The Scottish government has confirmed it will establish a taskforce to look at gender equality in education, after a report earlier this year called for “safe and nurturing gender-neutral education and learning in all settings”.
In January, the first report from the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls was published. The council – set up by first minister Nicola Sturgeon “to push government to do more” – called for a commission on gender equality in education and learning to be established, covering the early years, primary and secondary.
The council said the commission should be tasked with providing “bold and far-reaching recommendations” on how gender equality can be embedded in all aspects of learning from teacher training and school cultures, to the curriculum.
Now, Ms Sturgeon has given the green light to all of the council’s 11 proposals. These also include creating an institute to dismantle stereotypes about what girls and women should “study, work at, and be”; establishing a world-leading process for complainants of sexual violence; and 50 hours of free childcare a week for all children aged between six months and five years.
Promoting gender equality in education
Ms Sturgeon said at a meeting with the advisory council yesterday: “I am committed to making sure we drive forward improvements to gender equality in Scotland now and in the future – whether tackling violence against women and girls, challenging gender stereotypes, promoting equality within the media or highlighting best practice in the workplace.
“By accepting the council’s recommendations, we will learn from best practice in Scotland and around the world and work towards Scotland being a country where everyone is treated fairly and can achieve their full potential.”
The #Generation Equal report highlights research showing that 75 per cent of girls and young women reported anxiety about experiencing sexual harassment in school, with 25 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds saying that it made them consider whether to speak out in class.
Sexual harassment and fear of boys’ behaviour also meant that girls opted out of male-dominated classes, such as physics, the report adds.
Figures compiled by Tes Scotland showed that in 2017 74 per cent of Higher physics candidates were male and that in computing 85 per cent of Higher candidates were male – up from 76 per cent in 2007.
The council, therefore, recommended a commission on gender equality in education and learning be established, independent of key bodies such as inspection and curriculum organisation Education Scotland.
The report says: “The intended outcome is for a radical, evidenced-based and gender-competent national strategy, providing much-needed coherence and a pathway to safe and nurturing gender-neutral education and learning in all settings.”
The council’s chair, Louise Macdonald, said: “When the council launched, we made a bold pledge to help design a future where gender inequality is a historical curiosity, creating a Scotland where we’re all equal.
“The adoption of these recommendations, some of which are unprecedented, is a tangible step towards this.”
In the report, Ms Macdonald acknowledged that “we sometimes run the risk of educators being tasked with finding solutions to problems to which society has no answer”. However, she added that “time and again” the council heard that “education and learning is key to creating change”.
She wrote: “It is clear that there is a powerful – and as yet untapped – potential in challenging gender inequality more systemically through co-designing gender-sensitive learning models with women and girls in the lead.”
Already the Improving Gender Balance Scotland (IGBS) project, led by Education Scotland, is being rolled out across the country, with the goal that it will reach every school cluster in Scotland by 2022.
It wants Scottish teachers to deal with sexist language in the same way they would racist or homophobic speech, in a bid to address gender bias in schools.
It also wants teachers to confront their own sexist stereotyping, as part of an effort to wipe out beliefs – held even among very young children – that “girls are inherently quiet, compliant and nurturing, while boys are boisterous, confident and should avoid anything traditionally considered feminine”.