Research Release: Balancing the Books – Gender Bias in the KS3 English Curriculum

New research carried out by the End Sexism In Schools campaign team reveals the shocking extent of gender bias in the KS3 English Curriculum across schools in England.

Analysis of data gathered for 891 schools across 104 Local Education Authorities (LEAs) shows a chronic underrepresentation of women’s works and experiences in the English curriculum. Headline findings include:

  • 82% of novels taught feature a male protagonist
  • 77% of schools teach one or no whole texts by female authors across the three years of KS3, with 44% teaching none at all and 33% only teaching one; this is out of an average of nine whole taught texts across the three years.
  • However, the actual number of whole novels taught by female authors is likely to be even less because a larger percentage of male authored texts were mandatory (as opposed to being on a list of choices) than female – 68% compared to 57% respectively
  • A small number of schools account for the majority of female-authored texts taught; 16% of schools teach 50% of those listed in school curricula
  • 99% of plays taught are by male writers, only 1% by female

The research, which collected data from school websites and through Freedom of Information requests, also highlights a pattern of female authors being featured on school curricula in the form of individual poems, extracts from longer works, short stories and speeches, as opposed to longer form texts such as whole novels and plays. Whilst there is huge value in these short form works, in the context of the secondary curriculum, the reality is that they will be taught in the course of one or two lessons, whilst the novels and plays which are dominated by white male voices will be studied over an extended period of time – potentially in every English lesson for an entire 12-week term. This delivers a subconscious message to students that the works of men deserve more time, with the implication that they are more valuable.

Furthermore, the research gathered by End Sexism in Schools demonstrates that “where schools are diversifying the content of their curricula and introducing more whole texts by writers of colour into the classroom, they are doing so primarily through teaching female writers of colour”. We found that 21% of novels by female authors on the curriculum at KS3 are by women of colour, but only 2% of male authors are men of colour. This raises important questions about attitudes to diversifying the curriculum: Are schools opting to kill two birds with one stone by ticking the ‘ethnicity’ and ‘gender’ box with a single text? Is there a perception that white male authored texts are essential to the curriculum in a way white female authored texts are not? Are there fewer men of colour than women of colour writing contemporary books for children and young people, limiting teachers’ choices?

The current reality is that the white male voice dominates the English curriculum, to the detriment of children and young people who experience a limited range of perspectives that reinforces patriarchal norms.

We want to change this.

As our campaign continues to move forward, we are calling for government to introduce and support a whole school, whole curriculum approach to ending sexism in schools – sign our petition here.

We are also going to be working with teachers, authors and schools to create adaptable resources and schemes of work to help schools easily make improvements to the gender diversity of their curriculum – get in touch if you would like to get involved.

Finally, we are not stopping at the English curriculum. This is only our first undertaking and we will be working to identify gender bias across the curriculum and providing solutions to tackle it. Our history sub group is already in full swing to uncover what has happened to HERstory in our schools – again, get in touch if you would like to get involved.

You can read and download our full research report here.

Jen Eden
Jen Eden
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