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Improving Gender Balance Scotland

Case study

The gender imbalance in sciences and technologies subjects at school has persisted for over 30 years despite many interventions. These imbalances continue into further education and the world of work, leading to inequality in the workplace and contributing to the gender pay gap. They also represent a tremendous loss of talent and potential to our industries which need to attract a diverse range of skilled individuals to enable them to grow and thrive. The Improving Gender Balance Scotland (IGBS) programme was established to overcome these challenges and to help schools and early years centres challenge stereotypes and unconscious bias and to develop new approaches that make an impact.

The IGBS programme has been led by Skills Development Scotland, the Institute of Physics and Education Scotland and ran for three years from April 2015 to March 2018. The two IGBS project officers worked with six school clusters (including the secondary schools, their associated primary schools and early learning and childcare centres) to find new ways to promote gender balance. This drew heavily on research and evidence as well as partnership working with schools and settings to take creative new approaches.

Throughout the pilot the project officers delivered:

  • 2,685 hours of professional learning and practitioner support
  • 5,423 hours of pupil engagement activities
  • 3,407 hours of engagement with wider stakeholders including careers information and guidance(CIAG) practitioners, museums, science providers and other partner organisations.

Some of the strategies were big and took time to implement, but some of the changes were relatively small and easy to make. One teacher said that one of the most important things they learned from the pilot is the “understanding that small changes can make the biggest impact”.

Some of the work that has been taken forward by schools and centres has included:

  • Redesigning subject choice booklets to have a broader appeal
  • Reframing areas in early learning and childcare settings to encourage boys and girls to develop new interests
  • Changing timetabling and class settings to enable freer choice and more supportive learning environments
  • Training peer ambassadors to challenge subject stereotypes with younger pupils
  • Encouraging practitioners to observe lessons to see how boys and girls are being treated differently
  • Embedding gender balance in staff and departmental meetings and school communications
  • Forming whole-school gender equality groups.

The evaluation of the pilot was very positive. Respondents agreed that they felt:

  • More informed about gender balance (98%)
  • Likely to pass on learning to colleagues and partners (95%)
  • That the pilot influenced their work with young people around gender stereotypes (84%).

As part of the Scottish Government STEM Education and Training Strategy, the pilot will be extended to every school cluster in Scotland by 2022. Education Scotland will lead this next phase and is currently recruiting a team of six new officers to support this work.

The full evaluation report of the pilot can be found at
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