Education in England

Gender Inequalities in Secondary Schools

Seminar Paper, 2005

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Education in England
2.1. Introductory Knowledge
2.2. Education in British Politics
2.2.1. Thatcherism and Education Policy
2.2.2. Education Politics under New Labour

3. Inequalities in English Education
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Gender Inequalities in English Secondary Schools
3.2.1. Development
3.2.2. Explaining the Gender Problem Girls’ Improvement Boys’ Underachievement
3.2.3 Equality Supporting Strategies

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

The last year I spent abroad as a foreign language assistant in England where I was teaching German from year 7 to 13 at a grammar school for girls. As a result of my time there I decided to write a paper about the educational system in Great Britain because there are some differences between the German and British education. Teaching only girls offered me something that I will never experience in a German school. Single- sex schools are non- existing here or just to a rare amount and although I experienced the teaching as positive, there are also disadvantages of single- sex learning. “One positive effect of being at a girls school” most of my girls said last year, is “that you are not distracted by the classroom- behaviour of the boys”. If this very common way in England of separating the genders in different schools is supportive for the school results is a question which I am going to talk about in my work. Besides that I’d like to find out if the so called “gender gap” is really existing and what is meant by that. As a basis for my paper I’d like to give a short introduction to the English school system. Following that I will deal with the education politics during the period of Thatcherism and New Labour to find out which role education played in the past years in British politics and which reforms were made recently. It is obvious that the political dimensions of education are broad, and for that reason I am going to name only the main important changes. In the main part of my work I will consider the problems of inequalities in English secondary schools with special regard to the “gender gap”.

The literature I have worked with is taken from the internet especially the one about the politic parties and their policies. I also used certain books about British culture and society which will be listed on page 14. It is important to mention that the names (Great) Britain and UK stand in my work for the entire country including Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If I am talking about England it will be named like that.

2. Education in England

2.1. Introductory Knowledge

In comparison to some other states, education in Britain has a long tradition and played always a major role in politics. The foundation for the development of the modern educational system could be seen in the Education Act of 1944 (Butler Act) which reformed the administration, the school organization and the relations between educational state governed

and educational religious institutions. The aims and promises of the Educational Act were to guarantee secondary education for every pupil and to enable educational services to work together. The main important changes resulting from the Act were the introduction of Local Education Authorities and the reorganisation of the education system. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) had and still have to fulfil certain tasks in their local area e.g. to pay the teachers or give pupils scholarships. The education system was transformed into a 3-stages system consisting of primary, secondary and further education. Since the 1944 Act the school types in Great Britain were not only differentiated between primary and secondary schools, but there was also made a separation between state and independent schools. The general distinction primary and secondary schools is valid for each part of the UK but there are regional variations concerning the school types, the school day structure and the contents of teaching which can differ immensely (Burgess 20-21). In primary schools children from the age of five are taught for six years. Then they leave for a secondary school where they have to take a series of exams, the GCSE’s, when they are 16 years old. Depending on whether the pupils visit a state or an independent school, they can choose between the secondary schools: comprehensive, grammar or secondary modern and public or direct grant. In year 11 the pupils are taking 8 to 12 GCSE’s in the compulsory subjects English, a foreign language, Geography or History and Maths. The other subjects can be chosen individually by the pupil depending on his or her interest and ability. When they have finished their year 11, pupils have the opportunity to do two more further years at school and take the A-Level, which is a more detailed and broad study and is preparatory for university.

Another important fact in British Education is the National Curriculum which I will consider specifically in the chapter of gender inequalities because it is to extensive to deal with the entire issue now.

2.2. Education in British Politics

2.2.1. Thatcherism and Education Policy

In 1979 the Conservative Party was voted in the general election in the UK. Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister and her style of leadership gave her the name the “Iron Lady”. The Conservatives were in power until 1990 and their main concern were reforms in the local government. School age education and several school- reforming Acts were important issues in the Conservatives’ education policy.

After the war, a time where the expenditure on education and public matters was increasing, the first major and radical change under Thatcher happened in 1979 when financial cut- backs were made in the educational sector. The underfunding was noticeable for LEAs, headteachers and school governors who now had to deal with difficulties in making available equipment for teachers and pupils, in keeping up the teacher’s motivation for teaching and in offering “a broad- based curriculum” (Butcher 82). Following the financial changes, other changes were made in the legislative with the aim to limit the freedom and control of LEAs over running schools. In the Education Acts of 1980, 1981 and 1986 the Conservatives committed that “It is mandatory for children with special needs to be educated in ‘ordinary’ schools. All parents now have the right to appeal against LEA’s decisions about the placement of their children; [and] the Secretary of State for Education can now take powers to make regulations for the appraisal of teachers; […]” (Butcher 83).

The 1988 Education Act, which only applies for England and Wales, brought the second major change while the Conservatives were governing. Comprehensive schooling was introduced into the British school system and the National Curriculum was reformed. The release for the second reform in education were debates, in which parents and employers, who were representing the industry, criticised that children are not very well prepared after they are leaving school. The disappointment about the school system was referring to the way children were taught at school, the contents of the curriculum and the fact that school leavers are badly prepared for the entry into employment and do not have any technical skills. The National Curriculum was changed into a more ‘formal’ one with the commitment of teaching pupils traditional values. It became one with “ […] opportunities for schools to opt out of local authority control and into a grant- maintained status, enhanced parental choice, devolved budgets, recording on standardized tests at regular intervals, and publicizing school performance indicators […]” (Butcher 89-90).

During the Thatcher government the British spend less on education than many other states. Creating a better studying and learning atmosphere and the promise to offer the best educational standard for all caused many reforms. The reality were the radical cut- backs which were made because of the imperialist interests of the party to spend money on armaments. Schools as well as teachers who lost their jobs suffered a lot under Thatcher and even new qualified teachers who came from university did not get jobs in their profession (Butcher 82-90).

2.2.2. Education Politics under New Labour

After eighteen years of Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, New Labour came into power with the elections in 1997. Tony Blair became Prime Minister and his significant words in one of his speeches “Education, education, education” gave the impression that education will be the number one priority in Labour’s policy. Soon after the election Labour announced its plans, which are the investment in infrastructure to achieve economical stability and the investment in different public sectors like education, health and employment. Education is an important issue to the party because the politicians think that it delivers “social justice and equality of opportunity” (Labour Party 1). The promise to change the education system rapidly became true, when New Labour introduced several Bills within the first two years of governing. First there was a single- clause Bill to abolish the Assisted Places Scheme making it possible to reduce the class size. Two further Bills were published soon afterwards. One of them was the Excellence in Schools White Paper, the second one was the School Standards and Frameworks Bill which came in November 1997 and was dealing with the changes to raise standards in schools and reforms in school structure (Ludlam 194). New Labour’s main education policies named in the Bills were


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Education in England
Gender Inequalities in Secondary Schools
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Anglistik/ Amerikanistik)
Cultural Studies Great Britain
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
472 KB
Education, England, Gender, Inequalities, Secondary, Schools
Quote paper
Janina Böttcher (Author), 2005, Education in England, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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