Schools are being told to abandon the terms 'boys' and 'girls' but is it a gender equality move too far?

New guidelines suggest the terms 'boys' and 'girls' are to be abandoned in schools [Photo: Getty]
New guidelines suggest the terms ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ are to be abandoned in schools [Photo: Getty]

“Boys and girls come out to play…” goes the age-old nursery rhyme, but now thanks to new gender equality guidelines being sent out to schools we might have to change it to something like “cisgender and intersex kids come out to play…”

Aside from the fact those lyrics really aren’t as catchy, there’s a serious issue bubbling below the jokey surface.

The Mail on Sunday reported earlier this week that children in schools up and down the country are to be told to stop using the term ‘boys’ and ‘girls’.

The guidance, being sent out to teachers, parents and pupils as young as seven, advises against the terms because of fears it discriminates against transgender children, leaving them feeling isolated.

Instead children will be encouraged to use terms such as ‘genderqueer’ and ‘intersex’ by a new guidebook, which will be distributed to 120 schools around the UK next month.

Entitled ‘Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?’ the book details a fictional story about a 12-year-old boy ‘transitioning’ from female to male and publishers describe it as “the first book to explain medical transitioning for children aged seven and above”.

But while some have been praising the move to increase inclusivity, others believe the new guidelines could cause confusion for children.

Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman, told the Mail on Sunday: “I think it is damaging to children to introduce uncertainty into their minds.”

While Educate and Celebrate founder Elly Barnes said the book was “much-needed”.

“Not everyone identifies as male or female – that is fact,” she said.

It isn’t the first time new school guidelines have kick-started a debate about gender identity. Earlier this year eighty state institutions, including 40 primary schools, announced they were to allow school boys to wear skirts and girls to wear trousers under new ‘gender neutral’ uniform policies. It was part of a Government-funded drive for schools to be more inclusive to children who are questioning their gender identity.

And just last month an east London primary school provoked a furious backlash from parents after it introduced unisex toilets for pupils over the age of eight.

The controversy came about after Buxton School in Leytonstone equipped its new extension with gender-neutral bathrooms.

But despite a petition protesting against the new toilets having nearly 700 signatures, the school’s Head Teacher, Kath Wheeler welcomed the change claiming the unisex toilets created a safe space where pupils show respect towards each other and feel respected.

The discussion surrounding the potential outlawing of the terms ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ in schools isn’t entirely new either. Back in January pupils at Blatchington Mill School in Brighton were given homework which asked them to define their gender from a list of 23 terms.

Boy and girl were included in the list alongside a catalogue of other labels including ‘non-binary’ ‘demi-goy’ and ‘gender fluid.’ Campaigners suggested offering children struggling with their identity an opportunity to have a term that described their feelings could help them overcome feelings of isolation. But some parents argued the survey was ‘unnecessary’ and ‘confusing’ to children going through the difficult teenage years.

A gender equality step too far? [Phofo: Getty]
A gender equality step too far? [Phofo: Getty]

So what do parents think of the new guidelines? Laura* a mum-of-two from London believes that though the idea of abandoning the terms ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ in school would take some getting used to, children would eventually get their heads around the new language.

“A large part of my children’s identity is tied up in them being boys,” she says. “They are – through nature not nurture really boyish, so it would definitely take some getting used to, but really that isn’t a problem. Why shouldn’t we change the language if it avoids upsetting or isolating some kids?”

But Julia* a mum-of-three believes there’s an argument that the new guidelines could, in trying to pre-empt upset or offence, actually be achieving the opposite.

“Do we worry too much in advance about offending people?” she asks.

Though making the school gates feel more open and welcoming for children still trying to define their gender has to be a good thing, is there not also an argument that in getting rid of commonly accepted terms we’re simply shifting the confusion from one group of children to another?

While the majority of children likely feel secure in the knowledge that they are a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ (and yes, I appreciate they are lucky to feel that way), by making them abandon those basic terms are we not asking them to forget everything they’ve accepted or understood about their gender so far?

And if we are going to rid the school playground of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ terming, do we not need to offer some further education surrounding their potential language replacements? If parents are confused by terms such as ‘cisgender’ – the opposite of transgender in case if, like me, you weren’t aware – how confusing will the new language be for a seven year old to grasp?

The very fact that schools are offering consideration to pupils struggling with their identity is a positive sign of our social progress and trying to make children feel more inclusive is always to be applauded. Lets just hope that in trying to solve the problem of acceptance we’re not manufacturing a whole new set of problems entirely.

What do you think? Should children stop using the terms ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ in schools? Let us know @YahooStyleUK

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