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Language & Power: Out with old, in with the inclusive

Updated: Mar 17

Inclusive Language in Education

The language we use is representative of the society we live in and the belief systems that we choose to follow. Taking a closer look at the language that we use as teachers is important as language can have a huge effect on our Pupils and other staff members. Language changes and evolves all the time, and so keeping our vocabulary up to date ensures that we are as inclusive as possible. Without us realising, some of the language we use may disproportionally stifle some of our Pupils, thus limiting their participation and overall potential in our classrooms. Our aim as practitioners is to establish a culture of respect, tolerance and compassion, so by making a simple swap in the language we use, it is an easy way to demonstrate these values.

See the ‘swap’ sheet below and consider how you may develop your practice by using more inclusive language. It is colour coded in pairs: the first section being the 'excluding' language and the second section providing more inclusive suggestions. The alternatives can easily be used, at no expense of your own.

Out with the old… ….in with the inclusive.

When addressing a group of Pupils, avoid:

§ Guys (infers male dominated)

§ Girls (excludes non-binary Pupils, infantilising)

§ Boys (excludes non-binary Pupils, infantilising)

§ Ladies and gentlemen (excludes non-binary Pupils)

Instead, use inclusive terms that have no connotations, such as…

ü Everyone, Folks, People

ü Squad, Team, All, Crew

ü Address by year group or by class

Avoid any gender-specific phrases, that have harmful connotations:

§ "Man up", "Don’t be a girl" or "Boys will be boys"

§ Any generalised gender comment linked to behaviour i.e. “Well that’s just what girls are like” or “Boys are just so forgetful/unorganised”,

§ "Let's do boys versus girls" (they really hate this!)

Choose phrases that do not play into stereotypes:

ü “Ensure that you are working to the best of YOUR ability”.

ü Address behaviour as an individual, not due to gender

ü Have equal expectations for all students

ü Be aware of your own unconscious bias - challenge yourself and others to do better

ü In the classroom, be mindful not to only ask girls to help tidy up, or only ask boys to help move heavy objects.

When discussing Pupil’s learning abilities, avoid:

§ Lower / Higher ability

§ Weak / Strong

§ Not able, slow

Opt for specifics, rather than generalised comments:

ü They are working below / above target

ü This Pupil has (significant) barriers to learning

ü Refer to the specific SEND i.e. this Pupil has slow processing / they are faced with the barrier of dyslexia

ü Neurodiverse

ü Personalised learning

When referring to other staff members, address respectfully:

§ avoid using generic “Sir” and “Miss”, as these are not equitable

Use the desired title for the teacher in question, for example:

ü Use the full name of the teacher

ü Check their title i.e. Ms not Miss

ü Use preferred pronouns

ü Ask Pupils to use “present”, or “here” when answering the register instead of “Yes Miss/Sir”

When referring to SEND Pupils, avoid:

§ Special needs class / department

§ Special needs teacher

§ Teaching Assistant

Instead, use:

ü Support for Learning class / department

ü Learning support teacher / assistant

ü Refer to a specific support plan

ü Students that have barriers to learning

Avoid using pseudo-positive comments in the classroom:

§ You can do better, try harder

§ C’mon, you can work quicker than that

Give specific targets, achievable targets:

ü “I think that you’d be able to complete X, Y, X”.

ü “You’re able to complete Questions 1 and 2. What can I do to help you achieve it?”.

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