Lessons learnt from the Gender Action Launch Event
I can’t believe it has been nearly two months since we launched Gender Action with teachers at City Hall. The event was exciting, not only as we got to hear from Professor Becky Francis, and educators and activists on our panel and leading our workshops, but also because we had such quality conversations with teachers and practitioners, from nurseries up to colleges. This was an enriching experience, and confirmed the need for Gender Action. It was important for us to spend the afternoon session hearing from you all on the frontline of education; a chance to reflect on a packed day. In this blog, I am going to look over what we discussed in this session, the issues raised and how teachers and practitioners planned to build on their knowledge to challenge gender stereotypes in themselves, their colleagues, and their schools and settings.
We asked two simple questions of the participants, reflecting on what they had taken in from the keynote, panel and workshops:
What did you find most surprising?
What is most relevant to your school/setting?
I have summarised some of the key themes that arose in the discussions of these questions.
“WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST SURPRISING?”
Our unconscious biases
Many of the teachers and practitioners were surprised by the prevalence of unconscious and implicit biases - the ways in which we all can unintentionally reinforce gender stereotypes, particularly in the ways we use language. The importance of owning our own biases, as highlighted by panellist Pran Patel, was seen as revelatory to many.
The prevalence of organisations working to tackle gender stereotypes
Some were surprised by the amount of organisations interested in this field. We held six workshops at the launch that were led by:
As well as organisations whose main area of work is in gender or education, many larger organisations are also interested in challenging gender stereotypes. Our supporter page lists all the organisations that have made a commitment to us in support of our work.
The prevalence of sexual harassment and the amount of girls affected by sexual harassment surprised many present at the event. Anna Cole and Dr Mary Bousted discussed this on the panel, referencing the NEU’s report with UK Feminista - “It’s just everywhere”. This was seen as a key area for concern that must be challenged in schools.
Men in early years
There was surprise surrounding the issues of the lack of men in early years education, and many were surprised that there were men in early years at the event! June O’Sullivan MBE spoke on our panel about how London Early Years Foundation had worked to improve the amount of men they had working in their nurseries.
Surprised at being unsurprised
Many teachers said they were surprised at how unsurprising much of the information was – many of the issues we were discussing were familiar from their own school days and their experiences in the classroom. However, this lack of surprise did not translate into apathy: rather this shared awareness and experience across the educational stages appeared to invigorate people to say enough is enough.
“WHAT IS MOST RELEVANT TO YOUR SCHOOL/SETTING?”
After discussing what had surprised them, this second question led people to discuss what were their key takeaways from the event, in terms of cultural change and activity they could carry out in their school/setting. I have grouped these ideas by how they fit in with five of our six Champion focus areas.
The largest group of responses for this area would fit under the ‘Personal Practice’ area. Many of the teachers and practitioners we spoke to on the day saw challenging their own biases and, helping their colleagues do the same, as an important first step in challenging gender stereotypes across the whole school.
Many teachers were keen to conduct audits to assess the extent to which boys and male members of staff dominated classroom discussions, and to check their own interactions were balanced and equitable.
They also highlighted the importance of giving themselves sufficient time to reflect and to find time for carrying through initiatives, as well as looking after their own well-being.
Many teachers were keen to facilitate safe spaces for student led discussions and to help establish feminist societies in their schools. Discussions was had about also ensuring that boys were not seen as exempt or uninvolved from such discussions, ensuring they had a platform, without reproducing unequal power dynamics.
In terms of stereotypes in learning, practitioners and teachers from early years and primary were interested in ensuring that play was not being gendered in their settings, so were looking to include gender neutral toys, neutral surroundings and settings, as well as monitoring children at play to spot if there was any gendered play and to ensure negative or limiting stereotypes were not being reinforced.
Ensuring clear school policies and ethoses were highlighted as important – providing a consistent message as a school community, rather than relying on inconsistent opinions as individuals. All policies should be considered through a gender lens, not just your equalities policy. For example, it is important to look at your anti-bullying policy to ensure that sexism is considered.
Involving the whole community from the beginning was also seen as important, incorporating all teachers, staff, parents, carers, governors and beyond. Working with parents, through workshops for example, was seen as a good way of ensuring that the school’s ethos spread more widely, as well as getting input from parents and carers.
As well as these focus areas, other key themes arose from the discussion.
Language was seen as a cross-cutting issue – ensuring teachers and staff were not using gendered language, challenging instances of stereotyping or sexist bullying amongst students, and even empowering staff to challenge the gendered language of parents, were all raised as areas to make progress in. This issue was discussed in the workshop by Lifting Limits, who have written a blog on this issue here.
Data and evidence were seen as essential to find out the issues in their setting and which children were involved. Assessing data was discussed in the workshop by the Improving Gender Balance Officers from the Institute of Physics, who have written a blog on this here.
An important part for this first year of Gender Action is learning – we are keen to ensure that our programme refines and grows, and have been seeking input from teachers, researchers and academics to ensure we are as effective as possible. This is one of the reasons having the evaluation session at the event was so important to us, and we hope that you have found this summary useful to your learning.