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Ladettes rip up the envelope

She is mouthy and always up for a laugh. She can smoke eight cigarettes at once and drink all her weekly alcohol units in two hours. And she likes wearing tight jeans and skimpy tops.

Do you have a ladette in your class? If the answer is no, then it is only a matter of time, new research suggests.

The general consensus in schools is that the number of teenage girls adopting a laddish culture is growing, according to Dr Caroline Jackson, a researcher from Lancaster university.

These girls act "hard" and ape the bad behaviour normally associated with boys, such as fighting, disrupting lessons and drinking. But unlike more traditional tomboys, they are attractive to boys and actively promote their femininity.

One teacher told researchers: "It's almost as if the male bravado of 'how many women can you pull?' is passing to the girls.

"Perhaps it's old-fashioned to find it more worrying in girls, but I do. I find it more worrying that they're quite prepared to get so drunk that they don't know what they're doing and then sleep with somebody who they have never met before." Another teacher said laddish girls experimented sexually and were shameless: "I'm a Sixties flower child. We weren't as brash - that's another nice word for them - they really are quite brash about it."

The Economic and Social Research Council funded a study based on 1,000 pupil questionnaires and interviews with 150 pupils aged 13 and 14 and 30 teachers. This was presented to the British Educational Research Association's annual conference in Manchester this week by Dr Jackson.

Double standards were also evident in relation to classroom behaviour, she said.

While concerns about boys' behaviour centre on raising achievement and reducing disruption to other pupils, for girls the focus is less on improving their academic performance and more on their behaviour.

The alcohol-fuelled, party-girl life of the ladette was epitomised by the radio DJs Zoe Ball and Sara Cox, whose drunken antics filled the tabloids in the 1990s. Last month, celebrity ladettes were blamed by many media commentators for the rise in binge-drinking among teenage girls, revealed in a Schools Health Education Unit report.

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Next week: WHEN GIRLS FIGHT - the first in a 10-part series on behaviour, in TES Friday magazine

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