In my last post I wrote about the recent BBC programme on gender in education (see here) and the impact that unconscious bias (also known as the problem you have that you don’t know you have,) has in our education system. I wrote about the ‘lovely teacher’ but I didn’t name him. Well, he is Graham Andre and despite being caught up in a flurry of TV and radio appearances following the huge public interest in the show, he has made time to share his thoughts with us on Changing People. (I told you he was lovely!) He is also the very first man I have interviewed for the blog.
Graham, you were very brave to agree to appear on the BBC programme on gender. How did it come about?
Well Jane, we were sent an email by the producers ‘Outline Productions’ late last year with their idea for a project based on the good gender neutral work that has happened in Sweden. They wondered if they could reproduce something similar in the UK and would we be interested? Our head, Caroline Sice, is pretty forward thinking and emailed it to me. I didn’t at the time have much of an idea about the work in Sweden but thought if it helps the children in any way, why not! After several weeks of interviews and filming we were lucky enough to be selected.
How long have you been teaching at the school? What first attracted you to teaching as a career?
I have been teaching for five years so this is my sixth, I was a teaching assistant before that and I was working in another school when my current head suggested I do a part time degree and become a teacher. I honestly did not ever think I would become a teacher as I didn’t think I was ready to mould the future of so many children, but I am so glad I did it.
When you trained, was any attention given to the differences, or otherwise, of boys and girls? Have you had any subsequent training on the idea of unconscious bias?
Do you know I don’t think it was Jane, we were taught a little about the hidden curriculum and promoting citizenship and manners etc. but never about how the language you use and the way you treat children can be so powerful. Maybe something for the future?
How did you feel when the presenter highlighted your ‘sexist’ (sorry!) naming of the boys and girls? What was it, ‘Love’ or ‘Sweetie’ for the girls and ‘Mate’ and ‘Buddy’ for the boys? Had anyone, including the children ever commented on it before? (For the record, I thought you dealt with it really well. I call everybody darling, regardless of gender… which isn’t really PC either….)
Thank you, I was aware of my use of terms of endearment and my head during observations had pointed this out to me. What I didn’t realise was how often I used them and that they were re-enforcing gender stereotypes. Now watching old recorded lessons makes me cringe with the use of endearments!
The programme necessarily edits and shortens a lot. When did you first start to see a change in the children’s behaviour following the more gender neutral style you were introducing?
It was a gradual process, I didn’t see changes overnight but by about week four, references by the children themselves to gender neutrality, fairness and being able to achieve was pretty embedded. The challenge is to keep those views and behaviours going.
I am not sure when the programme was recorded or how much time you have had to put the learning into action. I know you have continued the ideas of gender neutral teaching and shared it within the school. What further changes has this had?
The filming finished around Easter so I have had a term of promoting gender neutrality in my class without the cameras there. We do a weekly ‘Question Time’ debate where I put a statement on the whiteboard such as ‘Men are better at looking after babies than women’ and the children debate whether they agree or disagree. I have some lovely video of one debate where DNA is brought into the argument!
We also now have ‘Gender Neutral’ as part of our curriculum, so not only do we plan for Literacy, Numeracy etc. but being gender neutral, so our next topic is Harry Potter and we will look at the roles of men and women within the story and study the great work done by Emma Watson and JK Rowling.
Can you name one thing you did that had the biggest impact? And one thing that surprised you the most?
I don’t think there was one thing that had an impact I think it was the sum of the parts, I think all of the interventions needed to be put in place for it to work. The one thing that surprised me was that although I thought I knew my children really well, I didn’t know that girls felt so low in their own confidence and to quite such an extent boys struggle to talk about their emotions.
The parents shown in the film were presumably self selecting and therefore largely supportive, despite being ‘gently ‘outed ’for their choice of toys, etc. Have you had any resistance from influences outside of the children’s school life? Did the parents keep up with the changes?
The parents have been super, in fact they regularly send me pictures of their children doing things that break gender stereotypes. They are also brilliant at finding things in the media or in shops that are gender specific.
I know from our conversations that you are committed to seeing a more gender neutral way of educating boys and girls being rolled out across the board. How are you doing this?
I have spoken to the teachers and teaching assistants in school about the work done during the documentary and the impact it has had. We have a shared drive in which I have saved lots of resources that I have created during and after the documentary. We really want a gender neutral school, including posters with ‘Girls can do maths’, ‘Boys can Dance’ messages etc.
As for making other schools gender neutral, I am more than happy to talk to schools about my experience and help in any way that I can. I also think Javid Abdelmoneim is passionate about the project and would like to start a campaign to make ‘gender neutral’ schooling part of our curriculum
I’m going to make you Minister of Education for a day. If you could make just one change mandatory within education to further equality between the genders, what would it be?
To make sure that teachers are aware that their words and actions have enormous power on restricting what girls and boys think they can be and achieve. We need gender neutral teaching to become part of teacher training and for all current teachers to watch the documentary and make changes to their own practice.
And finally, as parents, aunts, uncles, friends, concerned adults, what can we do to help spread the word?
Please watch the documentary, look at the results and badger your local school, MP’s anyone to make a change. (And share the video below!)
Graham, thank you so much and lang may yer lum reek! I hope the programme continues to have such a positive impact and we see a real change in the not too distant future.
As most of you know, I am passionate about women being treated equally in all areas of life. It’s not about trashing the men; we know that men benefit too, when women are given an equal footing. It is hard to undo years of conditioning, subtle and not so subtle. Our first step is in recognising that we women have been led towards giving the glass ceiling a good old polish rather than smashing through it! But the times they are a’changing and not a moment too soon. I am personally running two courses this Autumn, both with the aim of boosting your confidence, giving you time and space to reflect on what you want, and maybe to challenge some of those ingrained assumptions. I can honestly tell you that every single comment I have received about the courses has been overwhelmingly positive. This month alone I have been contacted by three separate women who did my courses several years ago, saying that they are still reaping the benefits. I am so pleased and not a little humbled. We canmake a positive change!