Schools told to close gender gap

// 19 April 2007

We haven’t said much to date on the blog about the gender equality duty (or GED as it’s become known). Public institutions must have written, by the end of the month, their Gender Equality Statement laying out how they intend to promote gender equality. It’s a step forward from discouraging discrimination towards proactively working on equality issues (and runs alongside the Race Equality Duty and Disability Equality Duty which, humourously enough is DED for short). Just for now let’s overlook the fact that separate equality duties ignores how gender, race and disability actually operate in the everyday lived experience of people (criticisms well made in the press in recent times)… The BBC are reporting on the GED documentation sent to schools….

On the one hand the GED does acknowledge that sexism affects both males and females, hearteningly it is sailing dangerously close to the assertion that patriarchy oppresses both men and women. It argues that contemporary issues of concern to schools should include: subject choice stereotyping, boys’ poor attainment, girls’ lack of exercise and bullying. On the other it fails to acknowledge that overall boys and men have more power in society and women and girls are still disadvantaged to a greater extent. The Schools guidance urges schools to see that:

“The gender equality duty presents a fantastic opportunity for schools to make a co-ordinated effort to tackle inequality and ensure that all pupils are able to fully achieve their potential…This should act as a catalyst towards a society where we all can make the best of our life chances.” BBC News

True enough, but in a system where women outnumber men in general positions except for senior management, headships and science teaching, then surely the GED in schools has to tackle more than whether girls do enough sports. Unless we actively recruit men to teaching, particularly early years and primary level, we won’t be changing anything. And recruiting more men into teaching particularly at these levels would involve substantial pay and recognition increased – the very things that have declined as teaching as become seen as “feminised”.

In the end, like other Equality legislation the GED will only work if there is also a substantial change of culture which stops seeing women’s involvement as decreasing the value of work or production. And the GED won’t tackle that.

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