Despite attempts to counter gender inequality issues in the United Kingdom, it is still possible to see inequality in the British education system. Some of these problems are structural, whereas other issues are problems which are caused by wider society. Inequality within the education system can lead to inequality when the pupils grown up, including implications in terms of future employment prospects.
Recent data analysis suggests that boys are struggling to keep up with girls at key curriculum milestones. By Key Stage 2 (7 to 11 year olds) girls are already moving ahead of boys in their test scores. In the 2015 test scores, around 83% of girls achieved a level 4 or higher score, whereas only 77% of boys in the same age group were able to attain level 4 or higher. These trends continued up to GCSE level, with around 10% more girls earning 5 or more A* – C grades than boys who were achieving the same standard.
There is now a disparity amongst the amount of male and female school-leavers applying to university. UCAS data suggests that female school-leavers in England are 35% more likely to apply for university than their male peers are. This gap widens even further amongst applicants from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds. Women from disadvantaged backgrounds are 58% more likely to apply for university than men from the same background.
Another inequality issue within the British education system is the difference in levels of men and women who are employed as teaching and support staff. Just 15% of primary school teachers are male, meaning that many children are lacking a positive male role model within their educational framework. Some schools do not have any male staff members at all. This can be particular problematic for children with learning difficulties that mean that they respond better with men.
Around 38% of teachers in state secondary school are male, but there is still a gender divide based on the subjects taught by men. Male teachers are more likely to specialise in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and PE, whereas women are more likely to teach humanities and languages. A lack of educational role models in STEM and PE can put some girls off taking these subjects. The effect is particularly visible amongst teenage girls who feel that male PE teachers cannot understand their needs properly.
Research also suggests that male teachers are more likely to be employed in high ranking roles within a school, such as Head of Department or Head Teacher. Studies have shown that many women in education see their role as vocational and prefer teaching to administrative or managerial roles, even though the pay grade is lower. One of the major challenges for the education system is making Head Teacher roles more appealing to female applicants.
Many schools say that they would like to hire more male teachers; however fewer men apply for each advertised role in teaching. The Department of Education is currently discussing strategies to recruit and retain more male teachers, and to encourage male teachers to consider a wider range of subjects.
Sexism within Education
Over three quarters of female secondary school pupils in the UK who attend mixed schools claim that they have been on the receiving end of sexist comments from other pupils. There are also concerns about the sexualisation of young girls within the educational environment. It is now harder than ever for young people to escape from sexism and sexualisation, due to the increased use of social media. Many young people do not know where to turn when they receive unwanted sexual content or comments from their peers when they are outside of the classroom.
Many male pupils have also stated that they feel under intense pressure to look and act in a certain way. The number of adolescent males who are suffering from body dysmorphia has increased in recent years. Male pupils must also be supported with previously under-reported problems.
In order to reduce sexism and sexualisation over social media, schools must improve their reporting and safeguarding policies. More should be done to encourage pupils to come forwards if they are suffering from sexism. Sexism should also be studied in a wider social context to help to educate pupils.