The role of gender in education is evident at the individual, classroom, and institutional level. The individual level concerns children’s gender differences in academic achievement and children’s gender stereotyping. At the classroom level, gender plays a role in teachers’ biases and stereotyping. Gender issues at the institutional level are reflected in adults’ roles in schools (i.e. the relative number of male and female teachers versus administrators), structural issues related to the experiences of gender non-conforming students, and gender integration versus segregation in the classroom or school. These issues related to gender in education will be discussed further below. Note that gender in education is an extremely broad topic spanning many areas, including those not represented here. For instance, we have focused our attention on K–12 grade education rather than on college or post-secondary education, as well as focusing on students in Western industrialised countries. The severity of gender biases and issues around the world are complex and important, as are issues of intersectionality (e.g. considering race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and so on in relation to gender and education).

When considering gender differences in school and academic achievement at the individual level, girls tend to outperform boys. Girls also have an advantage in reading and writing, whereas boys outperform girls in mathematics and science. However, the magnitude of these differences is often small and even trivial, with more similarities than differences between girls and boys. It is likely that gender differences in academic achievement and performance are accounted for, at least in part, by gender differences in self-efficacy, interest, motivation, and by gender stereotypes. For instance, boys and men are often considered to be more competent in the domains of mathematics and science than girls and women. Stereotypes are often internalised by children, which can have a detrimental effect on academic performance through a phenomenon known as stereotype threat (i.e. awareness of negative stereotypes about one’s own group undermines self-efficacy and performance).

At the classroom level, teachers’ conscious and unconscious attention to gender, use of gender-related language, gender stereotypes, and differential treatment of girls and boys in the classroom have academic consequences. Importantly, however, teachers agree that they have a responsibility to promote gender equity in the classroom and to work towards anti-bias teaching.

Gender issues at the institutional level emerge in adults’ roles in the educational system. Specifically, teachers tend to be women, whereas superintendents tend to be men. Institutional issues are also evident in the structure of schools and classes and, at times, the way in which school structure and policy can fail to provide support for gender non-conforming students. Gender is a complex and multifaceted construct, and individuals vary greatly in terms of their adherence to norms of gender expression, roles, and identity. Inclusive school-level policies (e.g. specific anti-bullying policies, gay-straight alliances) can provide essential support to students who do not conform to the norms of gender expression and identity, and non-inclusive policies may prohibit students from feeling safe and accepted within their school community. Other institutional gender issues involve the segregation versus integration of girls and boys within coeducational classrooms and schools, with evidence indicating that a lack of gender integration in classrooms may contribute to gender-based educational disparities.

In summary, the influence of gender and gender-related issues in education extends from academic abilities and stereotyping of individual children, to the stereotypes and roles of educators and their consequences for girls and boys, to the way in which gender expression and gender balance in classrooms and schools influences the learning environment. The effects of gender in education are ubiquitous, but not unchangeable; teachers can play an active role in minimising gender stereotypes and providing equitable learning environments for girls and boys. Given how small are most gender differences in abilities, it is critically important that researchers gain a deeper understanding of how and why gender continues to be so significant in education.