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Mayor of London showcases London schools and nurseries working for gender equality

19 December 2019

City Hall, the headquarters of the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, was the venue of an event to celebrate the London schools and nurseries working with the Mayor’s Office to improve gender equality.  

Representatives from schools and nurseries participated in the Gender Action meeting at City Hall on 18th December, 2019..

Gender Action, funded by the Mayor of London, is a programme working in and with London schools to embed gender balance as part of the school ethos.

Twenty six London schools and nurseries attended an event in City Hall on Wednesday (18 December), celebrating Gender Action’s first year. Exhibits from a number of the schools told the story of how they themselves have changed their learning environment to support gender balance in their school or nursery.

The career we choose is an important decision. Remarkably, studies show that some children can start making career choices from as young as four years old1, so it is important that gender stereotypes do not become part of even pre-school children’s education.

Gender Action has been working in London schools and nurseries to overcome gender imbalance and embed good practice, to ensure children of all ages are not impacted by harmful stereotypes. It came about as a result of 15 years of research into how stereotypes can limit young people and how schools can tackle this.

A consortium of four Institutions; the Institute of Physics (IOP), UCL’s Institute of Education, King’s College London and the University Council of Modern Languages, Gender Action bases its work on a body of research that evidences the kinds of gender imbalances in subject and career choices and, crucially, the stages at which and why those decisions come about.

These imbalances in subject choice and aspirations obviously have an effect on the workforce. For example, only 3% of early years educators are men and only 12% of the engineering workforce are women.

Issues of gender balance are not limited to questions of subject choice and career aspirations. Gender stereotypes also perpetuate sexism which is still prevalent across schools. 37% of female students at mixed-sex schools have experienced some form of sexual harassment[1]. Left unchallenged in schools, such behaviour continues into adult life.

The scheme has been active in London for the past year. Schools sign up as ‘supporters’ and, as they become more involved, move through four levels of engagement to ultimately become ‘beacon schools’, exemplifying good practice in gender balance.

Children’s wellbeing is also limited by narrow ideas about gender – The Good Childhood Report 2018 found that young people whose group of friends adhered to traditional gender roles had lower levels of wellbeing[2].

Gender Action wants to ensure that no-one feels limited or less than because of their gender. The scheme provides resources and guidance to teachers and nursery staff to reduce unconscious bias – behaving differently towards boys and girls without realising it – in their written and spoken language, the advice they impart, teaching styles and the images they display around their schools, colleges and early learning nurseries.  The long term aim is to make gender bias in education a thing of the past; embedding a curriculum that is as diverse as possible and broadening children’s horizons as they make decisions about their choice of career.

There are now 123 schools involved.

The event, which was hosted on the ninth floor of City Hall, with panoramic views across the City of London was compèred by Beth Bramley, IOP Gender Balance Manager, and included addresses from Professor Becky Francis, outgoing Director of UCL’s Institute of Education; Charles Tracy, Head of Education at the Institute of Physics and Georgina Phillips, Gender Action: School Recruitment and Relationships Officer at the Institute of Physics

Charles Tracy said:

"Our research shows that the most effective way of supporting girls to make choices that are not driven by stereotypical expectations is to work with a whole school staff, and to start young by working with nurseries. As well as reducing the gendered channelling that occurs, very often unconsciously, actively challenging biases and sexism improves the environment and school experience for both boys and girls. This seems particularly important when the most recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study shows that UK girls have a much higher fear of failure than boys and the fifth highest globally.”

[1] National Education Union and UK Feminista “It’s just everywhere” a study on sexism in schools - and how we tackle it, 2017