One of Britain’s top-performing state schools has left parents stunned after ditching the world ‘girl’ from its staff’s accepted vocabulary, fearing that they may misgender any trans students.
Altrincham Grammar School for Girls in Manchester is now likely to address pupils as “students” instead of gendered nouns, shocking parents when they informed them that staff will now use “gender-neutral language” when talking about the children.
Head Teacher Stephanie Gill told parents in a letter that the school’s new approach came as a response to “the challenges facing our students who are questioning their gender identity or who do not identify as girls.”
Although the school does not admit boys, she added that parents “may have noticed that we have moved to using gender-neutral language in all our communications with students and parents. We are working to break ingrained habits in the way we speak to and about students, particularly referring to them collectively as ‘girls.’”
She continued to explain in the letter that “for many transgender students, being misgendered can be very hurtful” and calling students by the wrong gender undermines efforts to demonstrate that “everyone is welcome” at the high-achieving school. “Staff have embraced these changes and are doing their best to implement this new policy,” said Gill.
Despite the new gender-neutral approach at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, there are no plans to change its name. The school was placed sixth in the Sunday Times’ list of best state schools in the country, with all students awarded A*-C grades in the 2016 GCSE exams.
“When I opened the letter, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not. It seems a bit potty to me,” said one parent, who requested to remain anonymous, adding: “They are talking about diversity, but it’s a girls-only school. How does that work?”
A local resident gave their opinion to the BBC: “It’s ridiculous,” they said. “We live in an age where we have to respect people’s views and if people have issues around gender and sexuality, we have to understand that. But girls should be referred to as girls.”
Chris McGovern of the Campaign for Real Education said the school’s decision was “complete folly.”
“The intentions are good, but children who have issues over their gender identity can be treated with respect without the English language being altered to accommodate them,” he said. “Instead, this kind of move risks leading to more bullying of transgender pupils who may wrongly be blamed for this move.”
The leading school’s decision to dump the word ‘girl’ has sparked a firestorm on Twitter, with users labelling the change as “liberal insanity in action.”
Altrincham Grammar School for Girls bans teachers from calling pupils 'girls' in case it offends transgender individuals. This is liberal insanity in action. pic.twitter.com/fUGtiuoZrp
— Mark Collett (@MarkACollett) January 10, 2018
Is Altrincham Grammar School for Girls now going to call itself 'Altrincham Grammar School for people who are not boys'?
— caroline weekes (@carow435) January 9, 2018
However, some have praised the school’s change. Transgender rights group Trans Actual congratulated Altrincham on their steps towards inclusiveness.
Well done to Altrincham Grammar School for Girls. It’s great to see them taking steps to include trans young people. Note that they aren’t going to stop using the term “girl” at all, they’re just going to avoid misgendering pupils when addressing groups of pupils at a time.
— Trans Actual (@TransActualUK) January 10, 2018
Another Twitter user was asked if she was being sarcastic in her praise of the move.
Please tell me you are being sarcastic
— Nuala (@Nuala23Nuala) January 9, 2018
In November, mental health champion Natasha Devon told the Girls’ Schools Association that teachers should adopt gender-neutral language, as calling female pupils ‘girls’ reinforces gender stereotypes and may offend transgender students.
In the same month, a teacher at an Oxfordshire school was suspended from duties for accidentally referring to a trans student ‘girl’, despite immediately apologizing for the error.
A statement issued by Altrincham Girls Grammar school said: “It’s important our students feel comfortable and able to bring their true selves to the learning environment. We welcome and celebrate diversity at our school and we will look at any measure, however small, to ensure the wellbeing of our staff and students.”