Our schools have chalked up points for gender equality

21st October 2011 at 01:00
Their achievements in boosting the role of women should be a lesson for the rest of society

It wasn't that long ago that Scotland's female teachers had to "scrub the floors of their classrooms" and wear dresses "no shorter than two inches above the ankle". And going out between 3pm and 6am, "unless to attend a school function", was prohibited according to an old "conduct book" for Scottish teachers.

Quite recently there was a gender bias in our schools with female teachers making up 83 per cent of teaching staff but only 15 per cent of management posts.

Senior management teams were largely male, pale and, in a few cases, a bit stale. It was a structure which presented a poor example to our pupils. Our best female pupils were excluded from certain subjects and often urged to restrict their higher education and career ambitions.

But now we can celebrate the elimination, just about, of gender bias in schools. Female teachers occupy over 50 per cent of management posts and female pupils outperform males in most areas of learning.

And the elimination of gender bias has been largely achieved without resorting to the awfulness of positive discrimination, quotas and tokenism.

Women now fill senior management posts by offering the necessary ability, experience, commitment, vision, drive and other key leadership qualities.

Best of all is that teaching now attracts top female graduates who know that talent and ambition will be recognised and rewarded. It's a success story for a profession which is often accused of being highly resistant to change.

But it's not completely positive. There are still a few teachers who need convincing that a female teacher is capable of leading, for example, a secondary school. I have met teachers, male and female, who were deeply concerned when a woman was appointed as headteacher in their school.

I have also encountered young female teachers who lack the confidence, but not the talent, to apply for promoted posts.

But, in the main, education offers a positive picture of equal opportunities and gender balance which other sectors would do well to follow. Women remain heavily outnumbered by men in the Westminster Parliament and only one in 10 board members of big EU companies is female.

With more women in Parliament, and in company boardrooms, much more could be done to tackle issues such as sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Education has put its house largely in order but, for society as a whole, there is still a long way to go. Teachers can, at least, be consoled by the fact that schools are now helping to educate the pupils who will undoubtedly bring about those changes which are still necessary.

John Greenlees, secondary teacher, teaches geography.

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