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Chris McGovern: Boys in skirts and the sinister side of the education establishment


A school where I taught as head of history for seven years, Lewes Priory Comprehensive in East Sussex, has been much in the news. It has decided to ban any pupil – girl or boy – from wearing a skirt. Piers Morgan, a pupil at the school during my time there, has described the ban as ‘gender-neutral nonsense’. He is right.

This is gender identity theft in its starkest form. By all means offer individual support to that tiny number of children who feel, without the prompting of gender zealots, that they have a personal concern, but this should not be at the expense of the overwhelming majority of other children. If anyone needs help in schools these days, it is those misguided fanatics who are likely to cause much misery, upset and trauma by encouraging children to question their gender.

What a confusing world it has become for youngsters! Down the road from Lewes Priory School, fee-paying Brighton College has decided against banning skirts and instead allows boys to wear them. If the lads wants a ‘laff at the silly staff’ they can come in dressed in skirts! And boys being boys this has already happened in one school of which I am aware.

Lewes Priory School, though, has form when it comes to using a ‘ban’ to enforce educational ideologies. In my time there, my departmental colleagues and I were banned from expressing to parents our concerns about the dumbing down involved in what was, then, the new GCSE exam for history. Model questions such as one that asked candidates to explain why, in 1944, the Allies kept ‘as secret as possible’ the D-Day invasion plans seemed to us a complete nonsense.

More worrying were ‘empathy’ questions, such as one that required children to imagine that they were PLO terrorists and to explain why they had blown up an Israeli passenger plane. Bizarrely, the mark scheme stated that top marks would be awarded only to those candidates who displayed something called ‘differentiated historical empathy’. This meant that they would have to include in their answer not only a justification for murdering the passengers but also an appreciation of the point of view of the people they were killing. This created a dilemma for me. Rather than awarding a top grade to children providing such an answer, I felt it would be more appropriate to send them to a psychiatrist.

We put our concerns to the governing body and suggested that we should be allowed to double-enter our pupils for both the new GCSE exam and the more rigorous O-Level (O-Grade) that was still available in Scotland and covered the same period of history. Following a governors’ meeting on the evening of the ‘Great Storm’ in 1987, we were accused in writing of ‘insubordination and mutiny’ and informed that our ‘sackings’ had been discussed (illegally) ‘in the presence of county officers’.

We went ahead and taught the pupils off school premises, free of charge, in a room hired by parents. The children did very well in the Scottish O-Grade exam and greatly benefited from the experience. The case hit the headlines and was debated in the House of Lords. I and my colleague Dr Anthony Freeman were given the ‘order of the boot’. I went on to become a successful headteacher in the private sector; he never worked again. Piers Morgan was taught by Dr Freeman and, on breakfast TV, described him as ‘a brilliant teacher’ even though, at one parental consultation evening, he had called him a ‘buffoon’.

In this new row, Lewes Priory is once again showing the ugly and sinister side of the educational establishment. Regardless of common sense, you will do as we tell you, think as we think, act as we act . . . or else.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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