How unisex toilets helped me win at the internet

I won at the internet last month. They emailed to tell me. ‘They’ being a company called metr.ic and the email said that from among 150,000 daily news articles, mine was one of the top 100 most commented on. It was clearly a slow news day.
That said, the topic of the piece was gendered school uniforms and gendered toilets. My view: why not have unisex versions of both?
People didn’t agree.
guardian loos
Commentors typically liked one and not the other – but then struggled to explain why. Most looked to be proving Jonathan Haidt’s well-worn theory that people react emotionally to an idea and then post-rationalise the feelings with any spurious claim they can muster. My favourites were the people who said unisex toilets were a bad idea because they would cause bullying – as if same-sex bullying hasn’t happened for years in single sex toilets. (The idea, I guess, being that cross-gender bullying is worse but without any real reason of why this is the case. Also, the layout of toilet I described reduces bullying because the washrooms are open to public view).
On uniforms I was annoyed not to have mentioned that the school where I taught also stopped girls from wearing trousers. I believe they still do. So to all the commentors who said “NO SCHOOLS MAKE GIRLS WEAR SKIRTS” – you are wrong.
There was the fair question of whether non-gendered uniforms simply means “let’s make everyone dress like men”. Although I liked Sandra Leaton Gray’s suggestion, via twitter, of a uniform consisting of a choice between t-shirt, collared shirt, trousers and kilts. Uni-sex, all the way!
It’s a topic to keep pondering though. Arbitrary gender divides are everywhere. I constantly hear people of my own generation, who are now parents, making unthinking remarks such as “he’s a boy, of course he’s going to be naught”, or “girls are just so sensitive”, blah blah. These comments horrify me because they’re lazy thinking. Being a boy doesn’t make you naughty, being a girl doesn’t make you sensitive.
Still, shouldn’t say that too loud. Wouldn’t want to break the internet with all the angry howls.

What's wrong with making profits from schools?

Chairing debates is always fun. Chairing ones about the role of profit in education is even more so. Chairing the ATL Debate

“We don’t want Serco exam factories” said Rick Muir, associated director of IPPR and a panelist at yesterday’s ATL debate on the role of profit in schools. This was the first in five debates ATL will be holding as part of their varied #ShapeEducation discussions, and on this occasion I was the chair.
Muir quickly pointed out that this wasn’t a bash at Serco; it applied equally to other companies also making profit from offering services previously provided by the state.
It’s a tough premise to fight against. No one likes exams. Few people love factories.
But Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, Director of Research at the Centre of Market Reform, is tough – and he likes a fight……

Read the full post over at ATL

Women! Share your numbers! (aka 'The surprising reason why I give women fewer work opportunities')

Two common complaints:

  1. From ‘the public’ – “Women aren’t asked as often as men to sit on panels, speak at events, write expert columns, etc…”
  2. From commissioning editors – “Women are harder to find”

Question is: why are they harder to find?
A weird answer recently hit me in the face.
One morning, I was increasingly exasperated at being unable to find a Conservative activist teacher to write an expert column. I amassed a hit list of five names. I put the women first, for balance, as that week we already had several male writers.
But I couldn’t find a mobile number or email for any of them. Meanwhile the two men had mobile numbers listed on their web pages.
As this was happening, the latest edition of Schools Week (the newspaper I work for) arrived. I flipped through, then recoiled in horror. On the editorial team page someone had printed our mobile numbers. There was mine, right under a pic of my face.
“Mum will not be best pleased” was my first thought. (And began rehearsing how I’d calm her security worries).
Then I thought: This is stupid. Here I am complaining that women don’t put their mobile numbers in public at the same time as I now panic about mine being out there.
Besides what was I worried about? That a random person might call me up and say mean things? That people might figure out how to contact me?
Well, yes. Exactly.
And here appears to lie a genuine if very subtle difference between men and women. In subsequent weeks of discussing this incident I’ve yet to find a woman happy for her mobile number to be strewn around the world. Plenty of men, however, said they’ve never once thought NOT to share it.
Women all said their fears were predicated on something bad happening, and that because they would have given their number out to strangers they would somehow be part-responsible for the ambiguous Bad Thing.
Some men were also uneasy about numbers being public, but largely it was because they wanted a work-life separation. Safety was rarely mentioned. “I was told not to as a kid” and “Bad Thing would be my fault” were never mentioned.
I’ve written before about how much I hate a big deal being made out of gender differences but this one smacked me in the face.
Seems to me, women simply don’t put their contact details out in the world at the same rate as men. Hence they don’t get contacted with opportunities at the same rate either.
Simple, ridiculous and easy to solve, right?
Only, would you recommend I end this blog with my phone number? I thought about it. But it still felt like I was just asking for trouble.