Inspectors urged to check gender roles

Dorothy Lepkowska

Girls continue to trail behind boys in subjects such as mathematics because of poor teaching methods and gender stereotyping, a conference heard last week.

Now school inspectors have been urged to investigate why school achievement differs between the sexes.

Leone Burton, professor of education at Birmingham University, said some teachers failed to make students independent thinkers.

The result was that some pupils, particularly girls, became dependent on the teacher to steer them through problems. The difficulty was compounded by gender roles and boys being made to feel they should excel in maths and sciences.

Professor Burton, who was speaking at the Women's National Commission conference "Education: A Fair Deal for Women?" last week, said studies had shown that poor results in maths were often seen by employers or admissions tutors as a hindrance for women, yet the same pattern did not follow for men who had failed in English.

She said: "We need to identify the fallacies that support a system which is satisfactory for a very small number of people. We only have to analyse the mathematics department of any university to see it is dominated by white, predominantly middle-class males, in other words the privileged."

Professor Burton said research had shown boys received more praise and criticism in the classroom. A small minority of boys often tended to dominate lessons, often leading to disruption.

Professor Burton said women were largely disempowered in society because policy-making bodies dominated by men meant they had no voice.

Audrey Jones of the Fawcett Society, which monitors equal opportunities, told the conference that a study of Office for Standards in Education inspections on 50 secondary schools showed information given on gender issues varied.

Although girls did markedly better than boys nationally in GCSE examinations in 1993, only six reports listed this as a "main finding" and in only three was it considered a " key issue for action".

In one report the imbalance in performance between the sexes was not mentioned at all even though in that particular school girls did 20 per cent better in five subjects at grades A-C and 16 per cent better in the core subject.

The society has recommended that OFSTED inspectors give greater attention to the performance and achievement of girls and boys, and try to establish why patterns vary.

The conference also considered women in education administration. Edwina Taylor, a special needs officer in Lancashire, said local education authorities had the potential to allow female employees "to grow in terms of personal and career development".

She said a study of 83 local education authorities found there were 16 female directors or chief education officers. In addition, 11 out of 72 deputy directors were women, as were 175 out of 595 senior education officers.

Ms Taylor said: "Women make sense of day-to-day practicalities, they bring sensitive leadership, the ability of recognise the needs of staff and provide the appropriate direction for the department."

The conference formed part of the WNC's preparations for the fourth UN World Conference on Women, to be held in Beijing in September.

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