the lunchtime sessions. The girls said that the boys had needed a day to play out and that they had let them. The boys in effect had left the girls to write and design so they could play out. However, the boys still wanted a say when it came to decision making.

It generated a discussion and I reminded them that we are all in it together with a shared responsibility. You cannot opt out and yet still want a say. They understood the message and recognised that sacrificing playing out is part of teamwork. They agreed that after the assembly they would meet one lunchtime a week.

They still have the passion for Gender Respect and I’m looking forward to seeing the impact across the school.

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Teacher Blog: Stephen

 A safe place to show my socks

One of the boys who comes from a family with a history of aggressive behaviour is enjoying the carpet area. He has four pairs of socks on brought from home. He takes them off one by one. The staff are curious by the third layer. He then reveals the final pair. Pink and white. I ask him his favourite colour. With a smile and with pride he shouts ‘It’s pink.’

How pleasing that nursery is a safe environment where he can be himself. How sad that he conceals the socks prior to nursery.

Proof that we need to support boys who feel that they can’t be themselves.

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Teacher Blog: Stephen

Summer Term Events

Sports day, speech day, prize giving, proms and new parent welcoming meetings. All these events are occasions when gender inequality can be an issue. Last year I sat in my son’s school for speech day and was horrified when every child chosen in Key Stage 2 was a girl. Equally I would have had the same reaction if it had just been boys that were chosen. Schools should reflect a community where both girls’ and boys’ contributions to the community are recognised. So these are some of the questions I would be asking:

Sports Day

How are the children chosen? Is it mixed gender or gender specific? If as a teacher you are aware that boys or girls outperform in a particular activity is it worth considering separating the sexes to stop it becoming one gender is better than others? (bearing in mind that single sex activities can reinforce differences) To encourage competition children need to know they have a chance of winning.

Speech day or prize giving

Are all sections of the community equally represented? Are the prizes not just a reflection on academic success? Have you a prize for the boy and girl who has demonstrated kindness to others? Is there a prize for a boy and girl who has been an ambassador to others?


A challenge more in primary than secondary. Lots of discussion and opinion. Parents and schools with different viewpoints. I personally have reservations whether primary is the right place. I’m very aware of self-image and I’m concerned that 10/ 11 year olds are encouraged to question their looks. Prom boy and prom girl misleads children to question their own appearance. For 10s and 11s a leavers party, in my opinion, is more appropriate.

New parents meetings

Are they at a time that encourages all parents to attend? Are there messages we want to share with parents that help parents to understand that equality in our school is important? I want parents in my school to know that an equal number of boys and girls are on the school council. I also want parents to realise that behaviour that doesn’t respect others isn’t tolerated. I want parents to know that a safe environment for all is equally important as academic achievement.

Over the summer lets see schools take a responsible lead on gender respect.

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Teacher Blog Stephen: Christmas in EYFS

Who would have thought that a discussion amongst four year olds about a baby born at Christmas time would have generated so much discussion with regards to gender?

Two of the four-year-old girls were sat dressed up in nativity costumes exploring a book of Christmas carols. The children thought that the baby in the drawing, in the arms of Mary, was calm, peaceful and quiet. I suggested it might be a boy, but they had already decided it was a girl. I then told them that the drawing was of baby Jesus, a baby boy. I explained that all babies can be calm, peaceful and quiet, in the same way that they can also be excitable and loud at times too. The baby was calm because he was in the loving arms of his family.

The rest of the conversation then resorted to the usual pattern of colours and gender, which I have experienced many times before.

Later on the two girls  were looking at the shepherds looking after the sheep. Even with the drawing of both men and women as shepherds the children stated that ‘Only men can be shepherds.’

I responded that ‘Shepherdesses’ are women that look after sheep and that it’s not just men that do this.

You can understand why young children might think this. Over the next three weeks many schools will be having the boys play the shepherds and the girls, angels in nativity plays, even though we know Angel Gabriel was a man (as far as angels have a gender) and that women worked as shepherdesses in the hills.


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Teacher blog, Stephen: Adults modelling respect for each other is so important

At a meeting today Helen suggested I put in writing something I observe in schools everyday.

I consider myself lucky to be in a school where the adults recognise that children observe how the adults in the school interact with each other. There seems little point preparing PSHE lessons in schools where the adults have little or no respect for each other.

It’s pointless the children hearing what is taught but seeing the adults doing the complete opposite. This confuses them and it may result in children starting to copy this behaviour themselves.

Schools that have a mixture of male and female staff have to be very wary that they do not send the message that ‘it’s the male staff who deal with behaviour’.

Behaviour should be addressed by the member of staff who is dealing with it, with other staff in a supportive role offering their presence but not being seen to take over.

Schools are not looking for superheros who come charging in to the rescue undermining everyone else in the process. The child seeing that the female dinner supervisor is dealing with it helps the child understand that all staff, whether female or male, teacher or not, are capable of managing behaviour. This respect for all the adults then influences how the child perceives the different genders in school.

I also think female staff can help male staff by helping to get across the caring side of male staff to pupils and male staff can help by getting across the message that female staff are more than capable of taking a lead on behavioural issues.

Challenging the ‘Wait til your dad gets home’ message, or the threat of ‘If you don’t behave I will send you to Mr….’ is key to challenging gender stereotypes in schools.

These gender perceptions are not healthy for any community and in my experience males in schools don’t want to be perceived as uncaring.

On the flip side I think female members of staff don’t need or want people undermining their authority by children seeing males as the only ones in authority. That’s why I like the phrase TEAM TEACH.

Behaviour should always be managed by a TEAM.

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Teacher blog, Stephen: Wow! It’s working

We spend so much time formulating ideas to challenge stereotypes and perceptions of children, but are they working?

I’m sat chatting at the Playdough station with a group of older nursery children, when suddenly one of the boys asks me,

‘Do you like pink?’

‘Yes I do. That’s why I wear a pink shirt or jumper to nursery sometimes.’

‘I don’t’ he says.


‘I just don’t.’

One of the girls joins in, ‘I like pink and I like all colours.’

The title of this blog is ‘Wow its working’ because although the boy doesn’t like the colour pink, he had noticed the colour of the jumper I had been wearing and wanted to talk to me about it.

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Teacher blog, Stephen: Colours mean so much

Because of a mixture of new starters and older children, the first half term in nursery is very busy, with lots of conversation as the children get to know each other.

I was cold one morning so I wore my pink/purple jumper.

I sat at a table full of maths games.

Two of the older nursery girls join me and started to play and started to giggle at my jumper.

‘What’s so funny?’ I said. ‘Its my favourite colour.’

‘Its pink, boys can’t have pink as a favourite colour.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you’re a boy.’

Once again, these children were as young as three, but had already formed gender stereotypes regarding specific colours.

A lovely and insightful conversation.

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Teacher blog, Stephen: Baking

The activity was baking buns. The mixture was ready and the children were ready to choose a coloured bun case. When it came to my turn I chose pink.

Two of the girls giggled, then commented,

‘You can’t choose pink its a girls colour.’ Other children around the table agreed.

I asked, ‘Why?’

‘It just is. We have pink and boys have blue.’

I then said, ‘I like pink and it’s a colour I have chosen.’

Then one of the boys spoke up saying that he liked pink too.

I feel that my choice gave him the courage to share his preference. The conversation confirmed to the children that everyone can have a favourite colour and they should be free to make their own choice.


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Teacher Blog: EYFS

The activity was baking buns. The mixture was ready and the children were ready to choose a coloured bun case. When it came to my turn I chose pink. Two of the girls giggled, then commented, ‘You can’t choose pink it’s a girls’ colour.’ Other children around the table agreed.

I asked, ‘Why?’

‘It just is. We have pink and boys have blue.’

I then said, ‘I like pink and it’s a colour I have chosen.’

Then one of the boys spoke up saying that he liked pink. I feel that my choice gave him the courage to share his preference. The conversation confirmed to the children that everyone can have a favourite colour and they should be free to make their own choice.