Our focus is at primary school level because evidence shows that the limiting effects of stereotyping on children’s aspirations, choices, behaviour and sense of ‘self’ start young.
Rather than seeking to undo gendered norms and expectations later in life, our approach is to head them off before they take hold – so that young people grow up without internalising the limitations they effect.
Efforts to broaden students’ aspirations, particularly in relation to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), need to begin at primary school. The current focus of most activities and interventions – at secondary school – is likely to be too little, too late.Aspires: Young people’s science and career aspirations, King’s College London, 2013
A whole school approach
We take a whole school approach to gender equality in schools – evidence indicates this, rather than individual presentations or lesson plans, is the most powerful approach to ensuring effectiveness.
Tackling gender differences that have a negative impact on educational achievement is best done at a whole school level and as part of the institution’s general ethos.Gender Issues in School, DCSF 2009
The positive effects of a PSHE (Personal, Social, Health & Economic) lesson about gender stereotypes, for example, can be easily undone when a PE teacher tells a child to “man up” or “you run like a girl”, or a topic on explorers or inventors teaches only men (mostly white men) – all examples we have seen in practice in schools, without any sexist intent on the part of teachers.
A whole school approach involves a school’s ethos, routines and practices. Lifting Limits supports schools to examine how gendered stereotypes may be perpetuated and/or challenged within their own environments and also to equip their pupils to tackle gendered inequities wherever they encounter them. We start with a ‘gender audit’ to identify areas of good practice and development. Through a combination of ‘gender lens’ training for staff, lesson plans and school wide resources, we help to bring into the open, for discussion and challenge, gendered stereotypes wherever they are encountered.
We help schools to:
- examine the part they play in perpetuating or challenging gender stereotypes
- equip their pupils to demand a more gender-equal world
- better represent women and their achievements in their curriculum and resources
- show all genders in non-stereotypical roles
- engage parents and carers in these conversations
- increase staff awareness and confidence in addressing sexism and stereotyping with pupils, colleagues and parents
We ran an externally evaluated pilot in five primary schools in the London Borough of Camden, testing our model and resources, in 2018 and 2019. The pilot started in schools in September 2018 with a two hour inset session to all staff. Throughout the school year, staff used our school-wide resources and delivered National Curriculum compliant lessons from our 80 lesson plans across 12 subject areas, for every year group and the Early Years. Each lesson is designed to meet dual goals: covering the specific learning objectives as set out in the National Curriculum and also specific gender learning objectives. We also ran workshops for parents and carers in all pilot schools.
The pilot outcomes will inform wider roll-out of the model, through middle tier organisations – Local Authorities, Multi-Academy Trusts and Independent school chains. If you represent a middle tier organisation which may be interested in participating in a second phase pilot then please do get in touch.
In the meantime we are continuing to roll out our programme in individual schools across Greater London, with 12 new schools joining in September 2019.
Driving social change
In order to achieve gender equality in society, we believe that challenging gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality has to be ‘mainstreamed’ in our schools, so staff and pupils are as alert and responsive to it as they are other forms of prejudice and inequality. This has to happen throughout our schools system: pockets of discrete activity will not drive meaningful social change. Therefore, through our pilot, we are developing a whole school approach and resources that can be easily and effectively replicated through networks of schools. At the same time, we are engaging policy influencers to help create conditions where schools are encouraged to undertake gender work and can readily see the benefits to them.