The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association

By Catherine Marshall | Go to book overview

16

What’s working for girls?: The reception of gender equity policy in two Australian schools1

Jill Blackmore, Jane Kenway, Sue Willis and Leonie Rennie

Australia has been relatively unique for its level of national and state-initiated gender reform policies. This chapter offers a critical analysis of both the nature and content of the gender reform policy process, its theoretical underpinnings and limitations in terms of understanding what gender reforms work in schools, how and why. The chapter analyses from a feminist post-structuralist and cultural studies theoretical framework the different responses of teachers and students to what is considered to be sound gender-equity strategies (for example, all-girls maths classes). It explores the ways in which particular equal opportunity messages are produced, circulated and consumed by particular groups of girls and teachers differentially and suggests the need for a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of educational reform and change in specific cultural contexts particularly with respect to gender.


Introduction

This chapter draws from a three-year research project in Australia which seeks to examine the ways in which gender reform initiatives work in schools, why they work, which fail and why. The project involves four major longitudinal case-studies and eight ‘spot’ 2 studies in Victoria and Western Australia. The focus of this particular chapter is how teachers and girls ‘read’ and ‘respond’ to gender reform initiatives in two schools. We first provide an overview of gender reform policy in Australia and the theoretical framework informing the research project. Then, through two case-studies, we consider the ways in which teachers and students have ‘read’ and ‘rewritten’ the gender policies available to them in two innovative gender reform schools, and conclude with a discussion about the implications of the studies for policy and practice.


Contextualizing gender reform policy in Australia

Australia is unique for the diversity and extent of its legislative and policy initiatives by the state in gender reform. This was largely due to the rise during the 1970s of ‘new social movements’ (women’s, environmental and various multicultural and multiracial movements) which made political claims on the state for the ‘democratising of the distribution of economic, political, cultural and social resources’, a demand partially met by federal and state Labor parties by the establishment of EO units and women’s policy advisors (Yeatman 1990: xi). While there has been a shift since 1975, when the first major national report on girls and education in Australia, Girls, Schools and Society, mapped out the ways girls were disadvantaged in schools, away from a deficit model to one of social justice and the inclusion of structural factors such as curriculum and school organization in the The National Policy for the Education of Girls in Australian

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