BLOG: Battling gender stereotypes in the classroom – “It’s not what they are being taught, but how.”

Our CEO Steve Docking has his say on this US piece of research that claims gender stereotypes ruin girls’ self image by the age of six.

According to the most recent statistics from primary education four out of every five teachers are women and roughly 19 out of 20 support staff are female too. From my own experience watching lessons over many years, both in our Trust schools and through inspection work, I can’t ever recall a lesson where I thought any teacher, regardless of their own gender, taught with a male or female bias towards the children in their care. This was true in great lessons and those that were not so great.

The difficulties some children faced with certain subjects were not because of their gender but largely to do with engagement or cross application of skills. Also shyness and not yet having the confidence to speak out, ask questions or say I don’t get it, led to some lost learning in both boys and girls.

To try and combat stereotyping in education we need to start at the beginning and consider that perhaps the problem lies in the Early Years Foundation stage, where the curriculum is delivered through play-based learning in a controlled environment. The issue is perhaps not what they are being taught, but how.
Go into a Reception classroom and look at the writing area, on the whole it will be largely devoid of boys – but then why would you write when there is sand, water and Lego parked next to it? Much more fun to play and build and avoid something you might find more challenging. Equally, if there is only room for six kids at the construction table and you happen to be physically stronger than the others, then you’ll end up there more often than not. The teachers then have to ween the boys off this and ‘force’ them to pick up the pencil and start writing.

Perhaps by then the seed of a male stereotype has already been planted and has started to influence the perceived roles of their female classmates?

This is not to knock the early years but perhaps it’s time to look at it slightly differently. The formative years of education are by far the most important in all children’s lives.

We are currently at a crossroads where the EYFS curriculum is moving towards not being mandatory and there may be a chance for all those great Reception teachers to have a rethink. Great schools make learning fun and teach children well, regardless of gender, and maybe removing a bit of free choice early on and gently encouraging a thirst for all aspects of learning could pay dividends for everyone – boys and girls alike.