THE HEADTEACHER of a private school in Andover has defended his decision to deliver anti-harassment assemblies after a complaint was submitted by the Fathers4Justice campaign group, claiming the decision was “sexist” and “irresponsible”.

In October, pupils at Rookwood School on Weyhill Road were separated by gender for Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) sessions discussing “mutual respect” and experiences surrounding sexual harassment.

It comes after the school said they’d received reports of inappropriate sexist language being used by some students.

However, while the school said it was within its rights to conduct separate assemblies, one parent claimed their son felt “targeted” and “stereotyped” on the basis of his gender.

The school’s leadership team has said that the assemblies were clearly not about berating pupils, but encouraging discussion about certain behaviours being “dismissed as banter”, in a “safe and welcoming” environment.

In a statement to the Advertiser, headteacher Anthony Kirk-Burgess explained that the assemblies were delivered in response to concerns raised about the language being used by some students, and to uphold its zero-tolerance policy to harassment.

He said: “Rookwood School takes its duty to support, educate and protect the children and young people in its care extremely seriously.

“We recently became concerned about a few instances of inappropriate sexist language being used by some students.

“Some of it was played down by attempting to dismiss it as ‘banter’, and we decided the best way to address this was through assemblies for all of our older students, boys and girls, as part of our PSHE provision, focusing on the importance of mutual respect.

“It was not about telling off any of our students, and this was made clear to them; the focus was firmly on challenging the mistaken view that such behaviour is in any way acceptable or normal.

“Their subsequent feedback was that they welcomed and appreciated the opportunity to talk openly about these issues, and we continue to do all we can to ensure their learning environment is safe and welcoming.”

It came after a complaint, sent to the school on a parent’s behalf by campaign group Fathers4Justice, and seen by the Advertiser, said the dad was “shocked” by the school’s teachings.

He said his son was “upset” at being “discriminated against” and claimed that male pupils were told to cross the road if they see a woman coming towards them.

He added: “The demonising of half of the school’s pupils on the basis of their gender - not the content of their character - is wholly unacceptable and dangerously irresponsible.

“The crude, sexist, stereotyping of boys as perpetrators and abusers sends a dangerous and harmful message to male pupils, which may put their mental health at risk.”

The parent further called on the school to offer an apology to his son and all male pupils, and to review its procedure going forwards.