A leading London headteacher has banned the use of the term ‘sir’ or ‘miss’ for students to address teachers, calling it ‘cultural misogyny’.
James Handscombe, executive director of Harris Westminster Sixth Form and Harris Clapham Sixth Form, shared a meeting on his Twitter account that he gave to students asking them to use full names when speaking to teachers.
The montage, titled ‘no more Sir, no more Miss’, has now been viewed more than 120,000 times.
In 2021, the headteacher made headlines for calling Taylor Swift a philosopher and he’s clearly still a fan — five song titles appear in this week’s meeting.
In it, Mr Handscombe tells students: ‘We are changing the way students refer to Harris Westminster staff.
“It will no longer be acceptable to call us ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am. We’d rather you call us by name.’
James Handscombe, executive director of Harris Westminster Sixth Form and Harris Clapham Sixth Form, has asked pupils not to use ‘sir’ or ‘miss’ when addressing teaching staff as the terms are outdated and sexist
He explained that the decision showed “our continued commitment to a better and more equal world,” saying that while the term “sir” was associated with powerful men, “miss” was “how you refer to a little girl or an Edwardian shop assistant. .’
Many schools have done away with traditional addresses in recent years, preferring terms such as Ms., Ms., or Ms. instead.
Mr Handscombe’s position was widely praised by teachers – with many female teachers saying they disliked being addressed as ‘Miss’ – particularly by colleagues.
One of them wrote, “I absolutely hate it when another teacher calls me Miss. I’m 55 years old and I wasn’t quite sure why it gave me goosebumps. Cultural misogyny – thanks James, that was pretty brilliant.”
Harris Westminster Sixth Form; students are encouraged to call teachers by their full names
Another said, “This is so much needed. I hope it works. I once had a senior sheriff’s deputy call me ‘ma’am’ instead of my name, and it gnawed every time.”
Mr Handscombe said of the decision: ‘It’s one of those things that’s obviously wrong, but nobody’s fault (especially not students, who I think use the two terms as equal forms of respect) and hard to change. We’ll see how we fare.’
However, one teacher said what she’s called in class is the least of her worries, writing, “Ffs, as the behavior is right now, I don’t care what my name is, I just want the b*** *** to work. I’ve been ‘Miss’ for 35 years and I’ll stay that way until I retire.’
Two years ago, Mr Handscombe made headlines when he told his pupils that pop star Taylor Swift was one of life’s philosophers – and there were five song references to the star in the latest gathering.
He discusses the words of wisdom in her lyrics in his new book, A School Built On Ethos, revealing that he believes her songs teach valuable life lessons to his students. (Pictured: Harris Westminster school)
Mr Handscombe used five references to Taylor Swift at his last sitting – in 2021 he told students she was one of the world’s greatest philosophers
Lyrics like “Men get to be fearless leaders and alpha types” from Swift’s 2019 hit The Man, and “If it’s the last – please stop – I just, I mean, this is exhausting, you know” from chart-topper We Are Never Getting Back Together are discussed.
In 2021, Mr Handscombe, who was introduced to Swift’s music through his teenage daughters, told students he felt Swift deserved her place in the canon of great philosophers – alongside Shakespeare, Yeats, Donne and Samuel Beckett.
He discussed the words of wisdom found in her lyrics in his book, A School Built On Ethos, revealing that he believes her songs teach his students valuable life lessons.
Her country song Mean is a spirited defiance in standing up to bullies, Welcome to New York is a wonderful lesson on shaping your own future, and Shake It Off teaches listeners to “do your own thing.”
He said at the time, “There’s always a laugh when the headteacher knows something about pop culture, and it’s a lot of fun quoting a pop text, completely straight under the guise of philosophy, and watching the nudges move around the room,” wait just a moment”, “he just said?”, “I think I recognize this”.’
The teacher, who studied mathematics at Oxford and Harvard, said: ‘Her songwriting tells its own stories and that it is gloriously the stories of a young woman negotiating the 21st century is a great example for our young people.’
Harris Westminster opened in 2014 with the help of neighboring Westminster School and the Harris Federation, a non-profit charity.
It gives priority to underprivileged teenagers from across London and last year 44 of its students received offers from Oxbridge.