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Don't call them girls: Belfast school told not to use gender to describe pupils

Published 23/06/2016

Schools have been advised to avoid gender terms when referring to pupils.
Schools have been advised to avoid gender terms when referring to pupils.

A leading girls' schools association has issued advice to a Belfast school to not use the terms "girls, young women or young ladies" when addressing pupils - in certain circumstances.

The Girls' Schools Association (GSA) advised that "pupils" or "students" would be appropriate terms for addressing those in the classroom "particularly when transgender pupils are present" to be more inclusive.

The association represents the heads of many of the top performing day and boarding schools in the UK independent schools sector.

It issued its advice as part of its 'Summer Briefing for Heads' in which it shares expert advice, legal guidelines and good practice on a wide range of issues.

Caroline Jordan, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), said that, in some circumstances, staff should use gender-neutral language.

The advice also recommends creating unisex lavatories.

The Sunday Times reported that Mrs Jordan had advised that "In assemblies instead of saying 'Girls, go to lessons', staff should consider saying 'Pupils, go to lessons'.

It was also reported some single-sex schools have already adopted more neutral language in situations such as assemblies and others are considering doing so, Mrs Jordan said.

It's been welcomed as a move towards more gender neutral environments.

 

Following recent widespread press coverage, the GSA issued a further statement.

It said: "Although some of the coverage oversimplifies what is a complex pastoral issue, we are pleased to see that the fact that our schools enable all pupils to learn in an accepting, comfortable environment has attracted attention.

"The crux of the matter is that schools have a duty of care to all pupils, including those who decide to transition. Language is one part of this complex pastoral issue and GSA schools, which have a long history of excellence in pastoral care, are at the forefront of showing best practice in including transgender pupils.

"For the avoidance of doubt, we believe that using certain terminology – such as ‘pupils’ or ‘students’ rather than ‘girls’ – is appropriate in certain circumstances, and particularly when transgender pupils are present. It is up to individual schools to interpret and apply this advice when appropriate."

Victoria College in Belfast has been issued with the advice. It is the only Northern Ireland school which is a member of the association.

It told the BBC's Stephen Nolan show it had no commented to make on if the advice will be followed.

The Belfast Telegraph also contacted the school. It said no one was available to respond.

The GSA is not suggesting schools stop using the words “girls” or “boys” altogether but should consider different terms in certain circumstances.

Jay Stewart, of Gendered Intelligence, told The Sunday Times: “Young people want to feel they belong in their school environment and they are not made to feel ‘other’ or weirdos or freaks.”

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