Dismissing students as ‘woke’ risks progress on equality, head teacher warns

·3-min read

Dismissing students who demand change as “woke” could mean they give up on equality and sustainability campaigns, a leading head has warned.

All schools should host talks with parents on inclusion, diversity and gender to help them understand the “new language” of the younger generation, according to Samantha Price, head of Benenden School in Kent.

Mrs Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), will tell her organisation’s annual conference that some parents are “deeply unsettled” around some topics such as gender identity.

But she will call on school leaders to challenge anyone who dismisses the younger generation as “woke”, “cancel culture” or “snowflakes”.

Mrs Price told the PA news agency: “I think that if they are consistently dismissed in this way then what will happen is that they will just give up.

“As they go into their 20s and into further maturity, what was such a passion for them when they were younger will end up just going by the wayside.

“Therefore we probably won’t see the level of progress in society – from sustainability through to equality – that I think we have the opportunity to be able to see and sustain now if we, our generation, handle this effectively.”

In a speech to more than 100 heads of private girls’ schools at the two-day event in Manchester, Mrs Price will criticise references to teenagers as being ‘woke’ – which are meant in a derogatory sense – and adults commenting that they cannot say anything without being “called out” by young people.

She will say: “It would be unforgivable for the older generation to close its mind to new ideas, to retreat to ‘the good old days’ and dismiss the energetic changes of this generation as something to be referred to in derogatory tones and sighs.

“What has really struck me is that this so-called ‘woke’ generation are actually simply young people who care about things: about causes, about the planet, about people.

“It ultimately comes down to something very simple: being kind.”

Pupils have been demanding action on an array of issues after a number of high-profile movements – including Black Lives Matter and Everyone’s Invited – gained momentum during the pandemic.

In her school, a group of Asian students recently launched a twice-termly newsletter – which addresses Asian-related issues and perceptions – as they felt there was a lack of understanding about their culture, Mrs Price told PA.

The GSA president said schools have run more diversity workshops with parents, developed pupil-led inclusion groups, and appointed inclusion leads in the past year in response to student campaigns.

On gender identity, Mrs Price told PA: “There is quite a shift in terms of what this generation determine as being equality, and their understanding of gender, compared to my generation.

“And I think that the more you talk with parents, the more their understanding develops. Otherwise it can feel quite alien.”

In her speech, Mrs Price will also call for the delivery of Relationships and Sex Education to be made a compulsory part of teacher training.

She will say: “To really teach and facilitate these discussions well, teachers need to be prepared and confident to manage this.”

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