Jane Kenway and Sue Willis
The relationship between gender and education has been conceptualized in a range of ways and from a variety of differing disciplinary, theoretical and political orientations. The early documentation of differences between the sexes with regard to such matters as achievement, treatment, attitudes and expectations was an important first step, both conceptually and politically. The use of a range of global measures to contrast boys with girls and women with men showed clear disparities across a whole range of circumstances, particularly educational and occupational. The use of such documentation as a feminist political lever was, and continues to be, invaluable. It also provides a database for ongoing attempts both to explain such differences and to develop strategies to improve the position of girls and women within the education system and society. Over time the range of explanations and their concomitant strategies for change have expanded quite dramatically. Indeed, there is no doubt that our understanding of the complexities of the relationships between gender and education and our recognition of the intransigence of the problem of sexist education and society have been considerably enhanced in the last decade.
There is now a number of different feminist discourses within the field of girls' education which, although overlapping in some areas (particularly in their use of each other's research findings), offer positions which vary in their intentions, scope and capacity for change. To an extent, these various discourses offer incompatible explanations and programs for action and, to an extent, compete for recognition, acceptance and funds. Within the field a particular literature has developed around the notions of self-concept, self-image and self-esteem. It is inspired by a blend of certain American psychological theories with certain feminist theories and consists of the following: research suggesting that girls have lower self-esteem and achievement than boys, particularly in certain