Women in Education

Policy Piece

The article below sets out a snapshot of the current position in Scotland on the topic of Women and Girls in education, and also includes a ‘state of the nation’ prepared by the government’s analytical department.

Women and girls in education

We want every child and young person in Scotland to develop mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships with other children, young people and adults.

Gender stereotyping is everywhere in our culture, but schools can make a real difference both by becoming more aware of potential issues themselves, and by helping young people become more aware. Research[1] shows that the best way to combat the negative effects of gender stereotyping on young people is through an embedded and sustained approach to raising gender bias awareness.

The Scottish Government embeds gender equality across policy in Education and we are taking forward a range of actions aimed at developing mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships amongst young people through

  • Relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education
  • the Equally Safe strategy and delivery plan,
  • the Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy,
  • the work of the Expert Group on Preventing sexual offending involving children and young people
  • strengthened guidance on prejudice-based bullying, recording and monitoring, online/offline bullying, impact and outcomes of bullying; and
  • the action we are taking through the STEM strategy to support teachers and schools to take whole school and cross-curricular approaches to tackle gender stereotyping and promote better gender balance in participation in STEM subjects.

Relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education is an integral part of the health and wellbeing area of the school curriculum in Scotland. This aspect of the curriculum is intended to enable children and young people to build positive relationships as they grow older and should present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law [on sexual behaviour].

Learning about RSHP education begins early on in primary school right up to S4-S6. Education Scotland produced Experiences and Outcomes on RSHP. They are a set of clear and concise statements about children’s learning and progression in each curriculum area. They are used by teachers to help plan learning and to assess progress. These are backed up with Benchmarks on RSHP education which have been developed to provide clarity on the national standards expected within each curriculum area at each level of learning. Their purpose is to make clear what learners need to know and be able to do to progress through the learning levels, and to support consistency in teacher’s and other practitioners’ professional judgements.

Schools will equip young people with information on a wide range of issues, depending on their age and stage. They will be encouraged to discuss these subjects with their peers and parents, to help them gain knowledge, and the skills to become confident in making healthy lifestyle decisions for themselves. It is for schools to decide how they deliver RSHP education, based on the needs of the children or young people in their classroom. We ask teachers to work closely with parents in the delivery of RSHP education, by discussing proposed lessons and resources with them in advance.

In relation to the role of the curriculum, Curriculum for Excellence is intended to be an inclusive curriculum from 3 to 18 wherever learning is taking place. The “Building the Curriculum 3” document – one of the core curriculum documents – states that gender should be given consideration from a support perspective, to ensure that there is a level playing field when accessing the curriculum. To support gender equality across the delivery of the curriculum in schools Education Scotland have published a number of resources for everyone who works in a school. The resources can also be accessed by anyone through the National Improvement Hub[2], and provide a starting point for embedding equalities in every aspect of a young person’s journey through education, and could be used to tie in with other equity policies and programmes.

These resources were developed as part of the Improving Gender Balance project that we highlighted in last month’s Spotlight on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Government’s STEM education and training strategy commits us to working to embed the approaches from this successful pilot in all schools in Scotland by the end of 2022. Education Scotland are now establishing a dedicated team of people who will work with early learning providers and schools, to challenge gender bias and to tackle other forms of inequality in STEM. The team will provide professional learning support for teachers, and develop a gender champion network and gender kite-marking to grow and spread best practice. The team will encourage whole school and cross-curricular approaches , in recognition that this is the most effective means of improving gender balance in participation in STEM subjects. For teachers this will build on and re-inforce the content delivered through Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes on developing and promoting equality and diversity to address potential discrimination; and the values and personal commitment to social justice included in the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s (GTCS) Professional Standards.

Our national awarding body – SQA – places equality at the heart of its work, ensuring that our National Qualifications and wider awards are not discriminatory to any learner on the grounds of any of the protected characteristics, including gender.

Furthermore, our education system is offering young people a range of opportunities through their Senior Phase, allowing them to develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed beyond the classroom, whether progressing to training, work or further study.

Careers Information Advice and Guidance

In June 2014, the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce  published its final report Education Working for All!  In order to better prepare young people for the world of work. The report recommended that new standards for careers guidance and work experience be developed reflecting the involvement of employers. To achieve this aim, the Scottish Government’s response, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) set out milestones for the introduction of the Career Education Standard 3-18 (CES).

The CES will help learners to understand the link between the skills they develop across the curriculum and how these are used in the world of work. By introducing career information, advice and guidance earlier in school young people have support at key stages of their education, helping them best understand how the choices they make today can open career pathways in the future. All involved in career education are expected to provide advice, guidance and opportunities that contribute to eradicating discrimination; promoting mutual respect and equality of opportunity across genders, social background, disabilities, ethnicities, sexual orientation and religions.

Career staff have a  key role in the effective delivery of  the expectations and entitlements within the standards. Many schools  are providing relevant opportunities and programmes, which actively challenge stereotypes, such as gender bias, in a constructive way.

Further and Higher Education

A new 3-month social media campaign to increase gender balance in participation in STEM study at college and university was launched in November 2018.  The joint Scottish Government and Young Scot campaign, will encourage young women to study traditionally male subjects at both College and University level by challenging stereotypes and highlighting possible career paths and advantages to studying STEM for all young people.

The recommendations of Developing the Young Workforce: Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy committed Scottish Funding Council to work to address gender imbalances  at the subject level within college regions through the development of a Gender Action Plan (GAP). This was extended to universities.

The GAP can be found here and was published in 2016.

The plan’s main aims are that by 2030 no college or university subject will have a gender imbalance of greater than 75% of one gender and that the proportion of male students studying at undergraduate level at university will be at least 47.5% (or to put it another way, the gap between male and female participation will be reduced to 5%).

  • In 2017 we progressed one of the main actions which was for all institutions to develop an institutional Gender Action Plan.  We also published a year on progress report and held a national conference.
  • In 2018 we have worked on engagement particularly student engagement in gender equality and how well institutions are developing their plans.  We developed reporting requirements for preventing and responding to gender based violence and also held another national conference on gender equality to share good practice and keep up momentum.  We will providing our Board with a progress report on work on gender equality over 2018 in January but one of the main recommendations will be a need for iGAPs to be whole institutional approaches and not just the responsibility of equality officers.  However, it will also outline that it is still early days for this plan and though its aims are achievable it is going to take time.


[1] https://education.gov.scot/improvement/Documents/sci38-key-findings.pdf

[2] https://education.gov.scot/improvement/learning-resources/Improving%20gender%20balance%203-18

The Scottish Government will continue to play its part in addressing the participation gender challenge, working with partners to effect change.

Further reading: Scottish Government Analytical Services – Education: State of the Nation