Mapping change in relation to girls’ improved examination participation and performance, Linda Grant states:
Only feminism, I’m afraid, can explain the complex social and psychological forces which condition the expectation that their success is derived from something other than their ability, and that their presence at the highest levels means that the barbarians are at the gates (Grant, 1998, p. 12).
This chapter will focus on gender equity issues in education. It has only been relatively recently that gender has come under scrutiny in British sociology of education. Until the 1970s the bias was towards the analysis of class differentials of educational achievement. This led to a simplification of the issues but a growing amount of historical and sociological research has now been published, much of which points to the fact that boys and girls experience schooling differently. At the same time, it is important not to ignore the differences that exist among groups. The interacting dynamics of class, gender and ‘race’ relations are crucial, as are sexuality, disability and individual biographies. So, the chapter begins with a discussion of historical perspectives on gender and education, before moving on to relate the theoretical understandings of Chapter 1 to more recent concerns, considered in their policy context.
The education of children in the nineteenth century was organized along the lines of social class. Elementary education was associated with the working classes and secondary education, which was not simply confined to the three Rs, was associated with the middle classes. Girls rarely feature in general histories of mass schooling and the historiography of the gender dimension has been marred by an assumption that girls and boys experienced an identical education. Among historians of women’s education this assumption manifested itself in a focus