Strategies to address gender inequalities in Scottish schools: a review of the literature

Forde, Christine and Kane, Jean and Condie, Rae and McPhee, Alastair and Head, George (2006) Strategies to address gender inequalities in Scottish schools: a review of the literature. Other. Scottish Executive Social Research, Edinburgh, UK. (

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This literature review forms the first part of a study of the strategies employed in Scottish schools to address gender inequalities in relation primarily to attainment. In undertaking this task, the intention is to build upon a number of previous investigations into the nature and causes of gender inequalities in schools. Some of these (Riddell, 1996; Osler et al, 2002; Lloyd, 2005) have considered gender and special educational needs; others have discussed gender at particular stages of schooling (Wilkinson et al, 1999; Croxford, 1999; Biggart, 2000); whilst a number of recent projects in the UK and in Scotland (Powney, 1996; Sukhnandan, 1999; Tinklin et al, 2001) have considered gender, attainment and/or achievement across the population and span of compulsory schooling. A recent nationally commissioned report (Younger, Warrington et al, 2005) has specifically investigated the issue of raising the attainment of boys. Together, these studies and others have established that there are gender inequalities both in the forms of participation in schooling and in its outcomes (albeit there is agreement that gender is not the only, nor even the main, source of inequality). Also available from this body of literature are analyses of causes of gender inequalities and debate about the strategies schools might adopt to address these inequalities. These strategies arise, in general, from understandings of the nature and causes of gender difference. There is, therefore, some contention here. A number of commentators argue that some of the strategies adopted by schools pathologise gender differences and hence reinforce particular forms of masculinity at the risk of suppressing, or marginalising, other forms, and at the expense of femininities. Evidence that there are gender inequalities in attainment in Scottish schools has been discussed in detail elsewhere. It will be reviewed briefly here and will be related to broader patterns of inequality, and in particular to social class. For this study, though, with its focus on school strategies, the debate about the causes of gendered outcomes is especially important and it will be treated in some depth and related to social class before the discussion moves on to consider the range of strategies employed in schools, as far as they are represented in the literature. The strategies to be considered encompass approaches to learning, teaching and assessment; aspects of classroom organisation; and school-wide issues such as staff development. All of these will be considered critically in the light of previous discussion of the causes of gender differences and their intersection by other, and arguably more influential, forms of identity.