Dance, netball and gender bias training; how a boys’ school prepares for girls

Jun 27, 2020 by

The newly co-ed Marist Catholic College in North Sydney is putting staff and boys through gender bias training, so it doesn’t “reinforce any stereotypes”

A maroon tunic has been added to the uniform, netball hoops are joining the basketball ones, and the names of the sports houses, which mostly commemorate notable priests, will be changed to include more women.

As the 132-year-old Marist Brothers boys’ high school in North Sydney prepares to welcome the first female students into year 7 next year, it has also been putting its staff and boys through gender bias training.

“We don’t want to reinforce any stereotypes for the boys or girls,” said Brigid Taylor, the acting principal. “We don’t want the boys to feel like they can’t cry any more, or talk about their feelings because the girls are there. We want a school where everyone is free to be whomever they want to be.”

Staff have been doing gender bias training to prepare to open former Marist Brothers High to girls
Staff have been doing gender bias training to prepare to open former Marist Brothers High to girls Credit:Nick Moir

From next year the boys’ school, which will be known as Marist College North Shore until the end of the year, will combine with St Mary’s Primary next door to become a co-ed school spanning kindergarten to year 12 with 1200 students.

Half of the 200 students entering year seven will be girls, and their numbers will increase with each year. Within a decade, Marist Catholic College aims to have 2000 students at a campus that also includes an early learning centre and a business hub.

It joins other several other NSW boys’ schools that have become co-ed in recent years, such as Barker College, The Armidale School and Marist Catholic College in Penshurst, where numbers have more than doubled since the year 7-10 school added girls and an HSC cohort.

The change was prompted by the lack of Catholic options for girls or co-ed high schools in the area, which is heavily dominated by single-sex independent schools, said Ms Taylor.

To prepare, Marist College has built new bathrooms, introduced curriculum options such as dance, and built a garden area where the year 7 girls can take refuge from the 800-odd boys that will still dominate the high school campus next year.

The former principal of girls’ school Loreto Normanhurst, Barbara Watkins, is overseeing the project as chief executive of the North Sydney Catholic Education Network. “They are very gentle guys,” she said of the male students. “I don’t think they see it as too much of a leap, having girls around.”

Ms Taylor said teachers, many of whom had taught boys for decades, were preparing to teach co-ed classes by doing training in unconscious bias. “[It] looks at perceptions of gender, gender bias, and how that bias is manifested in society,” she said.

The boys have had training too. “We’ve had to develop their idea of girls,” said Ms Taylor. “Once a fortnight they have a pastoral care lesson which looks at identity, gender bias, [and] looks at feelings.”

Source: Dance, netball and gender bias training; how a boys’ school prepares for girls

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