Memorandum from the Equal Opportunities
Commission (EY 46)
(a) The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
welcomes the opportunity to provide information and evidence to
the Education Sub-Committee inquiry into aspects of Early Years
(b) The statutory duties of the EOC are
the elimination of sex discrimination;
the promotion of equal opportunities
between the sexes;
the monitoring of the provisions
of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA).
Our evidence concentrates, therefore, on those
issues of sex discrimination and equality of opportunity which
need to be addressed by providers of early years education.
(c) It is widely recognised that attitudes
and expectations are formed early and there is evidence that by
the time that they enter primary school, young children have already
absorbed from what they see and hear, a clear view of the roles
and behaviour of men and women. It is also recognised that these
attitudes and expectations continue to be traditional and stereotyped,
despite significant changes in work and family responsibilities.
In addition there is increasing concern that, with changing family
relationships where more and more children are being brought up
by lone parents, the majority of whom are women, the absence of
male role-models may reinforce stereotypes. A recent survey showed
that of over 500 five year olds questioned, 95 per cent of boys
thought that car repairs should only be done by men and 73 per
cent of boys though that only men should be scientists, while
86 per cent of boys and 86 per cent of girls thought that only
women should wash and mend clothes.
(d) The term sex-stereotyping is frequently
used in any discussion about equality of opportunity in child
development and education. Sex-stereotypingmaking assumptions
about the roles, behaviour, ability and needs of ourselves and
others on the basis of what is thought to be appropriate or expected
of people of that sex, leads to failure to recognise and develop
individual skills and potential. It is damaging because it assumes
that a person's sex automatically limits and defines his or her
sphere of activity. In real life the differences between individuals
of one sex for example, in physical strength, interests, temperament,
scientific or other ability, may be just as great, if not greater
than the differences between girls and boys as a whole. Stereotyping
in the early years is a barrier to personal development and there
is a need to take action at both individual and organisational
level to challenge it.
(e) The EOC believes that the formation
of stereotyped views in young children continues to be a major
barrier to equality of opportunity in later life. It is essential
that those responsible for the care and education of children
in the early years adopt policies and practices which recognise
and counteract the restrictive effects of prejudice and stereotypesnot
only sexual but racial, cultural and religious. The aim for early
learning must be to create a positive environment where children
are enabled to develop confidence in their individual talents
and to respect those of others and where the foundations of equality
of opportunity and equal life chances are successfully laid.
(f) In 1984, the EOC produced "An Equal
Start"guidelines for promoting equality of opportunity
and challenging stereotyping in early learning.
The guidelines have continued to be in demand for training courses
by nurseries and childcare organisations and a new edition is
being prepared currently which reflects new developments in early
(g) The EOC has been very encouraged by
recent changes to the early years sector which are designed to
ensure that pre-school provision meets the early learning needs
of all young children and the needs of working parents for quality
child-care. We also welcome the much-needed recognition of the
skills, experience and responsibility required to do this important
workand the new desire to reflect this in the status, training
and reward of those carers and early learning providers who work
with young children in a range of different settings.
(h) The early years sector is in the process
of major change and it is essential that the emerging provision
encourages children to develop skills and expectations based on
individual ability and potential and not on their sex. Recent
developments create a framework for quality and equality and a
real opportunity to provide positive early learning experiences
and an equal start in life for all young children. It is important
that these opportunities are not missed and that gender equality
is placed on the agenda for early years education.
(i) The extent to which gender currently
determines early learning experiences and outcomes is not widely
recognised or identified as an issue of concern by education policy-makers
and practitioners. This is despite the under-achievement of boys,
girls' lack of progression into sciences and continuing traditional
career choices for both sexes.
(j) Gender differences are already present
in attainment levels of entering school and major differences
have already emerged in knowledge, skills and attitudes, between
boys and girls even at this stage. By the age of five, boys, on
average, already have poor literacy skills and girls, on average,
poor spatial awareness. A study of 3000 children in reception
year in 1994 on a range of different skills, including maths and
language found that girls significantly out-performed boys on
all assessments except the gross motor skills assessment. The
research indicated that girls at this age already appeared to
have an advantage over boys.
Similarly the 1998 Key Stage 1 National Summary Results showed
that at age seven girls perform better than boys in all subject
In addition, as indicated previously, a survey of young children
entering primary school found that attitudes to task and work
roles were already stereotyped.
(k) Gendered early learning experiences
and attainments impact negatively on later schooling. The gender
gap in achievement is evident at 7, 11, 14 and 16. The EOC's research
review into "Gender and Differential Achievement in Education
found that despite the national curriculum, where choice is allowed
at GCSE, certain subjects continue to show a distinct gender bias.
Choice has also been reintroduced to compulsory schooling through
Part One GNVQs, with clearly sex-stereotyped subject areas like
Health and Social care, Manufacturing and Engineering reflecting
the occupational segregation of the labour market. Also, while
the national curriculum has heralded great improvements in girls'
achievements, for the majority this has not led to progression
into non-traditional subjects or career choices beyond 16.
(l) The EOC is concerned that there is no
engagement with the issue of sex stereotyping in education either
at national or local level. Without some intervention in the early
years sector, the outcome will continue to be under-achievement
of boys, stereotyped subject, option and career choices, inequality
in work, skills shortages and a continuing pay gap.
The adoption of good equal opportunities policies and practices
across the early years sector and in all types of early learning
provision will produce an efficient, effective and high quality
system which will start to address sex stereotyping and improve
achievement for both sexes.
2. THE APPROPRIATE
PUBLISHED QCA EARLY
(a) The EOC welcomes the development of
Early Learning Goals because these establish a broad entitlement
to defined areas of learning and play, linked to clear goals,
for all young children. Early years education providers should
work towards equality of opportunity and outcome. In practice
this will mean providing and securing engagement for all young
children with the full range of learning and play opportunities
and recognising that it may be appropriate to use a range of different
strategies with individuals or groups of learners to ensure that
their experiences are positive and that they are able to achieve
the desired goals. It is important that equality objectives and
practices are mainstreamed throughout the goals and the EOC welcomes
the statement on page five of the revised early learning goals
that, "No child should be excluded or disadvantaged because
of his or her race, culture or religion, home language, family
background, special needs disability, gender or ability".
To ensure that equality of opportunity for young children is recognised
as a key aim and requirement of early years education we would
like to see some of the information under the section entitled
"Areas of learning and early learning goals" expanded
to include a greater equal opportunities dimension. Some suggestions
for additions are set out below.
(b) Under "Personal, social and emotional
development"(PSE) it is important to recognise that sex stereotyping
in young children can have important negative implications for
subsequent educational attainment and for the personal development
of each child. In order to secure the best learning choices, employment
opportunities and life chances for all young women and men, PSE
needs to challenge sex stereotyped perceptions and assumptions
which young people have from their earliest years.
(c) The goal relating to "Language
and Literacy" should recognise that boys are less successful
than girls in literacy. Early years practitioners need to be sensitive
to the fact that performance in literacy can be improved and enjoyment
of reading encouraged if they use strategies which require different
teaching styles to suit the needs of girls and boys.
(d) Similarly girls have overtaken boys
in respect of most aspects of numeracy and the "Mathematical
development" goal also needs to address gender differences.
As with literacy, teaching styles have been shown to influence
pupil performance in numeracy.
(e) An important goal for the promotion
of equal opportunities is "Knowledge and Understanding of
the World". In the past boys have been encouraged to be inquisitive
and competitive, whilst girls have found that they are more likely
to win approval by being passive and well behaved. This has been
identified as one of the reasons why boys have developed good
spatial and technical skills.
It is important that girls also develop these skills if they are
to compete on equal terms with boys and progress in the areas
of science, technology and information technology. Practitioners
need to encourage both sexes to work and play together rather
than expecting and encouraging different activities, interests
and behaviour from boys and girls in play and learning situations.
As part of this goal children should be encouraged to explore
stereotypes including sex, race, disability and social class.
(f) With the above in mind, it is important
that all examples of good practice highlighted in the guidance
for early years practitioners challenge stereotypes rather than
reinforcing traditional roles.
(g) Classroom materials such as book, toys,
literature and display material may reinforce sex stereotyping
by depicting men and women in traditional rolesmen as scientists,
police/fire officers, doctors, engineers, pilots etc and women
as nurses, lolly-pop ladies, secretaries, shop workers. In the
home women are likely to be shown cooking, cleaning, shopping
etc; while men will be DIYing, cleaning the car, painting etc.
It is important that poster and display materials challenge traditional
assumptions and display positive role models for girls and boys
in a range of work situations.
(h) Women are also under-represented as
lead character in all types of books and frequently appear in
domestic roles, incidental to the plot or topic. Computer software
and games are also very male orientated. A recent study has found
that girls are falling behind in computer skills because too many
see computers as being "boys" toys.
Practitioners need to recognise the effect of books and games
in which one sex predominates or takes the heroic role and make
positive efforts to replace or balance sex stereotypes to encourage
boys and girls to relate to the full range of roles and activities.
(i) Early years practitioners need to be
aware of the effects of early stereotyped play activities upon
later development. Unsupervised playwhere children are
given the choice of activitiescan lead to situations where
children select the "traditional" play for their sex
already influenced by family, peers and especially television
which directs children to an appropriate gender specific activity.
Practitioners should encourage girls and boys to sample all the
play experiences on offer.
3. THE WAY
(a) As indicated in previous sections, one
of the key objectives of a quality system must be to provide early
education and day care which encourages in each child individual
development free from sex-stereotyping. A focus on equality is
therefore essential for the development of quality provision.
The EOC welcomes on page 13 of the goals, under the section, "The
diverse needs of children", the statement that, "Practitioners
will need an awareness and understanding of the requirements of
the equal opportunities legislation . . . and that they should
plan to meet the needs of boys and girls . . . by:
providing a safe and supportive learning
environment, free from harassment, in which the contribution of
all children is valued and where racial, disability and gender
stereotypes are challenged;
using material which reflect diversity
and are free from discrimination and stereotyping."
(b) The EOC supports the need for well trained
and qualified practitioners. Staff attitudes and approaches to
teaching strongly influence the development of children and are
critical in the process of challenging stereotypes and promoting
equality. Over the past 20 years, much evidence has been produced
in respect of all types of educational establishments which show
that staff treat male and female pupils differently, both in the
way that they interact with pupils and in the way in which their
own experiences can influence how information is presented to
young people. While such behaviour is often not intentional, appropriate
training can help to change attitudes thus ensuring that all staff
teach in a non-stereotypical way.
4. THE KIND
(a) The EOC welcomes the development of
a national training and qualification framework, a code of practice
for providers and the setting of national occupational standards
for the sector. It is important that sex equality is mainstreamed
throughout all these developments. Clear issues of sex equality
in employment, training and quality of early years education,
childcare and playwork sectors need to be addressed in the framework,
code of practice and occupational standards.
(b) Recruiting men and women into early
years education is crucial. Strategies to address gender stereotyping
for young children cannot succeed if they are being delivered
by an almost entirely female workforce. Recruiting more men into
the profession would bring many advantages to young children and
to the professional as a whole. Male carers can be invaluable
as positive role models. It would benefit the children by broadening
their experience, both in terms of teaching styles and in relation
to their personal and social interactions and development. It
would also help to improve the professional status of childcare
workers and strengthen cross-sectoral recognitions. A recent study
by the Institute of Education concluded that children who attend
nurseries that employ men, as well as women, have a more balanced
view of the "real world" and benefit from learning early
that men are just as capable of caring as women. The report, entitled
Men in the Nursery found that parents were very keen to have a
mixed sex workforce looking after their children.
Male staff can be very helpful in encouraging fathers to "come
through the door" and become more closely involved in the
progress of their child.
(c) Increasing male employment in this sector
will require a variety of approaches to counteract the widely
held presumption that only women are suitable for work with young
(ii) raising the profession's low status;
(iv) harmonisation within the professionmen
tend to go into play work rather than nursery workthe title
"nursery nurse" can be a big deterrent to men entering
(v) funding for training for older students
to encourage recruitment of mature men (and women);
(vi) a more positive approach by the careers
service to promote childcare as a career to boys, and counteract
negative peer pressure amongst boysperhaps this could include
work placements in nurseries from local schools and talks by men
employed in the profession to school children;
(vii) the use of positive action, as permitted
under the SDA, to encourage men into childcare training courses
and into childcare modern apprenticeships. We recommend that the
Government, with the help of the Early Years NTO, establish a
pilot positive action scheme to encourage men into childcare.
(viii) appropriate policies in early years
settings to tackle prejudice against men from other staff or parents
and promote equality of opportunity;
(ix) the report mentioned in (4b) above proposed
setting targets for recruitment of male students and pointed out
that in Norway the Government has set a target of 20 per cent
for male workers in the sector by 2001. We would like to see a
similar approach developed, implemented and monitored in Britain.
(d) All training courses and qualifications
should include a specific requirement for knowledge and understanding
of equality issues and staff need to be able to employ appropriate
strategies to challenge sex stereotyping in order to maximise
early learning opportunities. The EOC publication "Equal
Start" referred to above, should be used in all training
programmes. It is essential that staff already in post undertake
some equality training and all new recruits should be either trained
and qualified on appointment, or they must receive training as
a requirement of the job.
5. THE WAY
(a) We welcome the setting up of a new arm
of Ofsted in take over responsibility for the inspection of the
early years. Ofsted has recognised the significance of good equality
practice for the quality of education and for achievement levels
across the school sector and has integrated equality requirements
into its inspection framework. We hope that this approach will
be adopted for the early years sector. Equality of opportunity
should be mainstreamed into the new system of inspection and quality
assurance being developed. All early years providers should be
required to have equal opportunitiesgender policies and
all inspections should address quality in terms of sex equality
practice. The quality of teaching and learning should be examined
to ensure that it is free from sex stereotyping and encourages
achievement by all of the early learning goals. The new system
should ensure that all early years providers promote equality
of opportunity in access, delivery and outcomes.
(b) It is essential that there is consistency
in the arrangements for recruitment and training of early years
practitioners and inspectors. Recruitment should be free from
sex discrimination and all training must contain an equal opportunities-gender
6. WHAT AGE
(a) The EOC has some concerns about the
fact that children are going into reception classes at age four
and that the age in which children start school has, in practice,
been lowered by default. While there is, to our knowledge, no
research to date on the gender implications of early entry into
formal schooling, there is evidence of a negative impact on summer
born four year olds and we believe that boys, whose rate of development
is slower than girls, may similarly be disadvantaged.
(b) We would like to see this issue researched
and a decision taken, on the basis of clear evidence, about the
starting age for entry into formal schooling which secures the
best opportunities for learning for all young children.
Equal Opportunities Commission
20 The requirements of the SDA for the provision of
early years education are set out in Annex A. Back
Gender, Primary Schools and the National Curriculum. Smithes,
A and Zienteck, P. University of Manchester/Engineering Council. Back
An Equal Start-guidelines on equal treatment for the under-eights-1984
and updated/reprinted in March 1994. EOC. ISBN 1870358 13 9. Back
Surrey County Council-1994. Back
Pupil Performance Information: National Summary Results 1998-DfEE,
QCA, Ofsted and Standards and Effectiveness Unit. Back
Gender and Differential Achievements in Education and Training:
A Research Review-EOC ISBN 1 870358 80 5. Back
The EOC has recently launched "Valuing Women" a campaign
for equal pay-the aim of which is to eliminate the pay gap between
men and women. One of the main reasons for unequal pay is gender
segregation in employment. Back
Beyond the Wendy House: Sex-role Stereotyping in Primary Schools,
Whyte, J. 1983. Back
Part of the ESRC Research Programme on children 5-16: Growing
in the 21st Century. Cyberkids: Childrens Social Networks, "Virtual
Communities", and on line Spaces. Bingham, Valentine and
Holloway 1999. Back
Study by the Institute of Education-Clare Cameron co-author of
the report. (See Times article dated 6 November 1999-page 5 "Parents'
want more men' in childcare." Back
Caroline Sharp-NFER 1999. Back