Earlier in the year, harrowing personal accounts of misogyny, harassment and sexual assault from children and young adults around the country received a great deal of media attention. The impact on schools – on society – has been profound and many have realised they need to act quickly but not rashly.
What is encouraging is that the subsequent debate and discussion about gendered violence and gendered inequality is widespread, but actions speak louder than words. Schools have a central role to play in raising awareness, challenging, and changing societal behaviour. Relying solely on the traditional PSHE curriculum is not enough.
Bryanston is a school that has always celebrated its culture of openness, diversity, and tolerance, but I am neither naïve nor complacent. Bryanston was mentioned on the Everyone’s Invited website and there is more we can, and will, do.
This commitment underpins our work with Bold Voices, an organisation that aims to educate young people about gender inequality and gendered violence. Founder, Natasha Eeles and I have worked together for several years. Last year, we started to plan a comprehensive and sustainable programme at Bryanston to champion equality and challenge some widespread and engrained stereotypes: blue vs pink, roles around the house, gender bias in certain professions, in the choice of academic subjects, even of musical instruments.
However, what must not happen is for schools to be left to tackle this cultural concern alone. As adults, parents or teachers we must take responsibility not to be a bystander, to speak out, to set an example and model the change we want to see, calling out gendered stereotypes, slurs and insults.
The concerning findings of the recent Ofsted report show how many victims felt there was no point in reporting harmful sexual incidents, and simply shrugged them off as ‘normal’ behaviour. I have no doubt that many teachers and parents significantly underestimate the extent of the problem.
To make reform, the government has a vital role to play. Just as importantly, so do parents. It’s essential that children get the same messages at home and at school. As a teacher and parent of three young children, I understand that it’s not always easy to know what to say or how to support one’s children. I am no expert, but simply accepting that fact is an important first step.
There is a lot of valuable advice available and research will quickly pay off. An honest, understanding and a non-judgemental approach when talking to one’s children is invaluable. Listen to them: what do they think, what have they experienced? Many schools, like Bryanston, also offer educational support for parents via seminars or online resources. I encourage parents to engage with these and take advantage of them.
Our reflections have now widened the scope of the Bold Voice programme, ahead of its launch this month. It will be ongoing, not just throughout this academic year, but in the years ahead. Working with pupils and Bold Voices, the programme will evolve and adapt. It will be for pupils, staff and parents, while also involving the local community.
Everyone, whatever their gender, age or background, must feel included in these conversations.
Bryanston is a proud member of the Blandford Schools’ Network of local state schools, the majority of which are primary schools. The intention is for our pupils to work with younger children at an age where gendered perceptions are formed.
This is not virtue signalling. It is the right thing to do. We have a lot to learn, I have a lot to learn, but we are committed. It is for the long-term. I am proud to lead a school where pupil voice is empowered. Where students stand up for equality and mutual respect is in the fabric of their being.
READ MORE FROM AUTUMN/WINTER 2021