chapter  2
18 Pages

Equal opportunities and educational reform in Scotland

The limits of liberalism
BySheila Riddell

This chapter is based on work funded by the Equal Opportunities Commission and carried out at the University of Stirling between 1994 and 1995 with Sally Brown and Eileen Turner (see Turner et al. 1995, for a full account of this work). The chapter begins by outlining the ways in which a range of feminisms have found expression in equal opportunities work in schools. In the 1980s, as the second wave of feminism began to lose its initial impetus, tensions emerged between liberal and radical approaches both in the wider field and in the educational arena (Middleton 1984; Acker 1994; Weiner 1994). More recently, in education and other social arena, debates have surfaced between what has been termed the politics of recognition and the politics of redistribution (Phillips 1997; Young 1990). Within the context of these ideological tensions, the nature of gender equality strategies adopted in Scottish education at national, regional and local level are analysed. Subsequently, the impact of educational reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, driven by marketisation and new managerialism, are investigated, with a particular focus on two case study secondary schools in one region. It is argued that at national level in Scotland, equal opportunities discourse has tended to be liberal in nature, based on the assumption that women and girls must compete with men and boys in a gender-neutral system. This apparent neutrality has at times concealed a desire to control and limit women’s sphere of activity, reinforced by strong Calvinist elements in Scottish culture. At regional and school level within Scotland, gender equality policies have tended to be more variegated, reflecting a range of interpretations of national policy and not necessarily accepting the male as norm. The focus of this chapter is an exploration of the specific impact of educational reforms on two schools with well-developed, albeit distinctively different, approaches to equal opportunities policies within an authority which had also adopted a positive approach to gender equality work. These schools, which differed with regard to socio-economic status (SES), exemplified what the region regarded as ‘good practice’ in the area of equal opportunities and were deliberately selected in order to provide an acid test of the effect of educational reforms on gender equality policies. Had we selected schools

and an authority where little equal opportunities work had taken place, the impact of a range of educational innovations would have been more difficult to pinpoint. The higher SES school interpreted equal opportunities in terms of identity recognition, while the lower SES school focused more closely on economic redistribution. Within these differing contexts, it is possible to explore the impact of a range of educational changes and to speculate about the future of a range of approaches to equal opportunities.