In what ways does the school curriculum in the UK perpetuate and/or reinforce traditional constructions of gender?

School curriculum in the UK perpetuate and/or reinforce traditional constructions of gender?

Chapter 1 draft: Introduction


A curriculum is a widely known concept regarding the roles it plays in school setup and the schooling life of the learners. It is through the curriculum that schools design aims and objectives that ensure useful learning environment. Furthermore, it contains the learning and teaching patterns that are foundations for the core success of education. Briefly, a curriculum should have frameworks that support the primary objectives of education as a whole. Walker (2002, p.4) understands that a balanced curriculum is the one that should steer towards achieving the contemporary living skills including and not limited to critical thinking, social skills, and project-based learning. According to Darling-Hammond and Bransford (2007, p. 4), a curriculum should develop higher-order skills including teaching the learners to think critically besides developing their ability to communicate even the most complex ideas clearly. Shaffer and Shevitz (2001) assert that the curriculum has a deep impact regarding how schools meet their objective of ensuring children of all genders succeed. Therefore, they define based on the content, instructional materials, content and assessment criteria (p. 115). The current research draws into a closer focus on the high school education.
Background of the topic

The Education Reform Act of 1988 promoted the establishment of the National Curriculum in the UK that led to England, Northern Ireland and Wales adopt it in both the primary and secondary schools. However, it did not apply to the private schools. Consequently, this hidden flaws that over time have seen schools, not in the typical create their curricula in as much some still chose to adopt the National Curriculum. Primarily, the National Curriculum has an objective of standardising the contents incorporated in schools to ensure a uniform platform for all students for national assessments. In reciprocation, this was to simplify the analysis of the league tables giving information regarding the assessment statistics concerning the performance of individual schools. Essentially, it implied to create a free market during schools’ selection for participants. Warrington and Younger (1999) notes that this significantly led to female students performing better than their male peers.


The Education Reform Act 1988 gave rise to the National Curriculum as one of the strategies geared towards levelling the gender equality in high schools, introduced general examinations that became mandatory. It primarily targeted to standardise tests as pupils’ transit to high schools. Importantly, it sought to universally increase the abilities of students in core subjects, thus addressing the issues that consistently affected them regarding the differentiated gender subjects that placed students in a dilemma of choosing them due to the deeply rooted stereotypes. For instance, under the new requirements, boys were supposed to study languages while their peers could study sciences, mathematics and technology. The bottom line steered to narrow down the gap. However, Osborne et al. (2003) argue that choosing of subjects is still inclined on gender, with particular attention to the science-based ones. The authors attribute this to the lack of motivating factors that could act as motivations for selecting them.

Hughes (2001) contributes to the growing literature on education and gender by arguing that the much many students continue to embrace the significance of gender in the construction of scientist selves, the notion that masculinity best fits the said field continue to take deep roots. On the converse, many students believe femininity hardly conforms to the physical sciences. The author concludes that the stereotype does not only guarantee that the physical sciences remains preserved for males, but also provides an evidence that detailed broadly of both genders need a reconfiguration of the subject in question through the curriculum.

With that in mind, the current research examines the role the school curriculum in the UK in bringing the gender equality down. The present study would seek to underscore the achievements of the National Curriculum so far and point out the areas of weakness. Consequently, this would form a foundation of investigating their relationship with the traditional constructs that continue to affect subject selection and the future career paths on gender lines.


Purpose of the Study

The current research seeks to contribute to the growing literature on education and gender in the UK high schools. Additionally, it aims to find out the reasons behind subject selections on the gender lines. Importantly, it seeks to investigate the ways in which the school curriculum in the UK either perpetuate or reinforce traditional constructions of gender.



Research Questions

Despite the National Curriculum creating a levelled ground that sought to equalise both male and female genders in the high school levels, there is a widening gap regarding subject selection and career paths based on traditional stereotypes of feminism and masculinity lines. Therefore, this has led to both male and female students selecting subjects they think suit them and hence, their career paths. Overall, the curriculum resulted in girls performing better than their peers. Notwithstanding this results, gender bias on career seems to have taken roots. With this, the current research developed the following questions to facilitate the study;

  1. What is the extent to which the schools have embraced the National Curriculum?
  2. What flaws in the national curriculum have made it hard for students to adopt its postulates generously?
  • Can the National Curriculum be reconfigured to level out the persisting notion regarding particular disciplines, such as physical sciences on gender lines?


Significance of the Study

This study adds to the existing literature besides investigating the questions at hand. After explaining the ambiguities in the National Curriculum that have led to the continuation of the traditional gender constructs, this research equally seeks to add value regarding the importance and roles of school curriculum in nurturing talents in the students. That way, this survey aims to benefit the students, teachers, parents, authorities and other concerned stakeholders concerning the benefits of embracing the curriculum as a way of creating a uniform ground of selecting subjects and consequently, career paths in both genders. Importantly, it has a primary objective of positively influencing students that education does not discriminate on gender lines; it is universal.



Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations



The study hypothesises that curriculum is the essential on which education is founded. In addition, the paper assumes that gender is not the key determinant of educational success. Moreover, traditional constructs on gender affect the objectives of the curriculum whether proficient or not.


This research is determined to use cross-sectional data from secondary sources, which is a limitation as it would not investigate based on the primary data. The behavioural data on education on subject selection and prevalence of specific areas of specialisation would be self-reported. Consequently, this could be subject to traditional constructs.


Notwithstanding this limitations, the current survey is determined to deploy a large sample size coupled with the use of standardised methods of analysis to capture most aspects of concern. With that in mind, this research would draw on the existing data and literature on high school students.


From the above introduction it is evident that the imbalance in the performance of high school students is creating a great concern. Consequently, the current research seeks to investigate the contribution of the education curriculum in the UK in this. Of a particular concern is how its connection to the reinforcement of traditional constructs of gender. Through its finding, the current survey would contribute to the existing literature while offering suggestion to the stakeholders of the education sector.





Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford, J. (2007). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. John Wiley & Sons.

Elliott, J. (1997). School‐based curriculum development and action research in the United Kingdom. International Action Research: Educational Reform, p. 17.

Hughes, G. (2001). Exploring the availability of student scientist identities within curriculum discourse: An anti-essentialist approach to gender-inclusive science. Gender and education 13 (3), Sep, pp. 275-290. [Online]. Available from:

(Accessed: 16 November 2016)

Osborne, J., Simon, S. & Collins, S. (2003). Attitudes towards science: A review of the literature and its implications. International journal of science education 25 (9), pp. 1049-1079. [Online]. Available from:

(Accessed: 15 November 2016)

Shaffer, S. & Shevitz, L. (2001). She bakes and he builds: Gender bias in the curriculum. Double jeopardy: Addressing gender equity in special education, pp.115-132. New York: State University of New York Press.

Walker, D. F. (2002). Fundamentals of curriculum: Passion and professionalism. Routledge.

Warrington, M. and Younger, M. (1999). Perspectives on the gender gap in English secondary schools. Research papers in education 14 (1), pp.51-77. [Online]. Available from:

(Accessed: 9 November 2016)



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