London City Hall unites experts and campaigners to tackle gender stereotypes

Helping schools in London to challenge gender stereotypes to ensure that no child is held back by their gender is the aim of a new programme launched today at City Hall.

The capital will lead the way in championing gender equality in schools by funding a new Gender Action award. Developed by the Institute of Physics (IOP), King’s College London (KCL), UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and University Council of Modern Languages (UCML), the Gender Action award encourages the entire school to unite to challenge gender stereotypes by putting gender equality at the heart of all aspects of school life.

Schools, colleges and nurseries will be able to work through four levels of award – supporter, innovator, champion and beacon – as they make changes that will put gender equality at the heart of everything they do. Gender Action will provide them with guidance on challenging stereotypes, share best practice to improve gender balance within subject and career choices, and lead by example when engaging with school governors, parents and the local community.

Currently, women make up just 14 per cent of the UK’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce, with around 40 per cent more boys taking STEM subjects for A-level than girls. Research shows that children’s career choices begin to be fixed from as early as age four, yet toys with a STEM focus, such as building blocks, cars and creative kits, are three times more likely to be advertised to boys than girls. While there is a lack of men entering caring professions such as the early years sector where just two per cent of workers are male.

Plans for the award were announced by London’s Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare Joanne McCartney at an Equal Play event at City Hall today. The event included talks from LEGO, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Fawcett Society, and brought together advertising, manufacturing, publishing and retail industries with parent groups, schools, early years providers and children’s charities to discuss new ways to challenge gender stereotyping in childhood.

In addition, City Hall has developed a new resource for families wanting to address gender stereotypes in toys and play. The new Equal Play Explorer Trail at the V&A Museum of Childhood is an interactive resource for families to explore gender stereotypes through the Museum’s extensive toy collections and reflect on how stereotyping can affect young people’s aspirations. The Equal Play Explorer Trail will be available at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green from today and throughout 2019.

Joanne McCartney, Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, said:

London is a city of opportunity and young Londoners are the scientists, engineers and designers of the future. Too few girls choose to pursue careers in the UK’s science and engineering sectors and I want to see more girls, and pupils from all backgrounds considering a career in this area – knowing nothing is off limits to them. This is why I’m delighted to welcome the advertising industry, retailers, educators and campaigners to City Hall to work together to tackle gender stereotypes. The new Gender Action award for London schools will support teachers to ensure that no young person in the capital is held back by gender stereotypes and show that London in leading the way in gender equality.”

Baroness Deborah Bull, Vice President & Vice Principal King’s College London, said:

Gender Action is a unique opportunity for King’s, our partners, and universities across London to work with local schools to tackle the gender stereotypes that too often limit young people’s horizons and prevent them from pursuing careers that might be perceived as unexpected or out of the ordinary. Young people should never be discouraged from choosing one subject over another because of their gender and I hope that this important new campaign inspires a new generation of physicists, engineers, playwrights and linguists who might otherwise have turned their back on the subjects they enjoy and are passionate about.”

Professor Dame Julia Higgins, FRS FREng CPhys Hon FinstP, President of the Institute of Physics, The Institute of Physics (IOP), said:

I find it astonishing that in this day and age, girls still grow up being treated very differently from boys through entrenched stereotyping and unconscious biases. Gender stereotypes unfortunately remain pervasive, and damage a whole generation of potential scientists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians and programmers whose talents lie undiscovered because of their experiences at school. We know we can change things, but we all have to work together – Government, educators, industry, parents and citizens – in tackling head on the barriers that girls face.

“The Gender Action Award builds on our continuing work with teachers and is a positive and unique way for schools to address the impacts of gender stereotyping – and to be recognised for their efforts. There is no evidence to suggest that any intrinsic differences in ability or interest explain why girls and boys choose subjects differently. We know that schools can create the right environment for young people to make choices free from gendered expectations and, working with this great group of partners and the GLA, we can turn our decades of evidence into something tangible, and supportive for young people.”

Professor Becky Francis, Director, UCL Institute of Education, said:

I’m delighted to be able to support this opportunity for schools to take action against gender stereotyping, and put young people at the heart of change. The IOE’s long history of research and impact in gender issues in education, and our deep partnerships with more than 600 London schools, put us in an ideal position to work alongside schools to play a leading role in ensuring that education provides equal opportunities for all.’

Dr Helen Charman, V&A Director of Learning & National Programmes, said:

The V&A recently launched a new and transformative vision for the Museum of Childhood to build creative confidence amongst future generations. Creative confidence flourishes when children and young people have equal opportunities to be curious, imaginative and ingenious – and this means challenging and removing barriers of gender stereotyping so that a world of possibility can be experienced and embraced by all. Gender Action and Equal Play are timely and powerful initiatives that will be instrumental in helping create this world.”


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