What’s it like to be a Gender Champion?

In January and February 2018, the Improving Gender Balance team ran two residential training sessions for new and existing Gender Champions; teachers interested in working on gender equality in their schools. The sessions were attended by over 50 teachers from across the UK. A few champions volunteered to share their experiences with us.

If you’d like to get involved with our gender equality work, email WholeSchoolEquality@iop.org. You can also visit our Gender Balance page for more information.

Lorien Joyce, Philosophy, PSHE & RE teacher and new Gender Champion

Why did you attend the Gender Champion training course?

I’ve always been passionate about equal opportunities for everyone in school, and I’ve been really involved with the existing Equality & Diversity group and mental health group at school. Inclusion is so important to me and gender equality comes under that umbrella. The combination of personal interest and already doing work with colleagues in that area meant I was really excited when the residential training opportunity came about.

How did you convince your school to allow you to attend?

My school was very positive about the idea. We’ve already got work going on with The Ogden Trust about encouraging girls into STEM, so the school really didn’t need any convincing, they were very on board and supportive from the start. They’re very proactive in wanting to facilitate opportunities and inclusion for everybody, regardless of gender or any other barriers.

What did you gain from the experience?

I really enjoyed the gender bias and stereotyping training, it opens your eyes. Even for someone who thinks they’re very aware of those issues, it makes you realise how much you have to learn and how much it’s embedded in society that you don’t even realise. It heightened my understanding of just how deeply entrenched gender bias is for all genders. It was great to be able to network with other teachers and to see what experienced Gender Champions had done, as they already had events up and running, and could share good practice about different teaching styles and practice. Hearing success stories about how well gender bias training was received gives you confidence to go and do your own! I really loved the transgender awareness training; I’ve never had something like that before. I’ve never really understood those issues before, and now when I teach PSHE I feel more confident discussing them. The panel with Let Toys Be Toys and Graham Andre was a great opportunity to hear about their campaigns and be able to ask questions. Graham’s experience showed that even if you think you’re not gender biased and think you know what you’re doing, if you don’t have your own unconscious biases reflected back to you, you’ll never realise.

What will you take back to your school?

I genuinely found the whole event really valuable. I’ve become so much more aware of my own unconscious bias, especially within my own practice, and noticing other people saying unhelpful phrases “oh that’s just what boys do”. It was valuable not just for my professional development but also my own personal development.

How did you feel attending as a non-science specialist?

I didn’t think it was detrimental not to be a science teacher. The training was done really well, this is something not just about STEM but about creating a new conversation and a new dialogue about gender stereotyping and bias, which is relevant whatever subject you are, and that’s applicable to all genders.

What are you doing next/what are you looking forward to?

I’m getting really excited about training student ambassadors to go into primary schools, I think that will be fantastic. I’m excited to share what we’ve learnt with the rest of our teaching alliance, because as an academy our reach is even further than just our school, in particular with primary schools, and we can raise awareness there from as early as possible. It’s also made me realise that it’s important not just to aim things at girls, but at everyone, boys too, and I’m excited to put what I’ve learnt into the wider community. It’s about giving students a voice and I think it’s exciting to have these conversations with them – they’re the future of our society. They’re already really aware of these issues in their lives, but knowing that by training them up as ambassadors, you can start a real grassroots movement and change things all the way down to primary.

Meg Greet, Associate Head of Science and participant in the Opening Doors Charter Mark pilot project

Why did you attend the Gender Champion training course?

We have been implementing a range of approaches to address unconscious bias, support and educate staff in challenging language, incorporate equality in the curriculum and engage with students. I wanted to meet with others to discuss & problem-solve around issues that may have arisen, and learn from them with regards to successful initiatives.

How did you convince the school to allow you to attend?

This wasn’t really a problem – they were supportive and I outlined how I would feed the experience into our working group practice.

What did you gain from the experience?

A sense of resolution! I attended after having come up against resistance from a small minority of staff and I found it particularly useful to share ideas, so that I was able to return with a renewed sense of positivity about the work being undertaken.

What will you take back to your school from the residential?

I took back numerous things, including ideas for a network session, strategies for effective delegation, a ‘compass’ for how to re-direct change when obstacles arose and practical mini-projects to give to fellow working group members.

What are your next plans moving forward?

We are establishing a parent working group and I would like to reflect the work I have been doing with mental health ambassadors to give our equality ambassadors more of a chance to guide the school work and lead some training for pupils from other schools, as well as run an event for the staff, student & parent working groups so that there can be a forum for everyone’s plans to weave together.

Hannah, Head of Science and Gender Champion for the Whole School Equality Programme

Why did you want to attend the residential?

I wanted to attend to be able to gather ideas to take back and share whole school with staff and be able to lead our gender equality project. I also wanted to take ideas to work with different groups of students to address gender imbalance at my school.

How did you convince the school to allow you to attend?

Following the school’s first ever set of GCSE results in 2017, and alongside national data, the school aimed to address the gender gap in achievement of male and female students. I then completed more data analysis and discovered a gender imbalance with options chosen at GCSE, suggesting that gendered stereotypes are not being challenged with our students. Addressing this imbalance is now a whole school priority and using data was a good way to show SLT the course was going to benefit student outcomes. If we can improve gender imbalance, teach inclusively and challenge stereotypes there will be an improvement in the aspirations of our students and therefore improvement in overall outcomes and life choices for students.

What did you gain from the experience?

It was great to hear from other Gender Champions about how they have addressed gender equality is their schools, as well as getting ideas from IOP Gender Balance Officers. It was also really interesting to have discussions surrounding equality, stereotypes and bias of staff and students in school and all the factors that influence this bias.

What will you take back to your school from the residential?

I’ll take back ideas for both the staff and student working groups, and ideas for working with local schools.

What are your next plans moving forward?

Firstly, I’m now organising an unconscious bias networking event with local primary and secondary schools, as well as setting up a student equality group. The student group will receive training from the IOP as gender ambassadors, and then deliver lessons to local primary school students challenging gender stereotypes.

We’ll continue to work with the staff working party – after the whole school CPD on unconscious bias we have begun to look at how male and female students interact in lessons, the gender split in subjects and sets, and how this can be improved. It is hoped termly meetings will mean ideas are being shared within departments.

We’re also working to share inclusive teaching strategies at whole school staff meetings. Also, we’ve completed a student voice about gender stereotypes, expectations of boys and girls in lessons and careers, and now we’re putting a PSHE scheme of work together which has already been put in place for year 8

To keep this going, we have regular meetings for the student group and discussions around gender. They are completing a gender audit of displays around school and school website. The student group will also be used to promote key dates and events on the calendar.

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Sara Boiten

Sara is the IOP Project Officer for Gender Champions and RAF100.

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