Girls in girls’ schools: themes in current education research

Tonight I attended an awesome talk about girls’ education hosted by the Alliance of Girls’ Schools. Girls’ education and female leadership really excites me. Kate Broadley had compiled lots of research about girls in education and a few ideas really struck a chord with me:

– The research shows that girls in single-sex education perform higher academically than any other cohort (boys in single-sex education, girls in co-ed, boys in co-ed).

– The idea that a ‘female brain’ and ‘male brain’ is a myth! Current neuroscience research shows that there are few differences between female and male brains. Same with the idea of ‘left’ and ‘right’ sides of brains. Therefore we need to be aware of our own bias when interacting with students and our expectations of them. I need to do more reading on this!

– Girls are not engaging in STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) and why is this? It is a bit of a vicious circle – girls in primary and early secondary school aren’t ‘turning on’ and engaging in STEM areas, then are not following through with senior school/graduate study, they are not represented in jobs and senior management positions, therefore girls do not have role-models in the STEM areas.

– The research also shows that after university, women are disproportionally under-represented in boards, as CEOs etc. Why is this? We discussed so many possible factors – gender bias from both men and women, the impact of childbirth and time away from the workforce, different attributes fostered in men and women (ambition and risk-taking generally associated to be ‘masculine’ attributes).

– As a generalisation, women want to make a positive difference in the world and men want a career then to make a positive difference as a sideline.

– Parents have the biggest influence on their children of the opposite sex. So dads have the biggest impact on their daughters, and mothers have the biggest impact for the sons. So our dads are so important in encouraging their daughters to become strong, resilient women.

– We discussed the idea of ‘risk-taking’. Girls feel more comfortable to take risks (putting up their hands in class as an example) when with girls only. Interestingly, before applying for a job, women will generally want to make sure they meet 80% of the job criteria, whereas men will be happy with meeting 40% of the job criteria before they give it a crack. So how can we encourage our girls to become risk-takers (in a positive sense)? In our school, we have Learner Profile Attributes (LPAs) in our middle school, and one of them is ‘Risk-Taker’. I think we, as teachers, need to use this language all the time in our interactions with our students. For example, I say to my students, ‘Be a risk-taker girls! Answer this question! It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, just give it a go!’ But what other things could we do?

I’m waiting on the PowerPoint slides which contains all the references – so will post as soon as I can!

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