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From the Archive - 13.10.1978

What Terry did

Sex equality in schools made the national news last week when the press took up the case of Terry (not his real name), the Devon boy who had to do needlework and cookery "because of the Sex Discrimination Act".

The press had a field day. "Carry on cooking," chortled one headline, while in Devon itself the argument about gender stereotyping in schools raged on in the columns of the local papers.

On one side of the debate was the county's education committee headed by Ted Pinney, which that week rejected a draft council report on sex stereotyping in primary schools. "If boys are going to be turned into fairies and girls into butch young maids, it should be for parents to decide and not the education authority or schools," Mr Pinney told reporters. "If parents wish to bring up boys as boys and girls as girls, this would seem to be highly desirable and fundamental to family life."

Girls should have equal opportunities, both in school and in their careers, but nothing could alter the difference between the sexes, Mr Pinney argued. "They are equal, but different."

Policy at Terry's school - the 800-pupil King's Grammar School, Ottery St Mary - is that all children should gain experience of cookery, needlework, metalwork and woodwork in the first two years. In the third year, pupils can choose one "light", traditionally female subject - needlework or cookery - and one "heavy", traditionally male subject - metalwork or woodwork.

Both Terry's case and the rejection of the primary report caused such a furore as to raise questions beyond the Devon boundary. Do we have the equality of opportunity that is generally agreed on all sides to be desirable? If not, how far should a head go to ensure it is reached?

John Dalton, head of Honiton County Primary School, said that teachers had to make a "conscious effort" to redress the balance.

"Some of our attitudes, whether we like it or not, understand it or not, or even see it or not, are biased, although on the surface there is equality of opportunity in schools," he said. "It is just not true that we are trying to feminise boys or masculinise girls. We are just trying to give them a new insight into life."

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