Schools have been warned that they could cause their female pupils anxiety if they address them collectively as ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’.
The new advice aimed at headteachers came this week at the Girls’ School Association annual conference from the Government’s former mental health tsar Natasha Devon.
Natasha Devon highlighted the importance of not ‘constantly reminding females of their gender’ because, she warned, it could cause anxiety in pupils and is also ‘patronising’.
‘I don’t think it’s useful to be constantly reminded of your gender all the time and all the stereotypes that go with it,’ she explained.
Instead, Natasha suggests using terms such as ‘pupils’, ‘students’ or ‘people’, and also emphasised that this rule should apply to both male and female students.
By collectively addressing male students as ‘boys’ could evoke a sense of ‘being macho and not showing your feeling,’ Natasha explained.
She also added that this was good practice in case there are transgender pupils in a class too.
Natasha Devon said that she hoped by taking away the use of gender when addressing students it would ‘improve their mental health’ by removing any allusion to stereotypes.
‘If your narrative is saying girls don’t get angry, or boys don’t cry, or girls aren’t allowed to do this, or boys aren’t allowed to do this, then that is potentially going to have an impact on your well-being,’ she continued.
‘So I hope that in taking away the negative stereotypes associated with gender, we can ultimately improve their mental health.’
However, Natasha’s comments were met with a mixed reaction from critics and parents. While some embraced her open-minded approach, others accused her of ‘creating a problem’ and called her suggestion ‘absurd’.
‘The only way children can feel anxious about being called boys or girls is if you tell them they should. You are creating a problem so you can give a solution,’ tweeted one commenter, while another added: ‘This is ridiculous, as if people need telling how to greet a group of people.’
Others praised Natasha’ views however. ‘Inspirational and captivating talk last night. So much useful food for thought at precisely the right time,’ wrote one person on Twitter.
‘We need more not fewer conversations on complexity of gender, but tolerant ones’ wrote someone else.
What do you think? Would you alter the way you address a group of children or student based on Natasha’s observations? Let us know in the comments below.