Schools must play their part in promoting a gender-balanced world

Sue Woodroofe, The Grammar School at LeedsAs we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) today, it occurs to me that our schools are more than well placed to support its #BalanceforBetter theme this year. A global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, it also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year’s #BalanceforBetter theme calls on us to improve the development of a gender-balanced world. Every one of us has a part to play, all the time, everywhere. And where better to see that than in the young people, currently studying in our schools, who will be tasked with this challenge into the future.

The Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL) was created from the merger of two single-sex schools in the city of Leeds. In 2008, both schools came together in a way that honoured and respected the traditions of each, creating a diamond model school that celebrated the very best in boys’ and girls’ education, separately and together – balance for better, you might say. So our pupils operate in a colourful and energetic coeducational environment, with mixed lessons throughout primary school and in the sixth form, but in academic lessons from the ages of 11-16, boys and girls are taught in separate groups, side by side from each other along the same corridors.

The benefits for both genders are clear. Everyone can be themselves, knows they are of equal value; everyone is free to learn without the pressure of hormonal influences or embarrassment. Curriculum content is the same, but delivery can change to suit any class style and predilection. As we like to say, it’s the best of both worlds.

Because, of course, the rise of women is not about the fall of men. The world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence. Everyone can play a role in forging gender parity: at GSAL we celebrate equally strong examination results and national co-curricular achievements for boys and girls. In fact we believe that the diamond model empowers both genders, creating an environment where it’s safe for anyone to ask for help and guidance, support and encouragement.

My own mum, an amazing female role model to me, worked all hours and made enormous sacrifices to send me to the best school she could, in the hope that I would have the confidence to overcome any barrier that I encountered in life. The best schools should empower all students and should provide the foundation for their ambitions and aspirations to blossom.

On IWD 2019, the importance of involving young men in the #BalanceforBetter agenda it too good to miss at schools like GSAL: it’s about equality of opportunity and outcome for everyone, not one gender being superior to the other.