A fairer Scotland for women: gender pay gap action plan

Our action plan setting out a list of actions that will be taken to address the many drivers of the gender pay gap.

This document is part of a collection

Chapter 4 Schools

As Scotland’s society is evolving in its attitudes to gender differences so too are our schools in their culture and practice. We see through Curriculum for Excellence, a significant emphasis on developing young people’s confidence and aspirations as learners and members of society. In relation to the causes of the gender pay gap, schools have a key role to play and further progress to make in helping young women make transitions into a broader range of more successful careers.

What we are doing

While there are already some differences between girls’ and boys’ ambitions in primary school, these clearly widen in secondary and beyond, as evidenced by the different subject choices that girls and boys make in school. For example, persistent gender imbalances remain in the STEM subjects taken in the senior phase, despite female attainment being higher than male in the SQA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) qualifications, including in Physics, Computing and the Technologies. There is also longitudinal evidence of gender imbalance in National Qualifications in health and wellbeing subject areas. Girls in SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) 1 and 2 predominantly choose to study Child Development and Child Care and Care which is characterised by low pay and occupational segregation contributing significantly to the gender pay gap.

Wider society and culture have a significant role to play. However, we must continue to build on the work which is already taking place in schools to provide safe, nurturing environments in which ambition is fostered and in which all young people are encouraged and supported to make choices based on their own interests, talents and ambitions.

There is also evidence, as outlined in the Equally Safe Delivery Plan and report by the Young Women Lead Committee, that girls can be marginalised at crucial stages by sexist behaviours – including harassment and violence – which can go unchallenged and unrecorded. 

Clearly teachers have a key role to play in addressing these issues. That is why the General Teaching Council Standard (GTCS) for Full Registration makes clear that Professional Values and Personal Commitment, including a commitment to social justice, are core to being a teacher. Equality is currently threaded through all Initial Teacher Education programmes with discrete elements exploring both practice and theory. This includes challenging gender stereotyping and occupational segregation. 

Understanding gender equality, holding positive attitudes towards girls and boys, and having the opportunity to learn about gender issues, are essential if all pupils are to become confident individuals, successful learners, responsible citizens and effective contributors. Curriculum for Excellence provides schools with an opportunity to integrate action for gender equality and other forms of social justice into the process of developing and implementing the curriculum at school level, but more action is needed in order to achieve this aspiration.

As part of the prevention work taking place under Equally Safe, Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, we are funding a ‘whole school’ project led by Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance. This pilot project works with schools, faculty and pupils to address challenges in understanding and tackling gender inequality, and everyday manifestations of gender-based violence in the whole school environment.

The inspection framework for schools also has an important role to play. Currently, the Education Scotland self-evaluation framework for schools – the How Good is Our School publication – recommends that schools make children aware of a range of careers and the skills required for them, and to think critically about how they challenge gender stereotypes within careers. It also encourages schools to be proactive in addressing gender imbalances across the curriculum and challenging any prejudice-based choices about future careers and learning pathways.

However, we recognise that there is a need for a greater emphasis on these issues and that schools and teachers can only do so if they are supported by relevant on going training and development opportunities.

That is why we will build on existing good practice identified through the Improving Gender Balance (IGB) programme and positive steps already in place through the STEM Education and Training Strategy[38]; and the Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) programme.

The IGB Programme, funded by SDS, was an action research project involving six school clusters, which trialled ways of challenging stereotyping in learning from early learning and childcare through to upper secondary school and to help young people to make informed career choices. An evaluation of the project[39] found evidence of: 

  • Greater awareness amongst teachers and senior managers of unconscious bias, including gender bias – and how it manifests itself within their activities and what steps need to be taken to promote gender balance.
  • Greater awareness of gender issues among learners – with this feeding into students talking about gender issues more often. For example, a number of teachers highlighted that students are more likely to confront bias, stereotyping or throwaway remarks than in the past.

Education Scotland has already published a suite of Improving Gender Balance action guides for teachers and early learning and childcare practitioners to promote the findings and successful practice identified in these pilots.

As a result of the successful evaluation of the pilot, as part of the STEM strategy, a new team of six Gender Balance and Equalities Officers has being recruited by Education Scotland. The team will take the approaches developed in the pilot and seek to embed those in every school cluster in Scotland by 2022. It will deliver gender and equality training to schools and teachers and develop a gender champion network and a gender kitemark to grow and spread best practice. The work will be undertaken in collaboration with the six new Regional Improvement Collaboratives along with the new Education Scotland STEM Regional Advisors who have recently been appointed. This forms part of our five year STEM Education and Training strategy and the team will support and encourage early learning and childcare settings and schools to adopt holistic, whole school approaches that seek to tackle gender balance issues across the curriculum and life of the establishment.

“Staff are now aware of the messages we present to pupils and we actively consider gender balance when designing any course materials or interventions[39].”

Our STEM Education and Training Strategy seeks a significant reduction in the equity gap in participation and achievement in STEM learning, engagement and study across all sectors of education and training. The Strategy recognises that STEM imbalances in participation are evident right across the education and training landscape and that these feed through into the labour market. The first annual report on the work of the Strategy was published 7 February 2019[40]. Through the Strategy we have also made a commitment to support early learning and childcare settings to promote positive engagement with STEM and tackle gender stereotyping through parental and family engagement. Other actions in the strategy are aimed at promoting gender equality in participation in STEM at college, university and apprenticeship settings with the science centres and festivals also promoting events targeted at women and girls. 

Work will also continue to implement the 3-18 Career Education Standard, Work Placement Standard and Guidance on School Employer Partnerships. This will promote career management and employability skills for girls, as well as boys, and help to connect learning to the skills required for learning, life and work. In tackling gender stereotypes from early years and challenging gender-based subject choices as learners progress into the Senior Phase, we will support implementation of DYW Recommendations 26 and 28[41] and further progress equality in Scotland’s early learning and childcare settings and classrooms. 

We are undertaking this work while also taking forward a programme of Education Reform, the focus of which is to create a school and led education system and therefore to empower our schools and school leaders. Progress is also being made on the development of different career pathways for teachers. An independent panel tasked with this is also considering new leadership opportunities and roles for teachers and Headteachers. 

In addition we will in 2019-20:

  • In line with SFC and SDS, Education Scotland, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, unions and the workforce, develop and publish in 2020 an equality action plan with issues of gender segregation in education to the fore.
  • Develop professional learning approaches in collaboration with practitioners in early learning and childcare and schools with a specific focus on challenging gender stereotyping and addressing unconscious bias.
  • Ask the General Teaching Council to update, as appropriate, the GTC Standard to add a greater emphasis on gender stereotyping and occupational segregation. 
  • Work with the Scottish Council of Deans of Education to consider how gender and other equality issues can be made more prominent with Initial Teacher Education. 
  • Build on the work SDS is taking forward with parents on Apprenticeships, by asking them to expand this work to wider gender stereotyping which impacts on subject choices.
  • Convene a Personal and Social Education (PSE) Lead Officers network, consisting of all local authorities and key third sector partners such as Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance, Scottish Youth Parliament and Children’s Parliament. The network will develop support for schools to tackle sexual harassment, including resources for teachers. The network will also develop supporting resources for pupils.
  • In addition to taking forward the Equally Safe actions relating to schools, collaborate with COSLA and the teaching unions to develop mechanisms to collect and report on sexual harassment and violence against girls in schools.
  • Accelerate progress on the Developing Young Workforce (DYW): Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy interventions to reduce gender imbalance and undertake a practice and improvement evaluation of the equality outcomes in Developing Young Workforce. This will involve the development of an evidence base of existing practice, the identification of good practice and the sharing of this across schools, colleges and the DYW Regional Groups.
  • Work with employers to conduct a review to identify the extent to which industry-led DYW regional groups and other school/industry partnerships are delivering actions that will address gender stereotyping and occupational segregation. 
  • Deliver a new careers strategy by autumn 2019 to set the vision for high quality career information, advice and guidance services accessible to all, and which reflects the importance of challenging occupational segregation.

The Scottish Government understand that this will be challenging given the range of priorities our schools face. However, given the important impact schools can have on women’s career outcomes and on economic growth, we will encourage and support them to pay careful attention to how classroom experiences shape gender differences in future choices and aspirations. For schools, this can build on work they are already doing to support children and young people’s health and well-being, to close the attainment gap and to prepare children and young people for the world of work.


Email: lorraine.lee2@gov.scot

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