The rhetoric of social mobility continues… yet disadvantaged pupils continue to fall behind

skills gap

By Heather Cameron

Despite continued investment to improve social mobility, it has been estimated that at the current rate of progress it will take 50 years to close the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils in England.

Recent analysis of government data shows the gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers has actually worsened over the past decade.

The research, conducted by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), found that while there has been some progress in closing the gap for disadvantaged pupils (those eligible for the Pupil Premium), this has been slow and inconsistent. The gap has also been shown to vary between areas.

And, perhaps most worryingly, for pupils described as ‘persistently disadvantaged’ (i.e. those that have been eligible for free school meals for 80% or longer of their school lives), the gap has widened – leaving these pupils over a year behind their non-disadvantaged peers at the end of primary school and more than two years behind at the end of secondary school.

Widening gap

The attainment gap is evident in the early years, continuing to grow throughout school.

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were found to be 19.2 months on average behind their peers at the end of Key Stage 4. While this represents a narrowing of the gap by 2.7 months since 2007, this is not consistent across the board. And the gap for ‘persistently disadvantaged’ pupils increased by 2.4 months over the same period.

The EPI analysis indicates that the disadvantage gap grows by five months between Key Stage 1 and 2, and by 10 months between Key Stage 2 and 4.

Persistently disadvantaged pupils are shown to fall even further behind at all phases. For them, the gap grows from six months at the end of Key Stage 1, to 12 months by the end of Key Stage 2 and 24 months by the end of Key Stage 4.

It is argued that the differential rates of progress pupils make need to be tackled to stop the gap from growing throughout the stages.

Indeed, the issue can’t be solved with a one size fits all approach, particularly as there is significant variation across the country.

Variation

The disadvantage gap between local authorities ranges from no gap to seven months in the early years, five to 13 months at the end of primary school and one month to over two years at the end of secondary.

The gap is generally smaller in London, the South and the East at around 16-18 months at the end of secondary. In comparison, the East Midlands and the Humber, the North and the South West experience a much larger gap of 22 months. The largest attainment gap was found on the Isle of Wight, where disadvantaged pupils were 29 months behind their peers on leaving secondary school.

The gap was also found to become worse in rural areas. In Cumbria and Northumberland, for example, the gap widens from nine months at the end of Key Stage 2 to over 25 months by the end of secondary.

But there is also evidence of particularly good performance and notable improvements made in recent years. In Newham, disadvantaged five year-olds perform as well as non-disadvantaged five year-olds nationally, on average. And in Richmond-upon-Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead, the gap for disadvantaged secondary school pupils has closed by over six months since 2012.

This would suggest that there is certainly potential for dramatic improvements in reducing the gap in other areas.

Government action

As an historic problem, successive governments have taken action to address it via investment and targeted interventions. The current government is also working to address the issue, including through Opportunity Areas.

The EPI suggests that while this may be a good start, there are other areas across the country that are not covered by these where “social mobility is stagnating or even worsening”. And it also highlights that the system continues to fail to meet the needs of certain vulnerable groups, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, those from Gypsy Roma or Traveller communities, and Black Caribbean children.

In addition, recent commentary from the Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, raised concerns over schools focusing on exam results at the expense of the curriculum, leading to many disadvantaged children being shut out from acquiring a rich and full knowledge:

“It is a risk to social mobility if pupils miss out on opportunities to study subjects and gain knowledge that could be valuable in subsequent stages of education or in later life.”

It has been suggested that government pressure to improve performance has led to a focus on exam and test results. But Spielman argues that this is a mistake on the part of school leaders as it should “not be taken as read that higher scores for the school always means a better deal for pupils”.

Final thoughts

Clearly, while it shouldn’t be forgotten that progress has been made, a lot more needs to be done if the disadvantage gap is to close any time soon.

As the EPI concluded: “If we carry on at this pace, we will lose at least a further three generations before equality of outcomes is realised through our education system.”


If you enjoyed reading this post, you may also like our previous blogs on education-related topics.

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How to tackle unconscious bias: Step 1 – read this!

What is unconscious bias?

Although levels of explicit prejudice are falling, discrimination continues to be a problem for many sections of society.  One reason for this may be ‘unconscious bias’.

Unconscious bias is “a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.”

Everyone has some degree of unconscious bias.  Unconscious thoughts are often based on stereotypes and prejudices that we do not realise that we have.

From a survival point of view, these brain ‘shortcuts’ are a positive and necessary function – they help us to make snap decisions in dangerous situations, for example.  However, in everyday life, they can negatively effect rational decision-making.

Types of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias has different forms.  One common form is Affinity bias – the subconscious preference for people with similar characteristics to ourselves (sex, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, educational background etc.).  In 2015, the CIPD reported that recruiters were often affected by affinity bias, resulting in the tendency to hire ‘mini-mes’.

The Halo effect involves the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area.  For example, a disproportionate number of corporate CEOs are over six foot tall, suggesting that there is a perception that taller people make better leaders, or are more successful. Similar patterns have been observed in the military and even for Presidents of the United States.

The Horns effect is the opposite of the ‘Halo effect’ – where one characteristic clouds our opinions of other attributes.  For example, the perception that women are ‘less capable’ in certain occupations.  A review found that female psychologists and women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) departments were just as likely to discriminate against female candidates as their male counterparts.

The same qualities can also be perceived very differently in different people – for example, assertiveness in a man may be perceived more positively (‘strong leader’) than in a woman (‘bossy’).

Impact of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias not only influences our body language and the way we interact with people, it can also negatively influence a number of important decisions in the workplace, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Promotion
  • Staff appraisals
  • Workload allocations

As well as being unfair, decisions based on unconscious biases are unlikely to be optimal and can result in missed opportunities.  Where unconscious bias also effects a protected characteristic, it can also be discriminatory.

How to mitigate unconscious bias

So, now you know what unconscious bias is, what can you do about it?

The good news is that it is possible to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias. The first step is to become more aware of the potential of unconscious bias to influence your own decision-making. Large organisations such as Google and the NHS are already providing unconscious bias training to their staff.

You can take this awareness further by taking an Implicit Association Test, such as that provided by Harvard University.  This will help to identify and understand your own personal biases.

Other ways to help reduce the influence of unconscious bias include:

  • Taking time to make decisions
  • Ensuring decisions are justified by evidence and the reasons for decisions are recorded
  • Working with a wider range of people and get to know them as individuals, such as different teams or colleagues based in a different location
  • Focusing on positive behaviours and not negative stereotypes

At the corporate level, ways that organisations can help to tackle unconscious bias include:

  • Implement policies and procedures which limit the influence of individual characteristics and preferences, including objective indicators, assessment and evaluation criteria and the use of structured interviews
  • Ensure that selection panels are diverse, containing both male and female selectors and a range other characteristics where possible (ethnicity, age, background etc.)
  • Promote counter-stereotypical images of underrepresented groups
  • Provide unconscious bias training workshops

Tackling unconscious bias is not just a moral obligation; it is essential if organisations are to be truly inclusive.  By making best use of the available talent, it can also help to make organisations be more efficient and competitive.


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Women in politics: the long and winding road to equality

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On 9 November, the world woke up to learn the name of the next US president – and it wasn’t the name most people had been expecting. Although the election didn’t turn out to be as historic as it might have been, having a female nominee for president of the United States still marked a milestone on the road to equality for women in political life. But, while the profile of women in politics has never been higher, the wider story of female political participation and representation has been one of slow, intermittent and hard-won advancement.

The path to power

In 1893, New Zealand was the first modern democracy to acknowledge women’s right to vote, while the first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was Finland in 1906. In the UK, women were first entitled to vote in 1918 – but only for property owners over the age of 30. It took another ten years before the vote was given to women on same terms as men. Women in Switzerland had to wait even longer, first receiving the right to vote in national elections in 1971.

Progress towards greater representation of women in politics has also been protracted. Again, Finland led the way, electing 19 female members of parliament in 1907. But it wasn’t until 1960 that the world’s first woman prime minister was elected (Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike). Twenty years later, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland became the first woman to be elected as a head of state (she was subsequently re-elected three more times). In 2015, for the first time, Saudi Arabia allowed women the right to vote and stand in municipal elections (21 female candidates were elected out of 2106 seats).

Women in politics today

In 2016, Theresa May followed in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, to become the UK’s second woman prime minister. Meanwhile, after a decade in power, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential politicians, and she recently announced she’ll be seeking re-election for a fourth term in 2017.  In addition, there are now female heads of government in a variety of countries, from Chile to Bangladesh, Liberia to Norway. There are also women first ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a growing number of female mayors in cities such as Paris, Rome, Montevideo and Baghdad. In October’s Icelandic election, 48% of those elected were women – enabling it to claim the title of the most equal parliament in the world.

It may seem that the tide has turned for female representation in politics. But a closer look uncovers a less rosy picture:

  • Of the 193 member states of the United Nations, only sixteen (8%) have a woman president or prime minister.
  • Seven countries have no women in their national parliament, while 35 have fewer than 10%.
  • Out of 650 contested seats, 191 women were elected to the House of Commons at the 2015 UK general election (29% of MPs).

Breaking down the barriers

Earlier, this year, we reported from the Women in Public Life conference held in Edinburgh. The discussions highlighted the low proportion of women elected to the UK’s local councils and devolved assemblies with a particular focus on Scotland.  The May 2016 elections did little to improve on this situation.

  • 45 women (34.9%) were elected to the Scottish Parliament, the same proportion as in 2011, and down on the high point of 39.5% in 2003.
  • 2016 saw 25 women (41.7%) elected to the National Assembly for Wales, a higher proportion than the other devolved assemblies, but down on the 2003 Welsh Assembly, which had an equal number of women and men.
  • In the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, of the 108 seats contested 30 were won by women – up on the 20 elected in 2011, but still only 27.8% of the total.

The conference also debated some of the ways in which the barriers to female participation and representation in politics might be overcome. These included:

  • creating a forum for women councillors in local government;
  • promoting a cross party consensus on encouraging women candidates to stand in local and parliamentary elections;
  • creating a mentoring scheme to encourage more young women to participate;
  • promoting flexible working patterns, including reducing the number of late night debates
  • statutory measures, such as quotas, to advance the role of women in elections.

Supporters of gender quotas point to their effective deployment in countries such as Bolivia, South Africa and Sweden as ways of redressing women’s exclusion from public life. Following the Scottish Parliament elections of 2016, a team of University of Edinburgh researchers argued that without quotas women’s representation would remain slow and incremental at best:

“For real and lasting progress, warm words must be backed up with statutory measures to embed quality in our political institutions.”

In the Republic of Ireland, legislation was introduced in 2012 with provisions that the major political parties would lose half of their state funding unless at least 30% of their election candidates were female. The first national test of the new quotas came in the general election of 2016, which saw 35 women (22.3%) elected to the lower house of the Irish parliament. This amounted to a 40% increase from the election of 2011, where 15% of the successful candidates were women. While some attributed this to gender quotas, an early analysis of the results suggested that it may take one or two more election cycles to determine the full impact of quotas on Irish elections.

Role models for the future?

Increased representation for women in politics is important for the positive impact it can have on both gender equality issues and social policy more broadly. But might the presence of female politicians also inspire interest in political participation among young women?

Studies into the effectiveness of women politicians as role models have produced a mixture of conclusions:

  • A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, found that increased visibility of women politicians increased the likelihood of adolescent girls’ intention to be politically active.
  • In 2012, research from the University of California, Berkeley, reported that the election of additional women in US state legislative elections had “no discernible causal effects on other women’s political participation at the mass or elite levels.”
  • Research published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015 suggested that role models are important for improving women’s representation, but only in its early stages.

Final thoughts

Time will tell whether we ever see a woman elected to the role of American President. But while it’s important and exciting to see more women winning political office at the highest level, equal representation for women across the board, from grassroots and local council level upwards is as vital. And, as a recent Holyrood magazine article underlined, the presence of women in political life is not only important for women:

“…if we cannot yet manage equal representation for half the population, how are we to achieve real representation for other parts of society such as BME people and those with disabilities who are actually in a minority?”


Further reading

Women in public life: breaking the barriers – conference highlights

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Gender pay gap – will it ever close?

égalité des sexes

By Heather Cameron

Last Thursday was labelled ‘Equal Pay Day’ – the last day of the year women effectively stop earning relative to men – just one day later than the previous year.

According to the Fawcett Society, this means women are in effect ‘working for free’ until the end of the year as a result of the gender pay gap.

Given that it is 46 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced ‘to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’, it is dispiriting that considerable inequalities remain between men and women’s pay.

How much of a gap?

The Fawcett Society has calculated the current gender pay gap for full-time workers at 13.9%.

Recent research by Deloitte suggests that the gender pay gap will not close until 2069 unless action is taken to tackle it now. It shows that the hourly pay gap between men and women is closing at a rate of just 2.5 pence per annum, and in some cases is even widening.

The study also notes that men receive considerably higher average pay even in female-dominated occupations, such as teaching and caring.

And new research from New Policy Institute (NPI) found that, although things have been improving with higher employment rates and increases in earnings, the formal employment rate for women is still lower and female weekly earnings are still less than 70% of male weekly earnings.

The research also highlighted that significant barriers continue to prevent women entering the labour market, particularly when it comes to high-paid, secure, quality jobs.

The overall global situation would appear even worse as the most recent Global gender gap report from the World Economic Forum indicates that the gap could take 170 years to close.

In terms of the economic impact, the gender pay gap has been highlighted as a particular issue in relation to the UK’s low productivity problem.

It has been suggested that equalising women’s productivity could add almost £600 billion to the economy, and that 10% could be added to the size of the economy by 2030 if the millions of women who wanted to work could find suitable jobs.

Causes

The gender pay gap has been attributed to four main causes by the Fawcett Society:

  • Discrimination – often women are still paid less than men for the same job and unfair treatment remains common, especially around maternity
  • Unequal caring responsibilities – women continue to play a greater role in caring for family
  • A divided labour market – women are more likely to be in low-paid and low-skilled jobs
  • Men in the most senior roles – men continue to make up the majority of those in the highest paid and most senior roles

Deloitte’s research similarly highlights that women are disproportionately more likely to enter low paid industries or sectors.

However, it emphasises that one contributory factor to the gender pay gap occurs before labour market entry, when boys and girls decide what to study at school and in further education. Three times more boys than girls take computing and 50% more boys than girls study design and technology.

This is significant because the gap in starting salaries between men and women who have studied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and who go on to take jobs in these sectors, was found to be far smaller.

Way forward

Deloitte’s research therefore suggests that increasing the participation of females in STEM subjects and careers could help reduce the gender pay gap.

Nevertheless, it also notes that as there are several causes, no single measure will be enough to eradicate it.

The government’s policy to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for all large companies employing more than 250 employees has been welcomed as a step forward. But there are concerns this is not enough. The NPI research suggests that it could go further, with extension of the duty to companies employing 50 people.

In addition, encouraging take-up of the voluntary living wage and boosting pay in sectors that have been traditionally low paid and have predominantly employed women are suggested as ways to help speed up the reduction of the gender pay gap.

The NPI report calls for ‘a multi-dimensional policy response, sitting underneath a clear gender focused employment strategy’ to reduce gender inequalities and the subsequent pay gap.


If you enjoyed reading this, why not take a look at some of our other posts on equalities issues

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Equal to the task? Addressing racial inequality in public services

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Throughout October, a series of events to promote diversity and equality will take place as part of Black History Month. Although there are many achievements to celebrate, it is an unfortunate fact that many people in the UK today still experience disadvantage due to the colour of their skin.

Over the summer, reports by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), found that racial inequality in the UK was ‘worryingly high’.

In its biggest ever review of race inequality in the UK, the EHRC concluded that:

“while for certain people life has become fairer over the past five years, for others progress has stalled and for some– in particular young Black people – life on many fronts has got worse.”

Audit of racial disparities announced

The government responded quickly by announcing an audit of racial disparities in public services. It promises to ‘shine a light on injustices as never before’.

From summer 2017, Whitehall departments will be required to identify and publish information annually on outcomes for people of different backgrounds in areas such as health, education, childcare, welfare, employment, skills and criminal justice.

As well as enabling the public to check how their race affects the way they are treated by public services, the data is also intended to help force services to improve.

The audit is being called ‘unprecedented’ – and it certainly is – up until now, public services in the UK have not systematically gathered data for the purposes of racial comparison. Indeed, according to the FT, very few countries, if any at all, currently produce racial impact audits.

‘Worryingly high’ levels of racial inequality

The audit will have its work cut out.  The review by the EHRC found that, compared to their White counterparts, people from ethnic minorities were more likely to be:

  • unemployed
  • on low wages and/or in insecure employment
  • excluded from school
  • less qualified
  • living in poverty
  • living in substandard and/or overcrowded accommodation
  • experiencing mental and physical health problems
  • in the criminal justice system
  • stopped and searched by police
  • a victim of hate crime
  • a victim of homicide

Institutional racism

Similarly, the CERD findings into how well the UK is meeting its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) raised serious concerns about the level of institutional racism in UK public services. Omar Khan, of the Runnymede Trust, suggested that the findings would ‘embarrass the UK on the world stage’.

Longstanding inequalities in access to services, the quality of care received and patients’ health outcomes were criticised, as was the over-representation of persons belonging to ethnic minorities in psychiatric institutions.

The committee echoed the EHRC’s concerns regarding higher unemployment rates and the concentration of persons belonging to ethnic minorities in insecure and low-paid work.  They also criticised the use of discriminatory recruitment practices by employers.

In education, there were concerns regarding reports of racist bullying and harassment in schools, and the lack of balanced teaching about the history of the British Empire and colonialism, particularly with regard to slavery.

The committee also concluded that there had been an outbreak of xenophobia and discrimination against ethnic minorities, particularly since the EU referendum campaign.  Indeed, the rise in post-Brexit racial tensions has been widely acknowledged.

Equal to the task?

Although the audit has been welcomed by many, including the EHRC, others have raised concern about the extent to which it will tackle the root of the problem.  Danny Dorling, of Oxford University, remains sceptical, stating that “within two or three years every single one of these audits is forgotten”.

Some have noted that in order to be effective, the audit will also have to capture outcomes for migrant families, and for poorer White people, who also suffer from discrimination and disadvantage.  Others, including Labour’s Angela Rayner, shadow equalities minister, have noted that there is a ‘huge gap’ in the review as it would not include the private sector.

The EHRC have called upon the government to createa comprehensive, coordinated and long-term strategy to achieve race equality, with stretching new targets to improve opportunities and deliver clear and measurable outcomes.”

Certainly, the data produced by the racial equality audit may well provide some basis for the establishment of such targets.

So while this October there is cause for celebrating the progress made so far, the findings of the EHRC and the CERD underline just how entrenched and far-reaching race inequality remains.  As the EHRC states:

“We must tackle this with the utmost urgency if we are to heal the divisions in our society and prevent an escalation of tensions between our communities.”


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Women in technology: London Tech Week

From 20-26th June London Tech week will once again be shining a spotlight on all things digital in the UK’s capital. An opportunity to showcase and network, the event will see some of the UK’s biggest tech firms gathering, along with smaller start-ups and keen individuals, to talk all things tech: from enterprise and engagement, to growth and innovation. This year one of the core themes is “talent and inclusion”, with the keynote seminar considering what now seems to many to have become the age old question: what will it take for business to truly take action on diversity within technology, and specifically how can businesses be encouraged to “shift the dial on the gender agenda”?

technology

There have been many studies, blogs, reports and comments about the reasons technology-based careers, or jobs within technology firms seem so inaccessible to women, and chances are many will form the basis of the London Tech Week event discussions.

In the UK today women make up fewer than 30% of the information and communications technologies (ICT) workforce, comprising around 20% of computer graduates and fewer than 10% of app developers. The Lords Select Committee, chaired by Baroness Sally Morgan, produced a report in early 2015: Make or Break: the UKs Digital Future 2015 which urged the UK government to seize the opportunity to secure the UK’s place as a global digital leader by investing in and promoting careers and skill building to try to encourage more young women and girls to consider a career in the tech industry. They state that increasing the number of women working in IT could generate an extra £2.6 billion each year for the UK economy. But just how exactly can women be encouraged to pursue a career in technology? Is it all down to funding or the availability of jobs, or does there need to be a combined approach? The following sections highlight some of the opinions of women who work in the tech industries, and showcase some of the strategies of technology firms to try to diversify their workforce and attract women to a career in technology.

Creating and promoting positive, high profile female role models in the tech sector

As the various magazine polls and top 10 countdowns show, some of the best and brightest minds in the UK tech industry are women. And yet, some girls and young women still feel like the technology world is not open to them. More and more high profile role models may be a way to tackle this – and clearly some do exist – but their profile is limited and more could be done by the industry and the media to promote them in an appropriate way. Similarly, mentoring schemes, like those promoted by Girls In Tech UK, which engages women already in industry by mentoring future tech professionals, could also demonstrate practical ways in which girls can work in a technology based profession.

Emphasising the importance of a female approach to creative technology and technology based problem solving

Women, it is often said in psychology and sociology literature, approach problems in different ways, and will often take a different approach to finding solutions. Including a female perspective brings another set of experiences which can be used to address specific problems. Additionally, the problems women experience are different to those of men and as a result they may allow tech companies to tap into an entirely new market.

Increasing funding and industry promoted schemes specifically to support women entering the tech industry

Although it is recognised that there is still a long way to go, the scope and the space to develop skills within the sector is growing for women. There are many initiatives promoted by large multinationals to encourage more women either to train for a career in tech, or to join their workforce. Many of these employers will be present at tech week but schemes by Microsoft, Apple, Google and Samsung need to have their profiles raised even within the sector; they should also be used as blueprints for others, and act as examples for smaller and medium sized businesses to encourage more women into their workforce.

Marketing a career in tech as desirable

Learning providers should recognise the importance of maintaining relatively low barriers to entry and promoting upskilling and retraining. They should also seek to engage with employers to create easy transition pathways into employment; an almost certain guarantee of employment at the end of a period of training can be a great incentive. Similarly, many courses exist to promote learning and upskilling around the tech sector. These should be made more accessible to women and promoted more widely, as should the availability of grants and additional funding opportunities for women and girls who want to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Education and industry figures should do more to market the tech industry, emphasise the positives and make it an appealing career pathway. Some of the most rewarding aspects of working in the tech sector – problem solving, considering solutions and watching a product develop from start to finish – are not always highlighted as good reasons for joining. Many tech companies also come with a great working ethos. Employees can often work flexibly, or from home, enabling women to maintain a suitable work/life balance, while maintaining their position within the company.

Don’t underestimate the importance of stereotypes and misconceptions

The consistent rhetoric that the tech industry is a “man’s world” can be off-putting for some people; not everyone wants to be a trailblazer within a company. Women’s involvement should be normalised, but so should the language.Talking about women working in tech careers as being unusual can have an effect on the women and their male colleagues. Industry and education both need to be aware of the need to strike a balance between not sounding too complacent about the number of women pursuing careers in tech, and not making too big a deal about women joining the tech industry so as to single them out and place additional pressure on them.

Showing that there’s more to a career in tech than “nerds doing coding”

Careers services and advisers need to be aware that someone who has an interest in STEM (or specifically in technology based subjects) has more career options within the tech sector than “computer coder”. The tech industry is diverse, taking in areas such as social media, gaming, content creation, research and development, digital marketing and product design and development. Technology as an industry also generates products and solutions needed by diverse sectors for their day-to-day business, including health and social care, education, finance, and ICT,

DARPA_Big_DataObviously these are just a few reflections on the literature and some common perceptions of women in the industry. But it is clear that there is a key role for both industry and learning providers in driving the diversity agenda forward.


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How to support transgender pupils

Elementary school students raising hands. View from behind.

by Stacey Dingwall

Last week, Brighton College, a co-educational independent college, announced that it is to stop making a distinction between boys’ and girls’ uniforms. The announcement was made in order to support transgender or dysphoric (a condition where someone feels there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity, and which is unrelated to sexual orientation) students, by allowing them to choose between wearing a blazer, tie and trousers or skirt and jacket. The school stated that the decision was taken in reaction to “a changing society which recognises that some children have gender dysphoria and do not wish to lose their emotional gender identities at school”.

The school, which is the first in Britain to make such a move, has been praised for its decision by parents, and claims to have received messages from other schools who are considering following their lead. While the school’s announcement has been widely covered by the press as a landmark decision, it was interesting to note that the reaction from the students themselves has been more muted. Speaking to The Independent, one 17 year old pupil suggested that it hadn’t really been seen as a “big deal” among students, who she views as a more “open-minded generation”. A difference in attitudes between generational groups was also evident in the results of a 2015 Huffington Post/YouGov poll of 1,000 American adults: 54% of respondents aged 18-29 believed parents should allow their children to identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, a statement that only 29% in the 65+ age group agreed with.

Unfortunately, recent research indicates that there is still some way to go in providing effective support for transgender people, including in schools. When taking evidence for their recently published report on transgender equality in the UK, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee heard that transgender, and gender-variant, pupils and their families face particular challenges at school, in terms of:

  • recording a change of name and gender
  • bullying
  • inclusion in sport
  • access to toilets.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also highlighted research which indicates that 91% of boys and 66% of girls who identify as transgender have experienced bullying or harassment at school. This is higher than the levels of discrimination experienced by lesbian and gay students, and can lead to transgender pupils experiencing mental health problems and dropping out of education early.

The evidence submitted to the Committee’s inquiry suggests that the example of Brighton College is very much the exception, with the support for transgender pupils in schools across England reported to be ‘uneven’. Susie Green of Mermaids, an organisation which provides family and individual support for teenagers and children with gender identity issues, suggested that some schools were adopting a “victim mentality”, seeing the transgender student as the problem and wanting to “get rid” of, rather than accommodating, them and addressing the wider issues.

Several witnesses argued that schools should provide better support as part of their Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum. It was noted however, that PSHE is not currently statutory, although the Commons Education, Health, Home Affairs and Business committees argue that this should be changed. The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, contributed her view that just because something is statutory, “[does not mean] it is going to be taught well.”

While political wrangling over the issue continues, the most important thing to ensure is that pupils are being supported as effectively as possible. Concluding their report, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee stated that more needs to be done in order that young people and their families get sufficient support at school, and that schools must ensure they are compliant with their legal obligations towards pupils across all protected characteristics, including that which relates to transgender people, and especially gender-variant young people. The Committee recommended that the government should consider the inclusion of training on these protected characteristics in its review of initial teacher training, and that trans issues (and gender issues generally) should be taught as part of PSHE.

On a practical level, writing in the Guardian, teacher Allie George suggested several ways in which classrooms can be made a safe and inclusive space for transgender pupils:

  • Creating a safe environment whether teachers are aware of transgender pupils in their school or not. This allows pupils who may be questioning their gender identity the space to do so
  • Have a seating plan that reflects pupils’ ability or current/target grades, as opposed to a boy-girl plan
  • Recognise transphobic behaviour and address it, educating pupils why this is unacceptable
  • Respect a transgender pupil’s choice of name
  • Provide safe spaces for transgender pupils, particularly in terms of bathroom access.

 

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Women in public life: breaking the barriers – conference highlights

By Rebecca Jackson

With Scotland’s now famed “all female leadership” heading the main political parties in Holyrood (excepting Willie Rennie’s leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats) and the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s recently reshuffled shadow cabinet containing 17 women and 14 men, it is no surprise that the extent of women’s participation in public life is being debated. Has the tide turned, or are there still barriers in local government and in politics?

Delegates came from across Scotland to an event held by COSLA last month to discuss the issue. Bringing together council representatives and those from the third sector, private sector, and academia, the conference explored what action can be taken to advance the contribution of women to public life in Scotland.

woman-in-boardroom_645x400

Image by blog.willis

 “Catcalling in the chamber left me in tears….”

Delegates were, at times, highly critical of the council environment for women, in particular in Scotland. Based on some of the personal anecdotes being presented by panellists and delegates, it is unsurprising that only 25% of councillors in Scotland are women, the lowest proportion in the UK.

The day’s events were tinged with a strong undertone of scepticism and frustration at the inaccessibility of council life to some women. Barriers include working hours, child care provision, work-life balance and the idea of merit, as well as the “archaic systems” in place in some political parties which do little to promote, let alone advance, the active participation of women in local politics in Scotland. There was also a lengthy discussion about the culture of council chambers, with the attitudes of some men within them being seen as less than encouraging – although this was robustly rebutted by some women (notably Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale), who emphasised the positive impact that men had had on their political development.

Willie Rennie, one of the session panellists, acknowledged his party’s poor record on female representation, which he called “embarrassing and shameful.” He set out plans to reform party structures to implement frameworks for elections which are similar to those used by other parties.

Clear barriers … but no straightforward answers

There was a long discussion during a panel session with female councillors from the COSLA Women’s Task Group about the possibility of setting up a forum in order to create a space for women in local government seeking advice and support. This was widely supported by conference delegates.

Other suggestions to increase accessibility and change perceptions around women in public life included:

  • promoting a cross party consensus on encouraging women candidates to stand in local and parliamentary elections;
  • creating a mentoring scheme to encourage more young women to participate and give them an opportunity to learn, but also potentially to help change the culture of others;
  • using negative comments to drive participation and improve the contribution of women, through a desire to enact real fundamental change in the current system;
  • remembering that it is not just in local authorities that women need to have more presence – it was stressed by a number of delegates that numerous public bodies should be encouraged either to attend events like this, or to host their own;
  • considering and using, if necessary, statutory measures to advance the role of women (this does not necessarily mean the use of quotas, although it was felt that there should be a robust discussion concerning women and quotas).

égalité des sexes

Building on positive steps

The day’s discussion highlighted that there are already a large number of women involved in public life in Scotland, but there are far more who leave it or are put off contributing because of the barriers which exist and the difficulties many women have in overcoming these barriers.

Nicola Sturgeon has already committed her party to promoting greater equality on the boards of public bodies through the introduction of quotas if the SNP wins in the Scottish Parliament election in May. It is clear that, while this is encouraging, much more needs to be done. Equalities issues are broader than gender – other groups are also seriously under-represented.

All political parties and public bodies need to seriously consider what steps need to be taken to achieve lasting, positive change.


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Intimacy and sexuality in care homes

Talking about sexuality and intimacy can be an awkward and, for some, taboo subject, particularly when the people we are discussing are parents or elderly relatives.

However, in a care setting, where a relative has been moved into care, sexuality, sexual needs and questions around intimacy often remain un-talked about and un-catered for, and can create an awkward situation for residents, relatives and care staff.

For many people, intimacy is a ‘normal everyday’ part of life. But when moving into residential care, for many people, that is lost. They feel their privacy is taken away and their ability to conduct life as they had before needs to change as a result of moving from their home. The onset of conditions such as dementia in later life can also make other people uneasy about the idea of continuing with intimate relationships, or indeed starting new ones later in life. One of the aims of the research conducted by a team at Manchester University on older people’s understanding of sexuality (OPUS project) is to look at erotophobia, or a fear of older people’s sexuality (within the remit of feelings and beliefs on sexuality more generally).

The loss of identity through sexual expression can be even more explicitly felt by members of the LGBT community, many of whom, studies have found, have felt the need to ‘go back into the closet’ upon entering residential care.

In 2010 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a set of sexual rights. In this the right of the individual to choice is key and something which care homes must still respect.

Sexual rights in older people was also the subject of a report by the Royal College of Nursing who commented that “when someone moves into a care home, to all intents and purposes the private space of their room is exactly that, their private space and provided any acts are consensual care homes should facilitate the wishes of residents to the fullest extent.” Within a human rights context, adults living in residential settings, unless they have had certain rights and freedoms curtailed or restricted by the law, generally have the same basic rights and freedoms as any citizen to live their lives as they wish. This includes possibly doing things that others might consider to be unwise or inappropriate.

In addition, although many decisions about care within a care home setting are taken in consultation with the family of the resident, carers and care home managers must also remember that they have a duty to their patient, and there is a level of patient-carer confidentiality which carers should be mindful of when discussing topics such as sex, sexuality or intimacy.

However, in that context it is also the case that care home workers have a duty of care, to protect vulnerable people from abuse, exploitation and situations which they might find distressing. The International Longevity Centre have produced a guide which contains advice around intimacy and sexuality in care homes, looks at intimacy in older people, (particularly older people with dementia) and the position of people within the LGBT community who move into residential care.

Many within the LGBT community have expressed a feeling of discrimination or anxiety about their sexuality on entering residential care and as a result there are suggestions of LGBT only residential care homes being created, with one proposed for either London or Brighton in the next few years.

The legality behind many of the decisions taken in care homes is set out in law, including definitions of consent, abuse, exploitation, violence. However, the individual practices of care homes regarding policy is often set out and implemented at the discretion of care home managers and staff and it is their responsibility to ensure that they have an effective and consistent policy in place when it comes to sexuality, intimacy and relationships more generally.

They also have a responsibility to ensure that staff are suitably trained to tackle any issues which may arise, answer any questions from residents or family members and recognise boundaries and levels of appropriateness while still delivering care to residents. Care workers must balance delivering effective care with promoting personal emotional and mental well being, allowing residents a level of freedom and personal choice while ensuring adequate safeguards are in place. This is not an easy task. However, more research is currently being conducted, and improved training for staff is also being increasingly offered as the norm.


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‘High quality and equitable outcomes for all’ – highlights from the Scottish Learning Festival 2015

By Rebecca Jackson

“High quality and equitable outcomes for all”  – that was the theme of this year’s Scottish Learning Festival held last week at the SECC in Glasgow. A mix of academic and policy based seminars, converged with practitioner based learning during the session on Wednesday.

Out of a packed schedule we chose to attend the launch of a new initiative to encourage more STEM teachers; information on the Scottish Attainment Challenge, delivered by Education Scotland and the Scottish Government; and a promotion of employment partnership learning, showing how schools and colleges can engage more with local business to provide opportunities for students.

A fundamental commitment of the Scottish Government

The keynote speech on Wednesday was delivered by Angela Constance MSP, Minister for Education at the Scottish Government. In her address, she stressed the importance of the key themes of the conference, which were collaboration, best practice and ensuring that no child in Scotland should be unable to fulfil their potential at school because of their background or their ability to pay.

Scottish education she said, would be “driven by evidence of ‘what works’ “ and “education in Scotland must be about ability to learn, not ability to pay, at all levels” and that this was a fundamental commitment on the part of the Scottish Government.

She also launched a new initiative aimed at getting more STEM teachers into the teaching system in Scotland. Teachers, she said, were key not only to teaching but to inspiring students to pursue subjects to a higher level.

She awarded the Robert Owen Award for an Inspiring Educator to Professor Graham Donaldson, the man behind Teaching Scotland’s future report on the education of Scotland’s teachers.

Angela Constance MSP addresses the conference. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Angela Constance MSP addresses the conference. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Tackling the attainment gap: the Scottish Attainment Challenge           

The Scottish Attainment Challenge was promoted as an accelerator of change, building on what has already been done in Scotland and using core values and agreed outcomes to create a system which takes a uniquely Scottish approach. The focus is on 4 key areas, and is delivered by a three way framework which uses a national hub, inter authority collaboration and support and the Scottish Attainment Fund.

The four key areas are:

  • Collaboration for improvement
  • High quality teaching and learning
  • Linking with family and community
  • Supporting nurture and well-being.

Speakers in this seminar emphasised that in Scotland, policy needs to be driven by what works. The challenge, they said, could not be delivered in isolation. Kevin Helman from Stirling and Clackmannan provided a local authority perspective. He highlighted the role of head teachers sharing best practice among schools.

The Scottish Attaniment Challenge outlined in Stirling and Clackmannan. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

The Scottish Attaniment Challenge outlined in Stirling and Clackmannan. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

The Girls in Energy Programme

Employment partnerships between schools and businesses could be a key way to promote vocational learning and encourage STEM subjects in schools. We’ve written before on this blog about the need to build STEM skills in the UK and especialy the importance of providing girls with STEM role models.

It was encouraging therefore to hear in another seminar session about the Girls in Energy programme, an Aberdeenshire based project between Mintlaw Academy and Shell.

The project provides a useful blueprint which could be recreated across Scotland. The programme combines:

  • blended learning, of academic and vocational qualifications (2 HNC’s and 1SVQ level 2);
  • industrial visits;
  • a 2 week placement.
Girls in Energy programme. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Girls in Energy programme. Rebecca Jackson, 2015

There was an emphasis on how the scheme boosted employability skills, including interview technique, presentation skills and communicating with others, equipping the girls involved with practical skills valued by employers.

Practitioners and students who have been through the scheme were keen to stress that the scheme could easily be recreated if strong relationships between education and industry/business are forged. They highlighted the potential in engineering, construction and other industries which could follow the same outline as their model.

All that is good about Scottish education

The conference highlighted all that is good about the Scottish education sector. The stalls and exhibition space were filled with people who are passionate about providing a better, more equal and well-rounded education for children in Scotland.

However the conference also emphasised the core values of what academics and practitioners feel  is needed to drive education forward in the future – an understanding and sharing of best practice and resources, and the ability to integrate multiple aspects of learning to create a better experience for teachers, local authorities and children alike.


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