Drive for gender equality has been put in reverse, claims top adviser

4th December 2009 at 00:00
Girls still attain less than boys in working life, despite increasing success at school, she argues

The continued focus on raising boys' achievement in schools ignores the fact that girls still go on to earn less and hold less-powerful positions in the workplace, according to a leading government adviser.

In fact, Miriam David, professor of sociology of education at London's Institute of Education, has warned that the Government's gender equality policies have been moving consistently backwards over the past 10 years.

"Instead of the Government celebrating girls' successes, there's an argument about reversing the gender gap," she said. "Now, when they talk about 'closing the gap', they mean white, working-class boys."

Middle-class girls may outperform boys at school, but this triumph is shortlived, she insists: these same girls still go on to attain less, in terms of power and salary, than their underperforming male classmates.

"There have been major successes in education," she said. "But that doesn't mean changes in power and privilege. The world is not what it was for our parents and grandparents, but the imbalance between men and women remains."

Professor David has spent more than 30 years researching and writing about social diversity, gender and class. This week, she delivered a valedictory lecture at the Institute of Education, in advance of her retirement next year. She said that as late as the 1960s, the words "gender" and "equality" did not even form part of the political agenda.

"Having a degree was seen as a dowry for girls, something to help you meet a suitable man to marry," she said. "They didn't go on to have a career. These were just unspoken assumptions, like the air we breathe."

Equal pay for male and female teachers was also a late development: for years, men were seen as the natural breadwinners, with women merely earning pin-money. And the impact of such recent attitudes is still being felt in schools, she argues.

Similarly, the class divide also remains. Where schools once helped pupils to overcome social accidents of birth, they are now responsible for creating social divisions.

"The school tends to be located in a particular classed, racialised ethnic area or community," Professor David said. "Then, if they choose particular subjects, they get a more supportive education. But vocational pupils don't tend to go to the most elite universities, so it's very difficult to progress."

To resolve such issues, Professor David would like to see gender and class included in citizenship lessons.

"We still need to attend to the gender, as well as the class and racialised dimensions, of the curriculum at school," she said. "It's something pupils don't know about, unless an adult in their lives makes a point of telling them.

"We're all dependent on each other - we need intercultural as well as multicultural education. But that's been ignored in policy-making so far."


61.9 per cent of girls attained five A*-C grades in any subject, compared with 51.9 per cent of boys


- In key stage 2 tests this year, 74.4 per cent of girls achieved the expected level in both English and maths, compared with 69.3 per cent of boys.

- At GCSE, 40.5 per cent of boys achieved five A*-C grades, including English and maths, compared with 49 per cent of girls.

- At A-level, 25.8 per cent of boys attained an A grade, compared with 27.6 per cent of girls.

- 14.7 per cent of girls achieved three A grades, compared with 14.5 per cent of boys.

Women who work full-time are on average paid 87.4 per cent of men's hourly earnings


- The average weekly income for women was #163;161 in 200304 (latest figures available), compared with #163;303 for men.

- Among couples, an average of 67 per cent of total family income comes from the man. In only 21 per cent of couples did the woman's income contribute more than 50 per cent of family income.

- Only 19.6 per cent of partners in the top 100 British law firms are women.

- Women fill 73 per cent of jobs in education, but account for only 56.2 per cent of senior management.

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