A Neath infant school has become the first educational establishment in Wales to be formally recognised for combating the gender stereotypes among pupils which tend to sow the seeds of career segregation in later life.
Melin Infant School has received the new Gender Aware Learning Award for its rigorous pursuit of specialist training to help teachers and other staff identify and challenge traditional patterns that lead boys and girls to engage in different activities and often curb pupils’ confidence and choice.
The award, which was presented to the school by Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates, was made under the pioneering Fair Foundations programme, organised by Chwarae Teg, the body which works to create a Wales in which women can achieve and prosper.
Among other things, Fair Foundations encourages teachers to counteract gender stereotypes by using role models such as female builders, fire-fighters, scientists, explorers and inventors; and male teachers, carers or nurses.
The programme also helps them get children to explore gender atypical activities – either through role play, storytelling or the use of puppets or dolls – and to talk to children regularly about gender and stereotypes.
Having first signed up for Fair Foundations training for its staff about 18 months ago, the school now reports remarkable results, with much greater integration among its pupils in both learning and play and particularly with girls showing much more confidence than before.
The innovative training has helped teachers, learning assistants and other staff to plant the seeds of gender equality by encouraging children to see all activities and occupations as being accessible to both sexes.
Through awareness training staff have been enabled to deliver the curriculum in a more ‘gender-fair’ way and subtly challenge traditional concepts of roles and behaviours for girls and boys.
The school also developed a Strategic Equality Plan which included targeted measures designed to raise the confidence, self-esteem and aspirations of girls and to increase pupil attainment levels overall.
Among these measures are opportunities for girls to work in small groups to explore their interests and strengths and express their views in a secure environment.
The Deputy Minister praised the school’s commitment to creating gender-neutral learning conditions. He said: “Boys’ and girl’s attitudes and understanding formed during the Foundation Phase lay the groundwork for later life. For Wales to prosper we must be able to tap in to all available talent and that means both girls and boys choosing skills and careers that match their aptitude, free from any preconceived ideas. That process must start in the earliest years.”
Jane Davies, acting head-teacher of Melin Infant School said: “We regard this as a vitally important issue. Stereotypical attitudes and perspectives about gender roles can be reinforced by early years’ education unless we as teachers actively confront this and guide youngsters towards a wider, healthier and more inclusive view of the world.
“We have taken a progressive approach to this for some time now, but Fair Foundations has really given us the framework to move things forward in a structured way and achieve measurable results.”
Joy Kent, Chief Executive of Chware Teg said: “Melin Infant School has worked in partnership with Fair Foundations to create a gender aware learning environment and has been committed to raising awareness of gender equality and increasing their ability to subtly challenge gender stereotypes.”