Boys are rough and girls like make-up

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Sexual stereotypes are rife in our school, despite our commitment to equal opportunities. Of course, the curriculum is open to all, and girls and boys play rugby, cook and take part in flower arranging and bricklaying equally.

No, it's when we are actually teaching them about whether they are girls or boys that we sometimes have to exaggerate the differences. It's an important distinction they'll need to know. So it's, "Hands up girls in the infants... yes you're the ones with long hair and dresses who like playing with dolls. The rest of you are boys... you're the ones who like Thomas the Tank Engine, keep string in your pockets and fight at lunchtime."

Even some of our oldest pupils don't know if they're male or female, but the introduction of a boys' club and girls' club has helped. We teachers are uneasy about the segregation, but the idea came from the pupils themselves. The girls had got fed up shivering in the playground, while the boys raced about and knocked everyone else over, and asked if they could come inside. We discussed it at school council and decided that the older students could choose whether to stay in or go out after lunch. Those who chose to stay in happened to be girls, so girls' club was born and it now takes place every Friday lunchtime.

The last afternoon of the school week is now pervaded by the smell of cheap perfume, some very glamorous hair-dos and rather frightening amounts of blue eye shadow. The cosmetics are provided by our local chemist, who donates anything that hasn't sold after 10 weeks in his bargain basement.

The boys soon saw that the girls were getting lots of attention and decided that they wanted their own club too; again we discussed it at school council and the boys said they would like darts, dominoes and cribbage. I'm not sure how they know about these games, but anyway we decided on pool, DVDs and computer games. Gareth was disappointed because he wanted to try on make-up and have his hair done. We said he could, and then decided we should call the clubs fashion club and games club, and anyone was welcome to join either.

But somehow the girls go to one and the boys to the other and they are still known as boys' club and girls' club. The teaching assistants who support the clubs are also divided, male and female. We are lucky to have male assistants and teachers; although we'd never give anyone a job based on their sex, it's good to have a balance. It makes the staff parties more interesting, anyway: the men propping up the bar while the women jig about on the dancefloor. As I say, sexual stereotypes abound at my school.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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