To ensure that education fully utilises the potential of girls and women, and that the education of all young people (both girls and boys) builds values and behaviours that lead to a more equitable society.
Traditionally, the focus of work on gender and education was focussed mainly on righting the historical wrongs against women and girls in terms of their access to opportunities. More recently, however, the emphasis for many researchers and policy makers has been on boy’s underachievement (particularly in English), and a focus on the gender gap in educational outcomes. It is clear that, on average, girls do now perform better than boys at every Key Stage at school and in Higher Education. In 2015:
- 58% of Bristol girls compared to 49.8 % of boys in the City of Bristol gained the benchmark 5A* to C including Maths and English (58.9% and 52.7% nationally).
- At the end of primary school, the Bristol gender gap in reading was 5ppts (nationally 4ppts), in writing was 10ppts (nationally 8ppts) and maths, 2ppts.
- In contrast, in Bristol last year at KS5, 87.2% males and only 86.9% females achieved the benchmark of at least 2 substantial Level 3 qualifications.
- Nationally, 25,000 more females than males entered at least one A Level.
- Participation and achievement in HE overall is higher for females with 30% more female qualifiers in 2014 in graduate and post-graduate courses than males.
Overall outcomes, however, do not tell the whole story. The increasing focus on boy’s underachievement in English, and the low achievement of other key groups such as pupils of Free School Meals and Children in Care, often detract from the examination of lower outcomes for girls in certain subjects, and in certain schools. Also, the gender differences for particular minority ethnic groups are significant but often ignored.
Schools are required to publish information about their results, and good practice would dictate that this includes the gender gap and gender participation rates for all subjects, so that strategies can be put in place to address any concerns. They are also required to produce Equality Objectives, which should include gender issues so they can be held accountable.
Academic research suggests that schools and colleges should also be focusing on eliminating sex-stereotyping through revision of school texts, close examination of gender bias in curriculum content, reading and display materials, examination questions. Other areas to be considered include increasing focus on considering the extent of teacher-led work, switching to mixed-sex pairing or single-sex grouping where appropriate, or offering greater learning support. This clearly requires an increased emphasis on gender issues in initial teacher training and on-going Inset days.
Over the last few years, there has been a shift of responsibility to individual schools for the provision of careers’ support, and a drastic cut to funding agencies providing Careers Education Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG). This has led to many schools and colleges without specialist support. As Ofsted commented, ‘Very few of the schools visited knew how to provide a service effectively or had the skills and expertise needed to provide a comprehensive service. Few schools had purchased an adequate service from external sources.’
Gender stereotyping in subject choices is still as prevalent as 20 years ago. In A Level choices last year,
- 9% females and 79.1% males took Physics,
- 6% females and 59.4% males took Maths,
- 9% females and 70.1% males took English,
- 8% of those taking Health and Social Care were female.
Just 3% of apprentices last year taking Engineering were female, compared to 80% of those taking Health and Social Care and 92% hairdressing. Although there was an overall increase in the percentage of female apprenticeships to 53% in 2014/15, many of these have been for older women and the major growth areas are Business and Administration, and Health and Social Care. Many schools and universities – including Bristol schools – are developing STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Maths) initiatives to encourage more participation in all of these areas, with a particular emphasis on improving gender participation in those careers that tend to be well paid.
Other important aspects of tackling gender equality in education include addressing aspects of the hidden curriculum, e.g. the culture of the schools, combating gender-based violence and harassment, enhancing Personal, Health and Social Education (PSHE) to address issues that relate to gender equality, and improving the representation of women in decision-making positions.
Figures show that almost one in three girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. Nearly three quarters of the children polled reported hearing sexual name-calling towards girls on an almost daily basis. The recording of sexist bullying in schools is patchy, is addressed to differing extents in the curriculum and it is not considered as part of the inspection process.
There are increasing calls locally and nationally to ensure that the curriculum addresses mental health issues and promotes well-being, is designed to build resilience and focusses on developing healthy relationships and challenging exploitation and harassment.
‘I was just gonna say about how mental health is actually like more of a priority to me than trying to be physically healthy, especially around sixth form and stuff like that and I feel like there’s not enough, especially for teenagers, to help them through those things like that, if like, when I was going through these things – I had nowhere to go to in school for instance and I didn’t know apart from maybe going to my GP, anything like that, and then a GP gives you a long waiting time… I just don’t feel that there’s enough support and I feel like that’s something that should be of massive focus for teenagers – their mental health as well as their physical health.’
A Level Student
Examples of good practice exist in certain schools (e.g. adopting the Bristol Ideal), but this is patchy. In a recent national survey, 58% of 13-21 years old girls worried about mental health and 37% about cyber bullying. Almost 50% had sought help for mental health issues, yet waiting lists for counselling and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are increasing and many schools and colleges have no dedicated mental health support. There is no requirement on academies, Free Schools and independent schools to provide Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). SRE is best taught as part of a broader PSHE curriculum, which includes related topics such as risk, safety, equality, stereotyping, prejudice, media literacy and abusive behaviour and attitudes. This helps pupils to develop the skills, knowledge and personal attributes they need to manage their lives.
Nationally, 62% of qualified teachers in secondary schools are female and yet only 36% of headteachers. However, Bristol is bucking this trend with nearly two thirds being female. Female heads who are mothers are 50% more likely to start off in the bottom third of the advertised pay range than male heads who are fathers, according to a Future Leaders Survey. The average teachers’ salary for women is £2,900 lower than for men, male senior leaders in schools earn 8% more than females and in primary academies the average pay for senior men is £55k and women 49K. Some 25% of women teachers/lecturers joining Further Education start on less than £20k per year compared with only 11% of men.
Reduced budgets have led to cuts in family learning classes, which in the past mainly benefitted mothers and helped them support their children’s education as well as to re-enter the education environment and restart their careers. National policy and cuts to Local Authority and Further Education funding have also led to the closure of much of the adult and community education in the city. It is increasingly hard for women to return to education later in life with the introduction of level 3 loans and the reduction in Access courses. Funding for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes for adults and young people attending colleges has been drastically cut and there are increasing waiting lists in Bristol for this support, without which newly arrived women are unable to gain the skills they need to move into employment or training.
The importance of Children’s Centres in preparing all children for education, but also in addressing inequality, is well documented. A survey nationally, however, found that 57% of centres expected their budget to reduce over the coming year while 3% expected to close. Some 400 children’s centres closed between April 2010 and 2015. All of these issues need to be addressed if we are to move towards gender equality in education and the calls to action can be the first steps to making this a reality in Bristol.
Education Calls to Action
|Who?||Call to Action|
|Schools, colleges and academies||To make available examination results and other outcomes (attendance, exclusions, employment data and pay levels etc) by gender for scrutiny|
|Schools, colleges and academies||To identify evidence based gender equality objectives and publish actions as part of equality objectives required by the Equality Act|
|Schools, colleges and academies||To report and tackle sexist bullying and harassment and develop curriculum materials to prevent this taking place|
|Local Authority, Local Enterprise Partnership||To produce a strategy to fund and provide ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes with creche facilities for newly arrived girls and women|
|Local authority, schools, colleges and academies||To train education staff and pupils to address gender stereotyping in subject choices and careers guidance to increase take up of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Maths) subjects by girls|
|Local authority, schools, colleges and academies||To ensure positive mental health, well-being and healthy relationships form a key part of the PSHE curriculum for all pupils|
|Local Authority||To protect Early Years Centres to provide tailored support to mothers and children most in need of support|
 Bristol Educational Performance (2014/15)
 Opportunities and Outcomes in Education and Work (UK Commission on Employment and Skills 2015)
 Gender Difference in Educational Outcomes (Educational, Audiovisual and Cultural Executive Agency 2010)
 Going in the Right Direct (Ofsted 2012)
 DFE (2010)
 Gender Difference in Educational Outcomes (Educational, Audiovisual and Cultural Executive Agency 2010)
 End Violence Again Women (YouGov poll 2010)
 Girl Guiding Attitude Survey (2015)
 ATL (2015)
 The Annual Census of Sure Start centres (2014)