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My daughter comes home with a badge pinned to her school uniform: DEPUTY, it says in proud capital letters.
“I’m a deputy teacher”, she tells me. “Miss Jamieson* moved me to sit next to Jack and Max because they don’t behave and I do. It’s mostly the boys who don’t behave so we need to model good behaviour for them.”
She’s not wrong: it is the boys. “Boys will be boys”, they are told. It is the boys who talk during quiet time, wrestle when it comes time for silent reading, tear the art supplies and shout out at assembly. The girls’ learning is interrupted again and again while the teacher deals with their male companions. They are asked to change seats to calm the boys. They are asked to lay down their advanced reading books to help their male friends catch up.
Meanwhile, my daughter is proud of her role as gatekeeper. She stops what she’s doing to shush the boys when they get rowdy. She reports to me after school that Jack is sounding out longer words now, but she’s worried because Max had to sit in the quiet corner and maybe the teacher will take her coveted title away.
A lot has been written about the fact that boys struggle in school. In the UK, boys are already 11 percentage points behind girls on literacy scores by age five. This discrepancy continues throughout school, so that by GSCE level, 64.4% of girls achieve five or more at A*-C level, compared to only 53.7 for boys. It’s an extraordinary result for a system that was set up by men for the exclusive use of boys in the first place, but here we are. It’s not surprising that overloaded teachers, keen to improve male achievement levels, enlist the help of the girls to maintain order.
The girls in my daughter’s class are being encouraged to control the boys’ behaviour because the school and the teacher are unwilling or unable to maintain order in the classroom.
My daughter is six. When she is a teenager, she’ll be advised not to get drunk, flirt with boys she doesn’t know, or wear revealing clothes around older men. To stay safe, she should stay in at night, walk in groups, be demure. She could “give men the wrong impression”, and then if something bad happens, it was partly her fault.
Jack and Max, on the other hand, will be sowing their wild oats, because “boys will be boys”, and if they get a bit wild once in a while, it’s just how young men are. And I will be outraged for her, because it shouldn’t be like that.
But she won’t be outraged, because by then, the idea that she is responsible for male behaviour will no longer be a novel one. It’s just how she lives her life.
Is your girl expected to help control the boys in her class?