Call for gender-neutral terms at girls’ school arouses MPs’ ire
The Australian, July 21, 2016.
A fresh bout of acrimony has erupted among conservative federal and state politicians after revelations that teachers at a Sydney all-girls school considered switching to gender-neutral language, and not calling students “ladies” and “women”.
Several Turnbull government MPs are concerned about the rollout of changes to the Safe Schools program following a review commissioned by Education Minister Simon Birmingham, The Australian has been told.
The latest uproar came as a Sydney primary school banned students clapping, allowing them instead to conduct “silent cheers”, “pull excited faces” and “punch the air” to respect those who were “sensitive to noise”.
Elanora Heights Public School, on Sydney’s northern beaches, announced its new “silent cheer” policy in its latest newsletter.
Nationals MP George Christensen, who has led efforts to change the Safe Schools program rolled out to more than 500 schools nationally, said he regretted “claiming victory in that fight too early”.
“I have concerns, and I will be going to Senator Birmingham … I appreciate that we can’t control what state governments are doing, but where the program is being implemented in breach of federal changes, I believe we need to say we are no longer funding it,” he said. “No matter what the social justice warriors do, they’re never going to get rid of biological facts.”
The request for gender-neutral language at Cheltenham Girls’ High School in Sydney’s northwest came during a staff meeting last term to discuss the implementation of the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.
The school did not deny the topic was discussed, but said it “will not change the way students’ gender is referred to”.
A NSW Department of Education spokesman confirmed the school would continue to use gender-specific terms, and Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has asked for a report to be prepared.
Nevertheless, several parents with children at the school have continued to raise concerns.
Ian Bell said gender-neutral language was just the latest of many issues parents had tried to bring to the school’s attention.
“We are concerned about other programs like Safe Schools,” he said. “It might be unpopular to say that, but it’s not intolerance; I just think it’s reasonable.”
“It’s very difficult to approach them (the school’s administration),’’ he said. “It’s very hard to say anything. Parents would be labelled as complainers, and nutters and whingers.”
Federal Liberal MP Alex Hawke, the local member for neighbouring electorate Mitchell, said one outcome of the review of Safe Schools was placing greater importance on the rights of parents.