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Poll: Is it sexist and outdated for pupils to call teachers ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’?

18:55 14 May 2014

Academics say pupils should drop the terms

Academics say pupils should drop the terms 'Sir' and 'Miss'

School pupils should refer to teaching staff by their first names rather than “sexist” titles such as “sir” and “miss”, academics have said.

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Senior education experts say the latter has connotations which make them appear less capable than their male counterparts.

In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement (TES), Jennifer Coates, emeritus professor of English language and linguistics at Roehampton University, said it was “depressing” that women teachers were given “low status” compared with men in the same roles.

She said: “’Sir’ is a knight, but ‘miss’ is ridiculous, it doesn’t match ‘sir’ at all.”

Education historian Jacob Middleton told TES the different titles, widely used in schools as opposed to terms including “ma’am”, embodied the “massive status disparity and sexism of former years”.

Professor Sara Mills, a discourse researcher at Sheffield Hallam University, said pupils could instead refer to their teachers by their first names.

She said: “Sometimes teachers find that they try to stress the similarities between them, rather than trying to keep as distant as possible.”

However teachers in Suffolk have opposed the move. The headteacher at Holbrook Academy said “too much familiarity can breed contempt” while the leader of Suffolk and Norfolk Initial Teacher Training said it was important “to denote professional distance between the teacher and pupil”.

Geoff Robinson added that the term ‘Miss’ had become so commonly used that previous connotations had been abandoned. “People don’t actually give it a second thought,” he said.

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