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Equality to be made central feature of education

New regulations will make it incumbent upon schools to tackle gender inequalities in subject choice and attainment

IN APRIL, the gender equality duty will come into force for all public bodies, placing them under an obligation to promote equality of opportunity between men and women and eliminate discrimination.

A Scottish Code of Practice and details of specific duties are expected to be published early this year and put out for consultation.

The tentacles of the new law will reach into classroom practice, and could create a duty to examine whether teaching methods favour one gender over another or whether a school is doing enough to flatten out gender gaps in subject choice.

Jenny Kemp, education development officer for the Equal Opportunities Commission in Scotland, said: "Everyone who is involved in delivering education services, from teachers to quality improvement officers, from classrooms assistants to curriculum advisers, will be expected to make equality a central feature in all their work. It is time for a new culture in education."

Boys' attainment has tended to dominate the debate on gender issues in schools, but a number of other issues are likely to come under the microscope with the new legal duty. Work experience placements could be scrutinised: why are no boys sent on childcarenurseryhairdressing placements - and, conversely, very few girls doing traditional trades?

Is enough being done to make courses accessible to both sexes? Even if girls are out-performing boys in school, why are women still over-represented among the low-paid in the workforce and under-represented among the highly paid? Should schools be doing more to equip learners to gain the most value out of their achievements by rejecting stereotypes which stifle their ambitions and aspirations?

Although female teachers outnumber their male colleagues, women are five times less likely than men to become headteachers.

The gender duty will require education authorities and schools to tackle these issues, although they will be given flexibility in how they carry out the duty.

EOC Scotland cites Vale of Leven Academy in West Dunbartonshire as an example of good practice. The school has produced information for parents, pupils and teachers on equality, carried out statistical analysis of attainment data, offered supported learning for boys, and provided in-service staff training on gender issues. "It has encouraged every department in the school to examine its practices and change them, where necessary, by requiring them to produce annual action plans for tackling gender differences in attainment," says the EOC.

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