‘Be yourself, everyone else is taken’ – Oscar Wilde
There is no doubt that young people are under pressure to conform these days undoubtedly due to the explosion of mass communication and subsequent visibility. Websites, television, streaming, chat rooms, social media, CCTV, tablets, smart phones, 24 hour media coverage are all available 24/7. The dynamic of family life has changed – potentially we are all under closer scrutiny at work, at home, at leisure and also at school.
Educational press coverage over the Easter break has debated regarding boys and girls being able to be themselves…
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union said: “I think sexist bullying is the thing that doesn’t get talked about in school. I think for girls there is a very fine line between if you’re swotty and clever and you answer too many questions [then] you’re not attractive. If you are a girl, particularly an adolescent girl, there are so many names you can be called in school. There are very few for boys. It’s very hard for a girl to be brainy and feminine.” She told journalists in a briefing before the ATL conference that there was a “very big pressure” in all schools to “keep quiet and to listen to the boys talking”.
Damian Henderson, Deputy Head Academic of Taunton School responded to these comments … ’It is equally hard for a boy to be brainy and masculine at school as it is for a girl to be brainy and feminine. As for name-calling, there are plenty of negative appellations for both genders! Therefore let us not indulge the notion of ‘sexist bullying’ stalking classrooms up and down the land. The “conspiracy of near-silence amongst girls” affects boys too, and we must encourage all our young people to speak up confidently at every opportunity.’
When I highlighted the work of the suffragettes in assembly last year and why it was important for those over 18 to use their vote, I emphasized the importance of equality for all genders. No one should be judged or measured by their gender – neither by preferential treatment nor by being stereotyped. At school we aim to create a positive working environment, and having a strong study ethic to which all students subscribe….. girl or boy. We encourage our students to become like-minded in their concentration, resilient, intellectually curious, have the ability to work as a team, express their ideas freely and be guided by a strong moral compass.
At Westholme students of both genders are fortunate to enjoy extensive opportunities outside the classroom, and it is frequently in these settings that the most fruitful interaction between girls and boys takes place. The broader the co-curricular programme, the more accepting different groups are of each other, and the stronger and richer the relationships in the classroom become.
We have the responsibility to empower girls and boys alike, celebrate their achievements and talents equally and raise aspirations for all. We want to ensure that every young person is judged on their worth, their character, their achievements and the broader contribution they make to our community. In education we have a responsibility to help develop confidence in our young people with the resilience and courage to be themselves – this is the same for every boy and every girl across the school from 3 months of age through to 18……. it is a responsibility we take seriously and regard as a privilege.