Diversity - Gender and education Factors such as ethnicity, economic status and gender can affect educational outcomes

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Kelly Rollings – TCEC1051

Factors such as ethnicity, economic status and gender can affect educational outcomes (Hughes, 1991). The 1944 Education Act promotes equality for children in school. In spite of this, it has been suggested that girls persistently tend to have different educational outcomes from boys (Hughes, 1991). There are many complex explanations linked not only to the educational process throughout history but additionally to social influence. The way in which children create their gender roles has an impact on the way they identify themselves and others. Stereotyping can impact on the way practitioners view children and can lead to discriminatory practice. It is vital to consider the hidden curriculum for unintentional signs of discrimination. Knowledge of legislation and initiatives that protect children’s rights to an education irrespective of difference is of significance. As is the ways in which practitioners can promote equality. Through the use of key texts and the theories of experts it is possible to comprehend the impact that gender can have on learning and development.

In the nineteenth century characteristics such as class, race and gender were detrimental factors which decided the form of education a child received. Hughes (1991) suggests this is due to the educator’s role being to ensure each individual would be equipped to fulfil their predetermined role. Early attempts at access to education for all were frowned upon by those in power, fearing that the ‘the masses would get ideas above their station’ (Hughes, 1991, P.9). Schooling for girls was seen in relation to their domestic role. It was also considered that girls needed to conserve their energy for childrearing rather than mental activity (Hughes, 1991). Upper-class males attended private and independent schools, where they were moulded to become the elite. Their sisters however, though still received an education, were taught at home. Society’s views on education differed for boys and girls at all social levels (Hughes, 1991). According to Charles (2002) the education system was designed to prepare children for adult life, which was gender as well as class segregated. The 1944 Education Act was centred on equality of opportunity. This involved for the first time, compulsory education for all that was free until the age of fourteen. However, inequality referred heavily to class disadvantage (Charles, 2002). The curriculum became gendered with the view that girls would concentrate on the ‘domestic subjects’ while boys would practice the ‘technical subjects’ (Charles, 2002).  However, there has been much debate as to the reason for suggested differences in educational outcomes relating to gender.

Yeo and Lovell (1998) suggest that females attain better outcomes in primary education, with emphasis in literacy and language. They state that research conducted in the 1990’s suggests girls are motivated, ambitious and interested in long term education. In contrast boys were seen as low in motivation, self-esteem and concentration. One suggested explanation being the introduction of equal opportunity initiatives to encourage girls to pursue subjects previously associated as ‘male dominated’.  Practitioners were also encouraged to increase awareness of methods to enhance girl’s interest in education. According to Yeo and Lovell (1998) these changes were directly influenced by the transformation in the labour market, from being male dominated to increasingly more equal. As a consequence, it seems that boys are now underachieving in school. However, Skelton and Francis (2003) suggest the cause for this apparent difference in attainment is not straightforward. According to Charles there is evidence to suggest that this is not a new theory. Relating back to the 11+ exam, in which girls needed a higher score than boys to gain entry into grammar school.  Skelton and Francis (2003) suggest that the view that ‘boys are underachieving’ is now being challenged. They suggest the gap between boys and girls in standards of literacy, english and modern languages remains large. Nevertheless, SAT’s (Standardised Assessment Tests) results show that boys and girls are showing increased performance on a yearly basis (Skelton and Francis, 2003). However, it is not only a case of boys versus girls. Not all boys ‘underachieve’ and not all girls are ‘high flyers’ (Skelton and Francis, 2003). There are class and ethnicity influences to consider (See Appendix One). Feminist research claims that it is the way boys construct their gender roles that ultimately leads to their dissociation from subjects traditionally determined as feminine such as literacy. However, many non-feminist commentators suggest that the high proportion of female teachers at primary level is responsible for boys learning needs being overlooked. Their suggested solution to the gender gap is to increase the number of male primary school teachers to provide positive role models linked with education. According to Skelton and Francis (2003) there appears to be no evidence to suggest that boys will perceive male teachers in a positive light, or that this will impact on their achievement. It has only been since 1975 when education was included in the Sex Discrimination Act that gender equality in schools has been highlighted (Nixon, 2005). However, the process in which children construct their gender roles is thought to be highly complex suggesting that equality between boys and girls is still being considered (Skelton and Francis, 2003).  

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The nature, nurture debate surrounding individual differences in areas such as gender has affected equality in education (Hughes, 1991). It is fundamental to distinguish between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. According to Cole (2005) a persons ‘sex’ is related their biological make up. Gross (2005) states that sex and ethnicity are viewed by some as biological factors which can determine levels of intelligence and attainment in school. However, there are environmental issues to consider with reference to socialisation leading to ‘gender’ roles (Charles, 2002). Numerous surveys have suggested that boys and girls are treated differently from the day they are born ...

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