Keep the gender agenda out of schools

It was inevitable – with the current obsession over gender in our society – that the BBC would commission a programme about a ‘social experiment’ centring on a gender-neutral primary school.

In No More Boys and Girls: Can our Kids go Gender Free?, Dr Javid Abelmoneim takes over Year Three at Lanesend Primary in the Isle of Wight, to carry out his gender-neutral experiment. The children are taught in an environment devoid of as much gendered language as possible. Books reinforcing masculine or feminine roles are removed, and the youngsters are even introduced to the concept of gender-neutral lavatories.

The reasoning behind this social experiment is the supposed gender gap in our society. The implication is that kids are disadvantaged by the system – girls must be given more confidence, while boys must empathise with their female counterparts’ struggle.

Ignoring the fact that it is actually white working-class boys who struggle most at school, the focus on building up girls’ confidence is problematic. It reinforces the idea that without active intervention by a third party, girls cannot hope to compete with their male classmates. There’s no better way of convincing girls that they’re not naturally apt than telling them that they require assistance to achieve. Far from empowering girls to do better, this approach is deeply patronising.

Girls aren’t underperforming in schools. In fact, they outperform boys – the majority of undergraduates in British universities are female. In early employment, women also out-earn men. If the odds were stacked against girls from the start, surely this wouldn’t be the case? It’s quite clear that girls don’t need gender-neutral schooling to get ahead.

This is simply an attempt to plant the adult obsession with gender into the classroom. Do primary-school children really need to be taught to confront people for ‘gender stereotyping’ at an age when many can barely read? Of course not.

Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.

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