Gender in Education and Training

Revision cards for the Sociology Education & Research Methods exam.

These cards outline the Feminist perspective on Education and the reasons for differences in achievement between genders.

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  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 23-04-12 12:53

Feminism and Education

Feminists argue that the school instills patriarchy in students. The following cards will outline feminist theory's role in education.

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Gendered subject choice

It is argued that girls and boys  develop subject preferences based on their gender. Subjects are seen as 'masculine' or 'feminine' - e.g. science as a 'masculine' subject.

Before the National Curriculum the choices girls made prepared them for 'female' jobs or domesticity. Traditional careers advice, and the attitude of teachers, tended to sway girls from science subjects.

After the introduction of the National Curriculum, girls and boys largely follow the same curriculum. However, girls are more likely to opt for single science, rather than double science, therefore limiting the potential for them to take science A Levels.

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The Curriculum and Language

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis:

The language we learn as young children helps to structure the way we think, because any language sets up a grid through which we percieve the world.

Joan Swann

Applied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to gender issues. She argues that the English language has a male-centred bias, e.g. the use of 'man' for both men and women, words such as 'postman' and 'chairman.' She argues this makes women invisible, and forces children to think only of men in these roles.

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The Curriculum and Knowledge

Marion Scott analysed texbooks in a variety of subject areas to 'locate some of the sexist trends in curriculum materials'. She found these trends.

  • Women relegated to subordinate roles. They may present women as serving primarily a 'decorative' function.
  • Books that ignore women completely.
  • The insignificance of women: women treated inadequately.

Scott argues that these reproduce and reinforce patriarchal relations and assumptions about the nature of the subjects we study.


Men dominate the academic world and the knowledge given to children is all about male. Children will learn that the 'great' heads of knowledge were men.

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The Organisation of the School

In schools, men are usually the heads of positions such as headteachers, even where the rest of the school is female-dominated. It has been argued that this, at a young age reinforces the idea that there is only so far girls can go before they hit a 'glass ceiling'.

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Reinforcing Gender Identities

Verbal Abuse is one of the ways in which gender identities are reinforced. Boys use name-calling to put girls down if they behave or dress in a certain way. (Conell)

The Male Gaze: The way male pupils and teachers look girls up and down, seeing them as sexual objects and making judgements is a way of controlling other pupils' identities. The male gaze is a form of surveillance through which dominant heterosexual masculinity is reinforced and femininity devalued. (Mac an Ghaill)

Teachers and Discipline: Male teachers reprimand boys for 'behaving like girls' and teased them when they gained lower marks in tests than girls. (Haywood, Mac an Ghaill) Male teacher's behaviour reinforces gender identity. A protective attitude towards female colleagues, 'rescuing' them from threatening pupils and reinforcing the idea that women cannot cope alone. (Askey and Ross)

Double Standards: Boys boast about their own sexual exploits, but call a girl a '****' if she acts in the same way. (Sue Lees)

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Gender and Achievement

The following slides will outline the patterns in achievement according to gender and the reasons for this.

Although this was not always the case, there has been a move towards girls' improvement in education surpassing the rate of boys. Girls outperform boys in baseline assessments, GCSE's, vocational courses, SATS and even marginally better in A Levels. The next few slides will explore the reasons why this happens.

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Boys and Achievement

Nowadays, boys achieve consistently lower results than girls in the education system. Outlined here are some of the reasons why.

Boys and literacy- Boys see reading as a 'feminine' thing to do and are therefore less interested and less literate than girls, slowing down their progress.
Decline in men's employment- There are now less 'traditional' jobs for males such as heavy construction. This leads to an identity crisis (Mitsos and Brown) and boys not thinking education is worth their time.
Laddish Subcultures- Francis (2001) found that boy's subcultures tease boys for being 'swots' if they work hard. They misbehave to try and fit in.
Lack of male role models- Nearly 40% of primary school boys have no contact with a male teacher. It is argued that this means they don't have a role model in early education.
Coursework- Coursework has been shown not to suit boys as well as girls. Sociologist Tony Sewell suggests we move towards a final exam to help boys.
Teacher attention and labelling- Jane & Peter French (1993) found that boys recieve more negative attention in the classroom fromt teachers than girls. This may make them see education as a 'waste of time'.

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External factors for girls' improvement

Girl's changing perceptions and ambitions: Girls no longer aspire just to 'be a housewife' - this then has an impact on their attitude to education if they aspire to have a career. Sharpe (1994) found that girls' ambitions have changed significantly ; careers in the seventies were low on the list, and have now gravitated towards top importance.
Changes in the family: Symetrical families and single parents, usually female headed, have given females strong role models in the home, as well as outlining the idea that they will have to support themselves. This adds to girl's desire for a career.
Impact of feminism: The equal pay act has made it easier for females to be taken seriously in the job environment. Furthermore, feminism has led to a breakdown of stereotypes that were preventing women from wanting to persue education and employment. Girls also now have less restrictions on what jobs they can and cannot go for - less jobs that are seen as 'only for men'.

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Internal factors for girls' improvement

Equal opportunities policies: Such as GIST and WISE - girls are now encouraged to persue science. There is also a move towards non sexist careers advice, where girls are more encouraged to persue their goals.
The Move Towards Coursework: Coursework is more suited towards girls, as they tend to put more time into it and work on it gradually.
Positive role models in schools: There are now more female positive role models in schools, such as females as head teachers.
Selection & League Tables: As girls generally achieve higher, when popular schools can select their pupils, girls are more likely to be chosen.

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