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GENDER AND EDUCATION ASSOCIATION _GEA_ RESPONSE TO DCSF GENDER by asafwewe

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									          GENDER AND EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (GEA)
        RESPONSE TO DCSF ‘GENDER AGENDA’ INITIATIVE
                      MAY-JUNE 2009 1

PREAMBLE
The Gender and Education Association (GEA) welcomes the opportunity to respond to
the Gender Agenda initiative which it sees as an important strategy by the Department for
Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to put gender on the Government’s agenda. It
also provides a unique opportunity in England2 to consider gender as it relates to
educational achievements and effective practice and engages with the research
community in knowledge-building, and what it means to teachers and allied
professionals.

The GEA was founded in 2000 by contributors to the journal Gender and Education,
which was established in 1989. GEA represents an international community of feminist
and pro-feminist researchers, teachers and practitioners in education.

In this response, we first provide feedback on the ‘gender agenda’ as portrayed in the
draft paper Gender and Education: the evidence on pupils in England (DfES, 2007) and
the series of DCSF-organised workshops during 2008-9. We then address three inter-
related issues in order to draw out policy and practice recommendations.
            1. The conceptual gap in current policy debates on gender
            2. Information overload and contradictory guidance for practising teachers
            3. The need for an improved conceptual framework to guide teachers’
                understandings of gender

THE DCSF ‘GENDER AGENDA’ INITIATIVE:
We acknowledge that the DCSF initiative has filled a policy gap in England on gender
equity, although other OECD countries have been committed to gender equity and
implementation for a decade or more now.

We share the Government’s focus on attainment since the GEA is likewise committed to
supporting girls’ and boys’ academic and social learning. We also support classroom
policy action research, the dissemination of good practices for improving learning, and
emphasis on motivation, involvement and attainment of particular underperforming boys
and girls.

The commitment to continue to focus on gender we also see as important because gender
questions are complex and not easily addressed by one initiative. We also note that
research on teachers’ continuing professional learning communities is ongoing. Thus we
welcome the DCSF’s Gender Equality Scheme action plan ‘to know and understand


1
 Revised version of submission to DCSF, May 2009
2
 The DCSF ‘gender agenda’ applies specifically to England although the issues raised are shared by other
countries within the UK and elsewhere

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gender issues better’3 and the way gender issues have been raised in the DCSF’s Single
Equality Scheme 2009-104. However we wish to raise three inter-related issues in order
to draw out potential policy and practice recommendations as follows.

      1. THE CONCEPTUAL GAP IN CURRENT POLICY DEBATES

We consider that the GEA, representing an international community of academics and
practitioners, is well-qualified to critique the narrowness of the conceptual policy focus.
Our view is that were the documents that we have seen to be internationally peer-
reviewed, as required by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)
for the regular Research Assessment Exercises (RAE), they would not be rated highly.
The narrow interpretation of gender achievement issues, for example, as to do only with
statistical analyses of boys’ and girls’ under/achievement (DCSF 2007a), leaves the
DCSF open to criticism as failing to relate gender processes to the lived experiences of
children, schools and families.

The DCSF needs to address these shortcomings, in particular, where the analysis of
gender and its impact on school and education is reduced to a technical fault in the
educational machine. At present, documents and policies seem over-reliant on positivist
science research methods, critiqued by feminist educationalists among others, for
rendering invisible the complex social and cultural processes underpinning concepts of
gender.

The DCSF’s Gender Agenda has clearly been colonized by managerial discourses which
have reduced gender to statistical representations, and thus narrowed debates about boys’
and girls’ learning. Thus the Gender Agenda
   • negates teachers’ professional learning and development;
   • ignores their need for conceptual clarity; and
   • asks teachers to come up with quick fix solutions tied to ‘performance
        pedagogies’.

This approach aids neither boys nor girls in their complex lives. Such representations
occlude the complexities of:
   • social and historical legacies of gender culture
   • school and subject choice
   • pedagogic practices
   • the reasons for children and young people’s use of gender (e.g. gender identities,
       ‘bullying’ behaviours).

If gender is recognized only as a set of aggregated statistics or as a single issue (e.g.
sexual violence), it provides little conceptual clarity for helping teachers to understand
the complexities of gender and so address gender inequalities and discrimination in their
classrooms.

3
    Gender Equality Scheme 2007 http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/des/gender.shtml
4
    Single Equality Scheme http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/des/docs/SES%20UPDATE%202009-10.pdf

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First and foremost, therefore, we urge the DCSF to address the conceptual gap.

Secondly, we encourage the DCSF to broaden the approach to gender beyond narrow
debates about achievement levels, to include recognition of how gender is implicated in
the construction of school knowledge, pedagogic practices and classroom cultures.

    2. TEACHERS’ INFORMATION OVERLOAD AND CONTRADICTORY
       GUIDANCE

We note that teachers have an abundance of information about gender in terms of
achievement and well-being available in a multiplicity of (electronic) forms (for example,
Teachernet, Teachers TV, DCSF website). We are, however, concerned about the
problem of information over-load.

Furthermore, the diversity of information available gives contradictory messages to
teachers, for example, about the complexities of gender in context and the practicalities
of how to address gender inequalities in the classroom. We offer the following example:


In some departmental policy documents (DCSF 2007, DfES/DoH 2004), teachers are
encouraged to combat bullying. Teachers are advised to be aware of children’s use of
gender stereotyping in homophobic bullying and also to dissuade children from using
such stereotypes. In other Departmental policy documents (DCSF 2007), teachers seem
to be encouraged both to draw on and challenge gender stereotypes (for example,
fighting and superhero play to facilitate learning and to raise standards).

Rather, teachers need a coherent and systematic conceptual framework to understand the
complexities of gender and how this works in the everyday practices of children and
institutions. Thus, Departmental policy advice needs to be embedded in teacher
professional learning and development in ITE and CPD. This would enable teachers to
use the various sources of information about gender more effectively.

    3. A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR GENDER ANALYSIS:

The GEA urges the DCSF to commission or undertake research into national and
international policy articulations on gender, as a means of developing a conceptual
framework to guide policy, schools and teachers’ understandings of gender. The research
would aim to demonstrate:

    o the wealth and variety of gender and education research on schools as social
      institutions and how they reproduce gender inequalities;

    o that gender interacts with race, ethnicity, sexuality, social class, age, ability,
      religion and culture. These social diversities impact how girls and boys are
      positioned socially and culturally in schools, families and communities

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    o how taken-for-granted ideas about gender stereotyping lead to differential levels
      of achievement between boys and girls

    o that teachers need the conceptual tools to recognize how gender is implicated in
      everyday practices of classroom life, and that if these are not available, how
      teachers inadvertently collude in the reproduction of gender stereotypes


RECOMMENDATIONS

In submitting the following recommendations, the GEA emphasises its wish to work
collaboratively with the DCSF to advance the issue of gender equality. One suggestion is
to help develop the following, through a series of commissioned papers addressing key
issues relating to diversity and equality (e.g. gender, race, class) policies and practices:

               •   a coherent conceptual framework for gender issues which should also
                   be included in ITE and incorporated regularly in CPD.

               •   a coherent equality policy framework for schools.

               • policy action research to provide pedagogic resources for teachers.


References

DCSF (2007) Confident, capable and creative: supporting boys’ achievements. DCSF
Publications.
DfES (2007). Gender and Education: The evidence from pupils in England. DfES
Publications.
DfES/DoH (2004) Stand up for us: Challenging Homophobia in Schools.
DCSF Gender Equality Scheme 2007 http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/des/gender.shtml




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