Gender – Education

Lesson objectiveTo explore gender in education
Lesson outcomes• Compare its significance to other factors
• Evaluate its significance
• Explain how gender impacts education

Until the 1990s boys out performed girls at school mostly. Today, however, girls have taken the lead. This chapter will explore the many reasons why this change has taken place. It is important not to generalise however and state that ALL girls succeed more than boys, as this is not the case. Boys equal girls in Maths and Science. The trend that girls are doing better than boys is not one that is just UK related, but is in fact a global trend. 

There are four factors which you need to study:

1) Home factors,

2) School factors 

3) Gendered subject choice

4) Social policy.

Home factors

Over the past decade or so, a great focus on empowering women has taken place. There are now more women in employment today than 40 years ago. In April to June 2013, around 67 per cent of women aged 16 to 64 were in work, an increase from 53 per cent in 1971 (ONS, 2013). This stems from the fact that more women are now becoming aspirational and want to go to University more.

 Despite this, there are still many issues such as the fact that overall women still get paid less than men. Although, recently for those in their 20’s women earn more than men. Irrespective of this, there is a consensus among perspectives that ‘the home’ has a massive impact on students and their learning. 

A key concept you need to know is the ‘bedroom culture’. This was created by McRobbie (1991) and states this is where girls create their own subcultures (groups) with their friends which will consist of activity such as reading etc which betters their communication skills. Boys, on the other hand, focus on more psychical activities such as football where the necessity to improve their image becomes more powerful. 

Following on, this leads to the conclusion also that girls spend more time texting and talking, whereas boys are more competitive. This does not help boys with the structure of school which is more collaborative than competitive as most sports are. This has led to something called the ‘crisis in masculinity’ which is where because of this, boys feel alienated and therefore develop low self esteem and do not want to succeed. 

Here is a document which shows the gender gap in employment is not just a UK issue, but a global. 

School Factors

There is evidence to support that girls are more suited to the current school system as they are regarding to be more receptive to the opinion of the teacher and working hard to succeed (often through improving their work), whereas boys are more interested in impressing their peers. Another large difference is that girls tend to enjoy reading more than boys. Epstein (1998) found that boys who attempted to succeed were often bullied.

​The national literacy project was introduced in an attempt to reduce the gender gap. This included policies such as “reading hour”. Evidence shows that this had a great impact on the weaker of the gender and narrowed the gap, however, there was still notable difference and more needs to be done. Machin and McNally (2005)

The Feminism of education relates to how the focus of education has now shifted to a pro-female dominance. ​

Gendered Subject Choice

This refers to how the two genders choose subjects in school. Boys favour more masculine subjects, such as Science, Maths, Engineering, whereas girls choose more feminine subjects, such as languages (including English) and Health and Social Care.

 Reasons for this include:

1) Primary Socialisation (certain colours, roles in the house etc) which resonates in students later life making them more masculine or feminine. (Francis. 2000a)

2) Cultures reinforce the roles of Primary Socialisation such as Peer Groups, the media etc (E.g. most cleaning adverts contain women).

3) The education system itself (male teachers are seen to be more scary and stern (masculine qualities) and female teachers more caring and nurturing (feminine qualities) which reinforces the previous two steps (Skelton, 2002).

When students choose their subjects in year 9, all of the previous steps build up. Therefore, students make their choices based on their schemas (ideas based on experiences) on what they think they should choose.

4) This is reflected in how the subjects and school advertise themselves. E.g. most engineering courses show males (appealing to them) and most languages female. This is because tasks are chosen which are either mostly masculine or feminine to keep the majority satisfied with the course. This is then advertised informing student’s decisions. 

Social Policy

New Labour made clear in their manifesto that their aim in education was to tackle the gender gap in education by focusing on boys and introduced such projects as “Raising Boys’ Achievement Project”, “Reading Champions Scheme” and “Dads and Sons campaign”. A greater focus was placed into placing male teachers into primary schools as well.

 This paved the way for the Education Act 2011 (Conservative, Lib Dem Coalition), which focused more on the gender gap issue. Coursework was reduced and greater focus on traditional teaching. A big focus was seen on ‘empowering teachers to do their jobs’. Despite this, however, teachers still feel greatly unable to manage their classrooms.

Feminists still argue that education still favours boys such as the gendered subject choice issue. Males choose more academic subjects traditionally that girls meaning greater success later on in life. Since genderisation is such a high focus in schools both genders end up conforming to these expectations later in life. 

Gorard et al (1999)

Gorard et al (1999) states that the focus on the gender gap is too much and claims that the distance between the two genders is shrinking. The only issue really is that girls do better than boys in assessments, but there is little evidence for any other fact. It is therefore more prudent to focus on other issues e.g. why there is a low level of engagement for both genders in education.

Forde et al (2006) – (School Factors).

Forde et al (2006) highlights the results from Epstein (1998) emphasising the males care greatly about their peers. Girls do not experience this conflict and thus succeed more. Boys create conflict by seeing academia as a feminist attribute whilst their peers demonstrate masculine characteristics. Boys are therefore seen as doing the very minimum to balance the two conflicts.

Máirtín Mac an Ghaill (1996)  – (Gendered Subject Choice)

Máirtín Mac an Ghaill (1996) emphasise that fixed gender stereotypes are becoming more fluid. There are now many different forms of masculinity and femininity. The “crisis in masculinity” is mainly seen among young working class individuals who adhere to the stereotype to ensure social acceptance.

Younger, Warrington and Williams (1999) – Social Policy

The experiment: Younger, Warrington and Williams (1999) explored the gender gap in GCSE concentrating on English. Observations were used as well as interviews. Their aim was to explore to what extent there is less positive teacher support girl for boys learning rather than girls.

Results: Teachers believe that they give equal support to both genders.  

This is not the case, however, boys dominate the classroom culture generally, but girls focus on communicating with the teacher more. Greater focus needs to be placed on ensuring these roles are the same in the classroom.  ​Evaluation: More than one technique of data gathering was used which adds high validity, but since a small sample was used it lowers generalisability.

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