‘Woke’ sneers could sap young people’s drive for change, says top headteacher

Older adults should not use terms like “woke” or “snowflakes” to mock the younger generation and their commitment to campaigning on issues like misogyny, Black Lives Matter, gender identity and climate action, a leading headteacher has said.

Samantha Price, who is president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), warned that using derogatory language to belittle young people’s demands for change risked undermining future progress on equality and sustainability.

Price, who is headteacher of Benenden, an independent boarding school in Kent and will this week address the GSA’s annual conference in Manchester, said that there was a risk young people would give up their campaigning drives if they continue to be dismissed as “unrealistic do-gooders”.

“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,” Price told PA media ahead of the two-day conference which starts on Monday.

“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.”

Price will tell the gathering of 100 private school headteachers that young people may not always approach their protests in the best way – pupils have been criticised for taking part in school strikes over the climate crisis – but it is up to schools to teach them how to conduct themselves so that they can effect lasting change.

She will say: “In recent years there have been many references to this generation being ‘woke’ – meant in a derogatory sense – and adults commenting that they feel today’s teenagers are speaking a different language to them and that they can’t say anything without being corrected or ‘called out’ by these politically correct – or ‘woke’ – children.

“To a certain extent, as parents and school leaders, we can probably all relate to this in some way or other, but I am getting a little weary of hearing the older generation say: ‘you can’t say anything any more’. The fact is that times have changed, and we simply need to keep up with them.”

Meanwhile, members of another group of schools in the independent sector, the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), are taking part in an indicative ballot on strike action which opens on Monday over plans by the trust to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. It is the first ever national ballot on strike action in the GDST’s 149-year history.

The National Education Union, which represents 65% of the teaching staff across the 23 GDST schools, said withdrawal from the scheme would result in a significant pay cut for teachers and undermine the schools’ ability to recruit and retain teachers.

According to the GDST, 280 independent schools have already withdrawn from the TPS after employers’ contributions went up by 43% in 2019. The uplift has been covered by the government in the maintained sector, but not in independent schools.

Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of the GST, said: “The GDST has been grappling with the increased cost of the TPS scheme since 2019, when the employer contribution increased from 16.48% to 23.68%, which represents a 43% increase.”

The GDST’s alternative to the TPS offers a 20% employer contribution into a flexible, defined contribution pension plan. “We would not have proposed to leave the TPS unless we felt we had a viable alternative for our teachers, one which gives them a comfortable retirement and flexibility around their total remuneration package.”

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