Who Benefits from Schooling? Equality Issues in Britain
If we are to believe recent media claims in the UK and elsewhere, we have witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s for the first time, a change in performance and aspiration patterns of girls and boys, with boys showing signs of significant underachievement in contrast to girls’ increasing success and confidence. Are we, then, at a point of transition in gender relations? If so, what is the evidence for such claims? In the UK for example, there may be shifts in the relative experience of, and aspirations related to, schooling, but the translation of such shifts into the transformation of labour-market and family patterns, and in women’s increased power in the private and public spheres, is not at all clear cut. This chapter seeks to untangle some of the issues contained in the above questions by drawing on debates about gender and schooling in the UK, and, in particular on recent research project findings. The chapter is divided into five sections. It first outlines briefly past developments in gender and schooling in the UK, bringing the story up to date in the second section with a brief overview of recent reforms in British education. The third section describes the Educational Reform and Gender Equality in Schools Project (1994-5) which sought to examine the state of gender relations in English and Welsh schools and, in particular, the impact of the reforms. The fourth section reports on the findings while the final section discusses possible explanations for any changes that have been identified.