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Developing a whole-school approach to gender equity, and why it matters

Gender stereotypes harm everyone. They place us into binary boxes, impacting the way we develop, learn and view ourselves. Before a child is born, their biological sex has determined how society will define them. From the gender reveal parties and gender assigned toys and clothes, society is already making assumptions about a child’s characteristics. These gendered expectations will also determine how a child is treated by society.

Because of these expectations, both male and female aspirations are limited. As children progress through school, teachers may start to see male students dominating the classroom and female students being left behind or responsible for managing the behaviour of their male counterparts. There is also a change in the subjects that they choose to study, with research from the Department of Education (2019) finding that female students are less likely to choose STEM subjects as they do not feel confident in their abilities or see it as a viable career. We also need to recognise the impact that gender stereotypes have on male students and their subject choice. Research published in the British Journal of Social Psychology found that male students who endorsed gender stereotypes were less likely to choose more feminine subjects (Wood, Hutchinson, Aitken and Cunningham, 2021).

Gender Action was launched in 2018 in response to the underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM subjects. It was launched by the Institute of Physics (IOP), King’s College London (KCL), University College London (UCL) and University Council for Modern Languages (UCML). Many years of intervention working with female students and science educators was having very little impact and efforts to persuade female students into STEM had been unsuccessful over several years. The 2019 Gender Action pilot demonstrated the significance of a whole-school approach and the appetite from schools to work with their community and organisations to challenge gender stereotyping in schools. This project was taken over by the Development Education Centre South Yorkshire (DECSY) in 2023 and they will be running the programme for next 3 years, with a strong focus on intersectionality and the whole-school approach.

In this webinar, we hear from experts in the study of Gender and educators.

Professor Carolyn Jackson, Lancaster University will explore the complex ways that fears of failure (academic and social) intersect with gender and pupil identities in the classroom.  Part of this exploration will include a focus on the ways in which teachers’ use and promotion of competition in schools can increase fears of failure and promote defensive strategies that are detrimental to learning.

Angharad Morgan and Clive Belgeonne, DECSY, will look at how the Gender Action programme uses a whole-school approach to tackling stereotypes, sexism and harassment to ensure that all members of the school community can benefit from an ethos of gender equity.

Natasha Fowler, Assistant Headteacher, William Davies Primary School Newham, will look at how they have used pupil and parent surveys to highlight issues of gender equity and how they have been working as a school community to tackle issues of bias, language, equity and intersectionality.

Vikki Gauden, Lead Youth Worker, Caerphilly County Borough Council will look at how we have revisited our careers curriculum for our Post 16 young people to explore career choices and college courses linked to skills, qualities and interests rather than gender-based roles.

Consider the Leading Inclusive Schools Course for further CPD related to this topic.