Bid to close gender gap

18th August 2006 at 01:00
The national curriculum is not challenging girls to consider "non-traditional" careers such as engineering or computing, according to primary teachers.

And secondary teachers believe the schools inspection agency, Estyn, encourages girls to do hairdressing and health while boys pursue lucrative careers in IT.

More needs to be done to embed equality issues in the curriculum, concludes a new report which aims to help employers, schools and training providers tackle the gender pay gap.

Launched at last week's Eisteddfod in Swansea, it says education and training have a key part to play in closing the gap.

Women still earn on average only 87 per cent of men's hourly wage - costing them pound;250,000 over a lifetime, and an additional pound;140,000 if they have children.

The report, produced by Chwarae Teg, a limited company and charity set up to expand the role of women in the Welsh economy, surveyed primary and secondary schools, alongside training providers and businesses.

Respondents from primary schools "generally felt that the current curriculum did not encourage pupils to consider non-traditional careers", says the report. However, respondents were more concerned about the recruitment of male teachers in primary schools.

Secondary schools acknowledged that although they tried to tackle gender stereotyping, more joint action was needed involving higher and further education colleges and employers.

They suggested a wider curriculum could help eradicate stereotyping, but there were mixed views as to whether the current curriculum encourages pupils to consider non-traditional careers.

Some respondents believed Estyn "encourages the acceptance of typically male female subjects and careers".

Earlier this year, Susan Lewis, chief inspector of schools in Wales, said many schools were encouraging pupils to choose the subjects they enjoy for GCSE, in a bid to close academic performance gap between boys and girls.

But the standards-raising tactic has been at the cost of letting pupils make more stereotypical choices. "Let's not be too politically correct here - girls choosing home economics is not a bad thing," she said at the time.

"I think it is important to allow pupils to follow the subjects they want to do."

The response rate among schools was relatively small - representing 31 from across Wales.

Nevertheless, the report concludes that schools "require equality to be firmly embedded in the school curriculum", and says they need to do more to tackle gender stereotyping.

Careers advice for young people should include full details about salaries and promotion opportunities in different occupations; business-focused work experience should be used to broaden girls' horizons; and primary schools should do more to celebrate Science Week to raise awareness of the subject as a career choice.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "Our primary school leader members are rather surprised at these findings. A huge amount of work is done in primary schools to make sure that the same possibilities and experiences are offered to girls and boys.

"Teachers actively encourage both genders to engage with non-gender-typical activities. We're well aware of the gender pay gap which opens up in later years, and school leaders use the curriculum very creatively to make sure that boys and girls participate equally in all their school's activities."

Bridging the Gap Together, see www.chwaraeteg.com

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