Gender bias in schools: Is there equality of treatment in classroom teaching


In my view, the main objectives of teaching are to transmit knowledge, skills and attitudes. This objective is mainly aimed at pupils in the classroom. It is, however, necessary to recognize that for many reasons, pupils have been faced by obstacles, which can affect the learning process. One of these many obstacles is gender bias. Unfortunately, the teacher and the system are sometimes the source of such obstacles to the process of learning.


This topic is an area of interest for me, particularly because of personal observations with regards to the topic. It is in this light that the definition of gender will be examined at the start of the assessment. In order to gather further understanding of the issue, a careful investigation of the different ways in which gender bias can surface in the classroom will be carried out. This investigation will be followed by a discussion on how gender bias can inevitably affect the equality of classroom teaching.


The discussion surrounding the word ‘equality’ can be deemed as a ‘relative’ statement, and therefore, it is on this basis that I will discuss the term equality. This is in order to clarify any misconceptions that might arise. With the support of textbooks, statistical data, evidence of observations based on my experience and information from the policy of a school, it is hoped that the effects of gender bias will be shown and understood. It must be emphasized that the effects will be mainly based on the equality of treatment in classroom teaching as it affects the pupils.


The evidence based on the observations made, will be one of the main areas of focus, particularly because pupils are sometimes best at recognizing the bias of a teacher and then they act upon this. It is amazing how this can affect the learning process, and therefore some discussions of the pupils’ reaction will be examined.


The measures taken to avoid these problems have been put in place, but these measures are sometimes not followed. Sometimes the measures that are put in place create even greater problems of inequality. It therefore follows that different measures put in place, will be the next area for discussion, coupled with a case study and theories in order to promote or present different ideas for solutions. Different policies such as the schools’ policy will therefore be scrutinized carefully at this point.

It is hoped that with these insights, a better knowledge, understanding and even solutions will be the outcome of this assignment.


Definition of Gender

`Gender refers to all differences between men and women other than the basic physiological ones'(Measor, 1992; p. 5)

Measor has made a very important distinction in the definition of gender and this is very important because this assignment will depend upon these distinctions. She continued by giving the definition of sex as the physiological differences between men and women. One of the differences involved the reproductive capacities.

The definition of gender therefore clarifies the need to discuss deeper issues such as specific social and cultural patterns of behaviour. It is also in regards to the social characteristics of being a man or woman in a particular historic and social circumstances. It therefore follows that the issue of equality of treatment in classroom teaching is indeed a very serious issue since this can affect a child’s progress.

In order to show the unique importance of this issue, it is important to examine the background of gender equality within society and eventually its reflection in the classroom.


A background of gender and equality in education

`In December 1975, the sex discrimination act became law’ (Madden, 2000; p.27)

In addition to highlighting the period when the law started to play a vital role in preventing sexual discrimination in society, the organisations involved were also described. The role was extended to the education authority, and the sex discrimination act (SDA) 1975 that established the equal opportunities commission (EOC). The EOC’s duties encompassed working towards the elimination of discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity between women and men.

With further regards to education, it is important to explain that the EOC played an important role in creating changes.


`Changes were created in the national policy, changes in schools’ system, practices, cultures and changes in individual behaviour and attitude’. (Madden , 2000; p32)

These changes, as explained by Madden, were in order to develop equality in education. It is not surprising that with so many changes involved at a sensitive time that other organisations were either called upon or created. The education Ministers, Local Education Authority (LEA) and with great significance, the DES, such as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of schools ( HMI ) were all involved in creating a non discriminatory education system.


Ironically, an EOC annual report of 1977 has shown that the HMI was needed because the education services as whole did not consider sex discrimination as a serious problem. It is also interesting to read that EOC’s first formal investigation into alleged discriminatory allocation of girls to secondary education in Tameside LEA, was begun in 1976. It becomes interesting because this practice is a focus of the assessment in more than one way, that is, the allocation of girls and boys being the operative areas of focus.


Examples of gender bias in classroom teaching.

Since 1975, there have been many developments and improvements with the level of gender and sexual discrimination in the society.

`Men are the bread winners’, ‘women belong to the kitchen’, ‘a woman’s place is at the home with the children’ and men never cry in public places’. These are all familiar statements often voiced before the 1970s. Today these statements are not as common in saying or practice. The stereotyping of sex and gender is however very similar to the period before the seventies and examples of these can be found in classroom teaching.


Individual examples will be examined with more than one Source of evidence. Examples of the ways gender bias surface are that the lesson contents are changed to appeal to boys’ interest, teachers response to misconceptions and stereotyping, that leads to destructive consequences and assessment bias  towards one gender. These are only some of the examples which rightly require some attention.


Assessing the effects of gender bias and the equality of treatment in classroom teaching in order to create solutions.

The inequality in the teachers’ time and attention to some pupils were one observations made while on teaching practice. During the first week of observation of various classes, between January 7-12, it was clearly observed that most of the teachers’ attention went to the boys. This unfortunate observation was made in approximately five subjects. These subjects were Geography, Science, English Language, History and Mathematics.


`Boys’ potential to disrupt lessons seems to be even greater in Secondary schools than it is in Primary schools’. (Measor , 1992; p.80)


Measor’s account of boys’ disruption was a typical experience during most of the classroom teaching observed, and it therefore gave the rationale for teachers’ obligation to spend more time with the boys and subsequently the teachers giving the boys more of their time and attention.

`Boys are sensitive to gender biases in the way teachers treat pupils’ (Arnot, M, etal, 1998, p61). This bias sometimes surfaces when in their expectations of the boys to be more disruptive. Arnot supports my view that this is not usually appreciated by the boys. Irrespective of the rationale given, it is ph unequal treatment during classroom teaching, which came about through gender. Consequently, the girls or anyone could deem this as an act of gender bias.


`There is evidence of secondary school teachers developing lesson content to appeal to boys’ interest’. (Measor, 1992; p.80)

This further act of gender bias as described by Measor, despite its constructive objective would certainly be looked upon suspiciously and even worse, with great concern. It would be natural for there to be some concern, particularly because of the potential it has to destroy the self-esteem of the girls as explained by Draper 1992. It also has the potential to cause girls to feel isolated.

On taking on the role of the pastoral duties at x School, some of the gender bias became even more obvious. The most outstanding example that was reflected in the classroom teaching, was the unequal allowance for one gender to speak and sometimes that gender was unable to contribute anything verbally in a discussion. As a male associate teacher, it was easy to accuse the female pupils of speaking incessantly. This accusation was also attributed to stereotyping that girls talk more than boys. It, however, became clear that the boys were the main talkers. It also became clear that teachers acknowledged the boys more readily whenever the pupils’ hands were raised in order to answer a question.

`Research findings on secondary school classrooms reveals that teachers permit boys to talk more’.(Measor, 1992; p.80)


The quote above supports my findings and so, the implications are a cause for concern. It becomes a cause for concern because learning new information requires discussion and if female pupils are ignored, then this could inhibit their learning and consequently suppress their potential to do well. In the same way girls are affected, boys are affected by the generalisation and unequal treatment of being ignored in the classroom. The cause of concern becomes worrying when the data from the statistics of Education, 1999, pp52 shows a number of permanent exclusions by gender. It went on to expose a total of 10,440, and of the total 8,645 were boys while 1,793 were girls. The pie chart, as shown in Appendix one highlights approximately three quarters of  the boys compared to a quarter of the girls that is excluded by gender. This is worrying and clearly suggest that the gender issues should not be oversimplified. This also follows that there is a link to the classroom teaching.


It might appear as if there is some bias towards female pupils since the concerns of male pupils have not been discussed so far. It is therefore necessary to highlight some concerns of gender bias towards the boys that have led to inequality of classroom teaching.

‘ In short, teachers are too often concerned about boys’ behaviour and need to think about them more in terms of achievement’. (Noble C 2001 pp 33).

Noble’s summary has outlined the most fundamental gender bias that has been the most significant feature of inequality in classroom teaching. It certainly shows an understanding of the underachievement of boys and the increasing improvement of exams in the performance of girls. Taken from the last school experience, the gifted and talented register has shown some information which has been interpreted as statistical data. Appendix 2 shows the number of boys who have achieved the gifted status compared to the girls. It is disturbing when the data reveals that year 11 shows that 79 percent girls attained the gifted status, that is 9 out of 12, while only 21 percent didn’t. Generally the girls are ahead, except for year 10.

The problems of gender bias usually go deeper than the social and cultural norms of the boys or the girls and this is why every department needs to be aware of the problems and the solutions. “Although teachers are aware of the need to monitor the progress of the pupils by ethnicity as well as gender, few departments have carried out evaluations based on the tracking of the pupils’ progress” (Ranger, 2001; p.6)


Ranger, the reporting inspector of HMI for X High, has re-iterated Noble’s and my point, that more emphasis needs to be placed on the achievement of pupils in this respect, gender being the focus. There has to be some agreement with Rangers findings at X High. One of the main emphases observed in regards to the gender issue with the intention of creating equality in classroom teaching was the policy of the seating plan. Boys had to sit beside girls at all times, and not boy-boy or girl-girl. This worked to some extent in that it prevented some stereotyping which would have made it easier for either gender to be wrongfully accused. Neither were easily distracted when boys sat beside girls except in a few cases. Ranger continued to highlights the lack of the schools’ inadequacy, and indeed the importance of achievement in relation to gender and equality in classroom teaching when he continued, `The LEA has helped to raise the awareness of these issues but the achievement of minority-ethnic groups, and of boys and girls, do not feature sufficiently prominently in the thinking or the action plans of departments’ (Ranger, 2001; p.6).

The issues that Ranger has in mind is certainly needed in the action plans of all the school’s department and so further explanations will explain why.

It has been established that boys are more involved in discussions and arguments and through such social attributes, they have received greater attention from the teachers. These attentions are really gained for the wrong reasons. It would therefore be an achievement if these social attitudes were channelled in the lesson plans for girls.

Stereotyping has been one of the main ways in which inequality has been manifested in classroom teaching. In order to lead on to another area of worthwhile discussion, it is important to identify some of the stereotypes which are in some cases true in practice. One of the stereotypes is on subject preferences.

`Science, Mathematics, IT, and Pe are rated as ‘masculine’ by pupils and preferred by boys ; English. Humanities, music, PSE and RE rated as ‘feminine and preferred by girls’ (Arnot ,M etal 1998, p31) These findings as identified by Arnot, etal may be true in some cases, but it becomes a fallacy when there is faulty generalisation, and worst, it becomes dangerously destructive for pupils’ learning when, teachers practise such ideas in the classroom.


Measor has argued about the source of male or female preferences in the subject areas. It is argued that this may be genetic, while others say that this is cultural. Despite there being any or no credence to such arguments, there is some danger within such a context. The danger is that stereotype of gender in the classroom does lead to inequality in classroom teaching

`Male teachers dominate the school subjects that girls do badly in, like the sciences’ (Meanor, 1992; p.79)

The danger here is that one of the problems as highlighted by Measor is that girls are denied the role model needed in order to achieve in a dominant male subject area. This certainly makes it unfair, but many observers might not have recognized problems such as these and hence they are quick to jump to conclusions.


Another medium of stereotyping is found in the assessment of the pupils. `There is evidence that boys perform significantly better than girls on multiple on multiple-choice tests, whatever the subject area’ (Arnot, etal; 1998, p.36). Arnot continued to explain that boys are also believed to be better at verbal feedback. On the other hand, girls perform better in written exams and they produce a higher standard of course work. Unfortunately, teachers respond in agreement to stereotyping and hence they become biased themselves. They become biased towards a gender when they accept these stereotypes.

`Teachers obviously also need to think carefully about the contribution they make in raising the awareness of those around them, parents, pupils and colleagues.’ (Noble, 2001; p.34).


It is therefore my belief that it is true, based on what Noble has said. If it even means that there is some truth in such stereotypes, then the teacher ought to be aware of such stereotypes and work against them for the pupils. This can be done by being aware of the solutions to negative stereotyping, as they might apply to the female pupils or the male pupils. This in itself should create more equal opportunities for classroom teaching. In Noble’s own words he said that the pupils, parents and colleagues should be challenged to participate in the wider campaign to raise achievements. This will only be realised when it is known that boys face problems in subjects such as English and some other subjects that girls are better at, problems such as, fewer role models, especially, few male teachers. Other problems are that boys are finding it difficult to link themselves with the characters they read about and this affects their progress in the arts subjects.


The theory which adequately fits the problem of stereotyping gender, which affects the equality of classroom teaching is called social learning theories.

“Social learning theories suggest that children learn about appropriate attitudes and behaviour from their parents, peers and teachers (Kelly ,1981)” (in Measor , 1992; p.9)

This theory can certainly be applied in the context of sex-appropriate behaviour, and this type of practice is often through the desired behaviour of gender in the society. An example of the problem of this theory is recognised in relation to girls getting a reward sticker from a teacher for talking less, because that teacher believes that girls are the ones whoy,eak more and not boys. This is bearing in mind that the boy speaks at the most appropriate time and the girl is told that she has to speak less. This in itself can be depriving the girl of progressing in expressing her views.


“The degree to which it is true that parents, child carers and teachers do reward and punish ‘gender-appropriate’ behaviour”. (Measor, 1992; p.9)

This point of Measor certainly helped me to bring across the point that what is deemed as helping the pupil could be hurting the pupil. In effect the gender is not what necessarily makes the difference, but the individual circumstances. In fact another theory has shown that as a male or female, pupils are influenced by society and what it dictates about gender, but are capable of deciding what characteristics are best to accept or refuse in gender.


`Delamont, for example, hypothesizes that there is an interaction between sex and social class origin. The lower-middle class origins of many teachers, especially men, give them a view of gender tending towards the conventional stereotypes of their childhoods’ (Acker, 1994; p.96)

Although this view creates a stereotype for male teachers of a lower-middle class, there is truth in what has been theorized by Delamont. This theory of Delamont, has been seen where the lower-middle class tend to be less liberal, and are more prone to agree with the general view of society on gender issues. This sometimes affects the way he relates to the pupils and hence, this can and has affected the progress of the pupils.

`There may be differences in teachers’ attitudes to gender equality according to subject taught (Pratt 1985)’ (in Acker, 1994; p.98)

Here, Acker supports the ideas that I have already illustrated about the fact that some teachers, such as the male teachers, reluctantly accept equal opportunity initiatives, such as girls into science and technology. The feeling is usually that there are natural sex differences and that sex equality is not an educational problem.


`They develop a number of categories into which they fit their world, and they form rules about the categories. Sex is one of the significant categories they use’ (Measor , et al, 1992; p.9)

The theory as referred by Measor is cognitive development theory. This theory, unlike the social learning theories, does not show the child’s learning being affected or influenced by imposed ideas through the teacher or the society, but as recorded by Measor, 1992, it shows the pupils as active participants in structuring his or her experience and formulating sex role concepts. Gender role stereotyping is therefore not easily imposed upon the pupils by the teacher and as highlighted before, can create an equal and fair atmosphere for classroom teaching.


Summary of an exemplary case study.

In order to be successful in creating equality in classroom teaching and a non gender bias atmosphere, some steps must be taken. Some of these stages, which will be highlighted, have been practised at the Towney School. One of the first step that Towney School started in 1988, was to ensure that a whole-school gender policy was developed in the school.

`Each department was also obliged to draw up its own development plan. Although the focus had been mainly on gender’. (Ruddock, 1994; p.92). This policy is very ideal in order to create equal classroom teaching. This is so because each teacher, irrespective of their personal view, must carry out the policy to practice in order to ensure equality. `Teachers from Townley School talked about equal opportunities development work in their subjects. This was a session called ‘what about the boys. (Ruddock, 1994; p.90.)

This very interesting policy highlighted by Ruddock, is very positive, because it is the boys who are deemed to be getting all the mention and yet this session focused on the boys. It shows that stereotyping was not on the agenda for any of the policies as other sessions would equally examine the issues concerning the girls.

`A concern to help pupils talk about equality issues and to reflect on them in different situations’. (Ruddock, 1994; p.84) This practice in my mind is one of the most fundamental
integration of the policies which shows the depth of the schools intention to develop a high standard of education for all its pupils, that is whether they are mal female, black or white. The parents were involved, there were departmental representatives and most important, the pupils were involved.



During the discussion of the gender issues and the focus of equality in classroom teaching, some solutions have come about. The idea of sharing gender issues with the pupils can never be dismissed as a practical solution. The case study of Townley School shows where it is relevant to incorporate such policies in schools. The more aware pupils become, then the more teachers will be less prone to make mistakes of being bias towards a gender.

Some authors advocate single sex schools as the solutions. This to me is not a solution. In fact I believe that gender bias is capable of surfacing even more in such circumstances. This area was not examined further because the assessment was in relation to an experience at a co-educational school. The theories however showed that teachers and students can be influenced by gender bias in the classroom whether this is a single-sex school or a co-educational school. An example of this is where the all girls school are mainly of female teachers, but mostly males in the Science department. Already there can be some serious gender bias in such schools. The examinations, such as the GCSE, sometimes portray a bias against the girls and the boys. An example of this is where a SAT Mathematics paper given to the year 9 students had topics such as the mechanics of a car and also football. The girls clearly could not relate to these questions because many of them were not interested or understood some of the vocabulary of the male sport. This is a gender bias issue because the questions were male oriented. In this case, other assessment types, such as GCSE could be guilty of the same discrimination. Irrespective of the school, all pupils will be affected.

It is therefore my opinion that Towney School should be a National example for every school that wish to succeed on the basis of equality.

Workshops for teachers is another way of creating a solutions for the prevention of gender bias. Again, the policy of Towney School highlights such a need. The entire body of the school is affected, not only males or only females. The question of equality in the classroom should therefore be addressed. Gender bias is certainly a basis for inequality and therefore deserves being addressed.

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