Becky Francis Christine Skelton
The feminist study of gender and education has built up a diverse body of dynamic and ground-breaking research over the last three decades. At various times during this period examples of contemporary work have been brought together in collections which seek to provide an overview of the field (see, for example, the influential collections by Arnot and Weiner 1987 and Weiner and Arnot 1987). These collections have provided useful introductions to the subject area for undergraduate students, and excellent sources of reference for postgraduates and academics. Recent shifts in focus around the theorization and study of gender and education, caused by social and policy changes, meant that we deemed it timely to produce a new collection of essays which would outline theoretical developments in the area, and showcase the cutting-edge research around different issues within the field.
During the 1970s and 80s, much feminist research on gender and education was motivated by concern at the underachievement, and marginalization, of girls. A perception of girls as underperforming in comparison to boys predominated at this time, and feminist researchers maintained this 'underachievement' was explained by the discrimination and marginalization that they demonstrated girls faced in the education system. Some feminist researchers attempted to call attention to girls' out-performance of boys at primary schools and at English and modern languages in secondary schools (for example Clarricoates 1980; Lee 1980; Spender 1982; Walkerdine 1988), but this point was largely ignored. In fact, even in the 1970s (prior to the replacement of O levels with GCSE examinations in England and Wales), slightly greater numbers of girls than boys were gaining five or more O-level A-C grades (Arnot et al. 1999). Yet because these often included low status, 'feminine' subjects such as home economics and so on, the pattern was not taken seriously. Boys were doing significantly better at subjects like maths