Ofsted chief hails Buffy as schoolgirl role model

Television companies should produce more female role models like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to encourage girls to assert themselves at school, David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, believes.

In a speech on Monday to mark International Women's Day, he will warn that girls are still too often dominated by boys in the classroom and find trhemselves pushed into the background when answering teachers' questions. "Studies tell us that boys more easily dominate classroom discussion," Mr Bell, chief executive of the Government's standards watchdog, Ofsted, will tell a conference organised by the Fawcett Society, which promotes equal opportunities.

"Boys' laddish behaviour can have a negative effect on girls' learning and some teachers have lower expectations of girls and find boys more stimulating to teach. We must deal with these matters in schools.

Mr Bell will add: "It is easy to mock the whole idea of role models and what children pick up in the media - but, if we believe that television can be a powerful influence on young lives, then having a balance of 'strong' and 'gentle' characters of both sexes is important.

"I'm not suggesting that Postman Pat is accompanied on his rounds by Postwoman Patricia in the interests of fairness. But more power to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a strong fictional female character." He acknowledges the comment may seem a little "facetious", but adds: "It is not political correctness gone mad to want to ensure that different kinds of characters of both genders are well represented in the media."

Mr Bell will argue that it is important to consider the use of language in schools to avoid stereotyping girls and boys. "The use of the word 'girl' is often used as an insult, meaning 'not up to it' or 'can't hack it' or 'inadequate'," he will say. "It is naïve to think that this has no effect on girls. There is a clear link here with homophobic bullying where boys in particular are exposed to bullying if their manner is not quite 'tough' enough for the prevailing male culture."

He will add that advertisements aimed at boys are "noisy and action packed with powerful images".

"It is unsurprising that overall children's perception is that it is better to be a boy," he will say. "One study asked boys and girls what it would be like if they woke up the following morning as a member of the opposite sex.

"Girls were more positive about being a boy - they see boys as more active, athletic and aggressive, more able to travel and have a better career.

"Boys were negative about being a girl - they see them as passive and weak."

Mr Bell will cite figures which show that while girls considerably outperform boys in school and exams and tests - with 44 per cent getting A and B grade passed at A-level compared with 41 per cent of boys - they still "do not seem to gain the golden prizes at the finishing line in terms of careers and salaries".

By the age of 50, male graduates on average are earning 44 per cent more than females.

Too often there was still gender bias in subject options with more boys choosing information technology and very few opting for home economics. In vocational qualifications, girls opted for health and social care while very few chose engineering.

"This carries on through school," he will say. "At A-level twice as many girls choose English, biology and social studies and more boys choose mathematics and physics - and again the pattern continues into higher education choices.

"International Women's Day is the perfect day to celebrate the academic and career achievements of girls and women but we must not underestimate the number of girls who do not reach their full potential. Some girls' self-esteem is affected from an early age. Others suffer problems more quietly than boys and so don't receive help and support.

"Boys are encouraged to be tougher and stand up for themselves: behaviour which is often discouraged in girls."

Dr Katherine Rake, the director of the Fawcett Society, will add: "The split between girls and boys subjects remains of great concern. More must be done to ensure that challenging gender stereotypes is written into all education policy, so boys and girls can reach their full potential."

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