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Gender-segregated races at primary school sports day

(40 Posts)
iisme Thu 11-Jun-15 21:41:29

I went to my children's sports day today and they had boys races and girls races, right down to the 5 year-olds. I guess it's important to do this when they get to a stage where boys are physically stronger than girls to give the girls a fair race. But surely it's not necessary for the little ones, and is fostering an idea of 'otherness' (i.e., girls aren't so good) between the genders. But maybe if it is a good idea at the top end of the school (11), it's better to do it all the way down. I instinctively bristled at it. What do you think?

bikeandrun Fri 12-Jun-15 07:37:11

I think gender segregation for races is generally a good thing. I think there are gender differences below 11, small boys still have a higher level of testosterone than girls and tend( except ironically when they are about 11-12) to be smaller. I take part in competitive sport and have won a national title in my sport ( racing against women) my daughter takes part in sport and much prefers doing a cross country race against other girls, than being pushed out of the way by boys in mixed races. Women's sport is important and I like it when the sporting events she takes part in model the ones she aspires to in the future ( whether that is a mass participation event or winning a women's tour de France or an Olympic triathlon medal- we both enjoy a bit of sporty day dreaming) My daughter is in y6 and hates mixed PE, especially for ball sports as the boys won't pass to girls, I think she will enjoy separate girls PE next year far more. Being successful and having the chance to win ( more races more medals to round!)is great for girls self esteem.

soapboxqueen Fri 12-Jun-15 07:56:10

They generally split races into boys and girls for no other reason then they need to have a smaller group race eg 30 in one race isn't practical. The easiest way to do that it's too split them into boys and girls.

There isn't any thought to it beyond that.

However if I were looking for reasons, some boys (even very young ones) can display incredibly competitive (even quietly aggressive mannerisms) that really put girls off. Some boys too. So in order to get the girls to really try to win, putting them into an all girl group can help. And as pp it's setting up the format for the future.

ChunkyPickle Fri 12-Jun-15 08:02:49

I was under the impression that gender segregation for no reason other than ease was frowned upon (I'm sure I saw some guidelines on the subject)

I'm not sure that segregation to solve aggression is the answer (possibly because DS1 is particularly gentle) - I think that teaching those boys that the aggression is not acceptable (and how far you can go whilst in a friendly competition) would be a better route (as I'm doing with DS2 who can already intimidate DS1 despite a 2 year age gap) - that will help them and all their peers in the future too.

As I said, I'm not sure - but it feels a bit like rather than attempting to solve the problem they're just telling the girls to stay away from those naughty boys rather than telling the boys off - which starts to edge towards getting victim blamey....

bikeandrun Fri 12-Jun-15 08:35:45

I don't think it is just done for ease but sometimes gender segregation can have a really positive effect which conversely results in a more equal less sexist society. For example girls do better in physics and maths in single sex groups thus are more likely to become engineers, scientists in the future. Some colleges run female only construction courses, hopefully long term result more equality, less gender division rather than more. Do agree about the behaviour of the boys needing to be tackled but for me this isn't the main reason for separate races. Really interesting thread and can see both sides.

shirleybasseyslovechild Fri 12-Jun-15 08:51:23

you might want to take this up with the Olympic committee.

let's have men and women running the 100m together and see how many women come first.

same goes for all other athletics events.

I don't think it's "othering" because both groups are being treated exactly the same, I would have objections if some events were boy or girl only, or boys always went before girls. I also don't think it's telling the girls to stay away from the boys any more than it's telling the boys to stay away from the girls.

I would say mixed in KS1, segregated in Key stage 2, where physical strength differences come into play might be reasonable, but I think the problem does come when a child asks why, it's very easy for someone to just say "boys are faster" or similar which is not good. Whereas the response "because that's how competitive athletics works so it's good preparation" is more reasonable.

bikeandrun Fri 12-Jun-15 09:11:49

Exactly Shirley that's why I think separate women's/ girls sport from early on is a good thing. Jess Ennis achievements are just as important in their own right as say Bradley Wiggins's ones.

Interestingly men and women's sporting abilities start become less polarised with some very extreme events ie multi day non stop endurance events, possibly due to fat burning ability and mental strength but this is outside mainstream sport really!

TheVermiciousKnid Fri 12-Jun-15 09:12:11

Shirleybassey, the OP said I guess it's important to do this when they get to a stage where boys are physically stronger than girls to give the girls a fair race. So your point is really quite, erm, pointless - she quite obviously would not advocate joint races at the Olympics.

I'm fairly sure they don't segregate by gender at my kids' school, numbers would be too small for that!

iisme Fri 12-Jun-15 09:54:28

Thanks for your thoughts. I do agree that single sex is a good thing in many situations - in fact I think single sex education can be a very good thing for girls and make them less likely to be pushed into female roles. The point about making them part of the female sport movement is a really good one - I certainly would want my daughter to recognise the achievements of someone like Jessica Ennis (though maybe not aspire to them as she is not at all sporty!).

I agree that segregating for reasons such as aggression is problematic - and in fact some of the girls in my daughters' class are the most competitive, and I think the important thing for both girls and boys is to encourage competitiveness in the right context and handled in a non-aggressive way.

They did do all of the races boys first and then girls - maybe this is why I was feeling a bit annoyed about it!

And Vermicious - thanks for pointing out that I am not advocating doing away with segregated sports! I'm just wondering at what age separation becomes desirable.

soapboxqueen Fri 12-Jun-15 10:04:02

It is far easier to group children by something obvious. We had mixed classes so would generally split by year group. It also stops parents complaining that races have been set up for x to win it y to lose.

I didn't mean boys are really aggressive. Obviously that would be tackled. I meant they can be quite competitive and it's quite obvious which puts many girls off. They already expect that the boys will be faster and don't really try.

Sometimes it's right to allow girls their own space to find out what they can do.

I'm not saying this should be a reason within itself to segregate. I think modelling sporting practice from adult races is probably a better one. It's just something I've noticed.

SavoyCabbage Fri 12-Jun-15 10:23:08

I live in Australia where sport is taken very seriously.

At our sports day the children are divided into boys and girls and by age.

The age thing is not even school years it's October 1st as that is the start of the Athletics season! The school year is February till December so they can be in a group with dc who are not in their year level.

Actually, thinking about it more at my dc's athletics club, the boys and the girls are not allowed to run in the same race as it affects the times. And they can start at age five.

VashtaNerada Fri 12-Jun-15 10:28:43

Never a good idea to segregate by gender unless you really have to

LurcioAgain Fri 12-Jun-15 10:47:48

I love the way they organise things at my DS' infants' school. All the events are team events, done as relays, with about 4 or 5 children in each (mixed) team. Prior to puberty there really isn't any difference in strength and speed. And since sport (like maths, English and the rest) should be taught as "preparation for life" - in this case, trying to show children that being fit and active can be fun. I see no reason with this age group to push having overly competitive individual events. Great if they have a natural aptitude - that's what athletics clubs and the like outside of school are there to foster - but I hated the way sports was taught when I was at school, where a handful of sporty kids got all the attention and the rest of us were alternately humiliated or ignored.

And it is really, really hard to push against gender stereotypes. For instance (DS is 7) there are several girls in his class who seem to enjoy playing football at break times, so he's tried to persuade them to come to the after school football club, but none of them will. sad

My 9 year old DD has had the opposite experience, the boys in the playground don't want girls playing with them.

MrNoseybonk Fri 12-Jun-15 11:14:55

"They did do all of the races boys first and then girls - maybe this is why I was feeling a bit annoyed about it!"

But that's the opposite way round to professional sport where women normally go first, almost as a warm up to the "main event" i.e. the men.
I can see they might do this to get exposure for the women as people might turn off after the men have finished, but it does make it seem like the men's event is the more important one.

LurcioAgain Fri 12-Jun-15 11:20:13

WhoKnows - I'm sure this goes on too! I have been "indoctrinating" (wink) DS from an early age, but I don't doubt for an instant that there are other children pushing the boys/girls can't play with XYZ line (or indeed possibly DS at times when I'm not around - my experience with children is that consistency is not one of their primary characteristics). I had a sad experience up at my dad's last summer - DS and I got involved in a jumpers-for-goalposts game in the park with another family. Their eldest girl was absolutely bloody brilliant (I used to play Sunday league myself, and this approx 9 year old was way better than I was at my best). And her dad was great too - encouraging her, helping her with skills, and (most impressively) not making any attempt to squash her natural competitiveness. But when I chatted to him afterwards, he said they hadn't been able to find a local club for her. The nearest boys' club, the boys just refused point blank to play with her, while the nearest girls' club was too far away to fit in with the shifts he and his wife worked in terms of getting her to training.

ChunkyPickle Fri 12-Jun-15 11:25:37

But this is KS1 - 4-7 year-olds - this is when we should be teaching them about fair competition, getting the competitiveness to be appropriately expressed - I think this is a perfect time for them to be racing together, learning to work together while they're still little and roughly the same size.

Couldn't happen in DS's school either luckily because the classes are too small - not that that stops other pointless gender splitting (looking at the 'boys' and 'girls' hampers at the school fair here...)

LurcioAgain Fri 12-Jun-15 11:36:32

"Appropriate expression of competitiveness" - good phrase Chunky!

My experience (skewed by having a naturally competitive, sporty child) is that children will compete with one another given half the chance, and that part of the aim of the game is "appropriate expression": getting them to learn which situations are appropriate for an all-out attempt to win and which are appropriate for more cooperative behavior; how to handle the fact that you can't always win; how not to crow over your opponent when you do win; how sometimes cooperation rather than individual show-boating is actually the strategy you need for your team to win (DS complained bitterly all the way home from football club last night that no-one passed to him and as a result he'd only scored one goal). Some of my friends, on the other hand, have DC who are shy and not naturally competitive (very much as I was at school - I look at my naturally sport DS and sometimes wonder if he's a changeling!).

And it's this variation in children that makes me keen on non-competitive, or limited, team based competition in schools - but very definitely mixed gender.. Because in a country with an obesity crisis on its hands, where women are often put off doing sport (long list of reasons - social pressure not to get sweaty, lack of social pressure to give it a go, harassment while out on runs, lack of role models, the list is endless), what we need to be doing in schools, I think, is showing children that sport can be something you do for fun, that makes you feel good about yourself. I realize this may sound all a bit ILEA circa 1980, and I'm not against competition per se, just don't make it the be-all and end-all of the school curriculum. And certainly don't split along gender lines at early ages, not until puberty and changes in musculature make it necessary.

bikeandrun Fri 12-Jun-15 11:55:44

There is a difference between boys and girls pre puberty though, boys are on average bigger so proportionally will perform better than girls of an equivalent age. Competitive and sport for fun are both important and I want to see girls coming back from sports day with as many medals as the boys, yes have mixed relays etc, but a straightforward race is better split on gender lines. Opportunities for sport in a single sex environment increases participation, there is a thriving women's running club in my city and plenty of men enjoy the male bonding of a five a side league. My children both love the different atmosphere they experience at single sex activities like guide and cubs( I know cubs is mixed but ds's pack is all male)

soapboxqueen Fri 12-Jun-15 11:58:05

I think we're mixing up what generally happens in schools and sports day which is a completely different beast.

Generally in schools, especially in primary, pe is more about skills and learning the basics of various sports. It's about making children aware of their health, having fun and learning tactics. There is some competitive inter-school elements too. All of it is mixed sex. None of it makes an expectation of boys over girls or vice versa.

However, sports day is essentially a show for parents and can bring out the worst in both parents and children. It can become incredibly competitive and schools are in a no win situation. Some schools have stopped sports days or banned parents in order to keep things civil. In my last school parents demanded that a running race was introduced so they could have a straight on competition. Great for some but torture for many others.

Even if a school spends all year breaking down stereotypes and encouraging good sportsmanship, it only takes one parent modelling exactly the wrong behaviour before other parents join in and the children follow suit. I'm not talking about full on aggression or blatant sexism. Just subtle enough to encourage standard gender stereotypes.

Now that may not be the case everywhere. I'm not suggesting that segregation should be the norm. I'm just saying sometimes situations call for a slightly different approach for different reasons.

ChunkyPickle Fri 12-Jun-15 12:13:38

Lurcio - we are on the same page I think.

bike - boys are on average bigger - yes, given the charts, but there's more of a difference by age than by sex - DS1 has grown 2 inches in the past year - he's the youngest in his year, and he's competing against people who have had another whole year's growth. The older girls in his year are still much bigger than him as the youngest boy. Sure, the biggest kid in the year is a boy (although, it's a close run thing - the second biggest is a girl) - but the smallest is also a boy.

I don't think that saying that day to day we're together, but on special occasions you need to keep separate is a good message either.

bikeandrun Fri 12-Jun-15 13:07:36

As a feminist, athlete, mum of boys and girls and sometimes coach I really see the value in separate competion for girls. Australia seems to do pretty well in sport so good point PP. There are lots of way of rewarding success in sport including fair play awards, mixed team relays, most improved performer etc. But female achievement needs to be modelled from a young age and my own limited experience that seems to happen more with some separate events. I don't think it is harmful to do both. Maybe my experience is coloured by the fact I get so much out of doing sport with women and my daughter gets lots out of doing sport with other girls (but we both do mixed sport too)

On another point I do think being small in your year an issue and puts off many potential talents, ie Messi, probably the worlds best footballer would have dismissed as too small in the UK set up, don't have any answers for this one.

AuntieStella Fri 12-Jun-15 13:17:18

I don't see there's a need to segregate up to the end of KS1.

But in the KS2 years there are some differences in body size and strength (boys - generally - being a bit taller and stronger, until puberty strikes, and some girls start growing). Obviously, you'll get outliers (both sexes/both ways) but as you don't want one sex to dominate, then separation can help.

Different sports have differing times for when they must be segregated. I'm not sure what the rules are for children younger than eligible for U13 (when they are definitely separate).

ChunkyPickle Fri 12-Jun-15 13:57:45

Absolutely - I totally get and agree that segregation when their older is fine, and generally positive.

But these are tiny kids - perhaps my view is coloured because mine are still young - still so close to being babies and toddlers.

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