The research which I describe here is rooted in my experience as a comprehensive school teacher in a county lying to the south west of England which I call Westshire. During the period of my life spent in the classroom between 1976 and 1983, I became fascinated by the significance of both the overt and the covert curriculum. Qualifications in particular subjects clearly acted as passports to various areas of work and higher education but also, at a more subtle level, the culture of each subject, even its physical location in the school, ranging from the factory atmosphere of the ‘heavy craft’ areas through to the cosy domesticity of the home economics room, carried powerful symbolic messages about the appropriate spheres of activity of women and men, working-class and middle-class pupils. In the early 1980s, when I began my research, at a national level the ‘gender spectrum’ in subject option choice was extremely marked. This is reflected, for example, in the secondary schools studied by Pratt, Bloomfield and Seale (1984), as well as in national statistics of gender differences in examination presentation (DES, 1981). Similar divisions were also apparent at Millbridge School in Westshire, a rural area in the south west of England where I was then working.