Creation of an equality ethos

28th June 1996 at 01:00
GENDER. Gaby Weiner, South Bank University

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was girls' underachievement rather than boys' to which educational researchers drew attention. So perhaps the recent panic about boys' underachievement is testimony to the success of researchers who highlighted unequal gender patterns earlier - and to teachers who drew on this work to persuade colleagues of the need for change.

Several studies proved influential: Alison Kelly's work on the masculine nature of school science and Leone Burton's challenge to the male-dominated mathematics curriculum in the 1980s both had a major impact on teachers and LEAs. Dale Spender's work on gender and language identified the ways in which aspects of the language used in schools (in speech and in textbooks) disadvantaged girls. John Pratt's study of sex-stereotyping in subject choices of secondary pupils underpinned Kenneth Baker's claim that a national curriculum would result in more girls studying physics.

Other research was equally influential: Katherine Clarricoates showed how the hidden or informal curriculum mitigated against the progress of girls in primary schools. Sue Lees described graphically what girls in secondary schools felt about the sexual harassment and verbal abuse they received from the boys. Research by Rehana Minhas, Avtar Brah and Heide Mirza illustrated and explained the discriminatory experiences of black schoolgirls and how they negotiated them. Rosemary Deem and Madeleine Ariiot drew attention to the academic benefits of single-sex education for girls, and Valerie Walkerdine and Miriam David explored the impact of different family forms and values on the schooling of girls (and boys).

The outcome of this and other educational research on gender has been that the gap between girls' and boys' performance has closed dramatically for most subjects at GCSE, though less so post-16. Also, according to a recent Equal Opportunities Commission study, the ethos of schools has become more gender-fair and comfortable for both sexes. Quite an achievement for research, I would think.

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