Gender Equality Taskforce in Education and Learning minutes: February 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the taskforce on 25 February 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney MSP, Joint Chair
  • Razannah Hussain, #iwill ambassador, Joint Chair
  • Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie MSP
  • Andrew Drought, Deputy Director, Workforce, Infrastructure and Reform, Scottish Government
  • Eileen Flanagan, Gender Equality Team Leader, Equality Unit, Scottish Government
  • Anna Ritchie Allan, Executive Director, Close the Gap
  • Amy Woodhouse, Head of Policy, Participation and Projects, Children in Scotland
  • Hannah Axon, Policy Manager, COSLA
  • Professor Ian Rivers, Chair, Scottish Council of Deans of Education
  • Alan Armstrong, Strategic Director (on behalf of Gayle Gorman), Education Scotland
  • Joe Griffin, Director of Early Learning and Childcare, Scottish Government
  • Jan Savage, Director of External Affairs and Strategic Development, Enable Scotland
  • Kathryn Dawson, Prevention Coordinator, Rape Crisis Scotland
  • Dr Marion Allison, Director, CLD Standards Scotland
  • Khaleda Noon, Founder and Director, Intercultural Youth Scotland
  • Peter McNaughton, Executive Officer, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland
  • Emma Ritch, Chief Executive, Engender
  • Katie Horsburgh, GirlGuiding Scotland
  • Andrea Bradley, Assistant Secretary, EIS
  • Louise Macdonald, CEO, YoungScot
  • Dr Mhairi Crawford, Chief Executive, LGBT Youth Scotland
  • Lauren Kelly Member, Scottish Youth Parliament


  • Judith Ballantine Taskforce Secretariat, Scottish Government
  • Lynsey McIlhone Secretariat, Scottish Government


  • Rachel Adamson, Co-Director, Zero Tolerance

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Deputy First Minister (DFM) welcomed members to the first Gender Equality Taskforce meeting and thanked them for undertaking membership of the group and the various commitments inherent in doing so. He added that he was hopeful that the meeting would set the scene for an informative discussion in order that a workplan could be created imminently. 

Presentation on Gender Competence: ‘What it is and why it matters in Education’ (Emma Ritch, Engender)

Razannah Hussain (RH) invited Emma Ritch (ER) to deliver her presentation on gender competence. She summarised gender competence thus:

‘The knowledge, skills, and analytical capabilities to develop statistics, data, policy, or programmes that are well-gendered; that take account of the socially constructed difference between men’s and women’s and boys’ and girls’ lives and experiences.’

ER noted the need to ensure that from the outset that policy development and delivery is gender sensitive. Equally Safe: Scotland's Strategy to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women and Girls was highlighted as a good example of well gendered policy making, which used gender analysis to shape its purpose and theory.  Often this doesn’t happen and policy development needs to change in the following ways in to do so: 

  • increased use of gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data
  • gender competence needs to be instilled in decision-makers
  • gender equality needs to be mainstreamed across policy development 
  • policy or practice shift or increase in coherence

Another strong example of gender sensitive policy making and how it delivers better outcomes for women and girls was discussed: urban planners in Vienna identified the ways in which men and women and boys and girls use urban spaces differently. They went on embedded the learning from this in their city development plans, in order that urban spaces cater for everyone. This example clearly demonstrated the degree to which gender inequality and stereotypes still impact negatively on women and girls in a range of settings.

ER discussed the way in which education is gendered, noting how stereotypes in relation to girls’ capabilities and interests, still persist. This can include the reinforcement of ideas such as girls’ and boys’ leadership abilities being different, e.g boys are leaders, girls are bossy. This is exacerbated by wider stereotypes e.g. that men are still seen as breadwinners and women are still seen as carers. Stark statistics such as the fact that only one third of all senior leadership roles in Scotland are held by women, also do little to provide positive messages for girls and young women. In educational settings, women and girls are still more likely to experience sexual harassment and sexualisation from peers and teachers; girls experience more constraints on their freedom due to safety concerns of parents or carers and are also expected to ameliorate boys’ bad behaviour.

ER concluded the presentation by outlining the key elements which ensure successful, gender competent policy making:

  • deliberate and committed action
  • input should be a combination of lived experience and research/analysis
  • a mix of mainstreaming action and expertise


  • Secretariat to send the presentation slides to taskforce members 

DFM invited members to comment. A discussion ensued which included a request to share good examples of gender competence in education. ER agreed to circulate a number of examples.  


  • ER to share examples with taskforce members

DFM noted the need to draw in different approaches being taken forward already, noting that good practice exists but isn’t endemic. He suggested that EIS would have examples which could be captured and invited them to share those.   


  • EIS to identify examples and share with taskforce member 

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (MfOPE) was clear that an intersectional approach needs to underpin the Taskforce’s work and that good practice models such as that of LGBT Youth Scotland should be taken into account when developing the workplan. She also noted the need to embed whole schools and whole life setting approaches from the outset.  

Background and context:  summary points from papers 01/03 and 01/04 (Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie)

MfOPE drew out the key messages from both papers:

  • noted the Scottish Government’s (SG’s) commitment to gender equality, placing women and girls at the heart of policy making
  • noted the timely establishment of the taskforce, providing a great platform for gender equality and demonstrating the SG’s commitment to tackling inequality in education and learning
  • set out the legislative achievements and policy commitments which the SG has delivered to tackle gender inequality and how these should underpin the taskforce’s workplan and emerging strategy
  • noted the discrepancy between women and girls’ academic achievements and later success in employment, with men outnumbering women in the workplace and a gender pay gap of around 15%
  • highlighted the fact that despite significant consideration being given to encouraging uptake in STEM subjects, subject segregation continues to exist and as a result was keen for the taskforce to explore this in more detail
  • acknowledged that while the SG has made great strides in tackling gender inequality, there is still much to be done and schools have a key role to play

MfOPE concluded the overview by sharing her hope that the taskforce will:

  • enable members to gain a deeper understanding of the issues girls and women face and 
  • utilise existing SG frameworks and policies in order to shape the emerging strategy

DFM invited the group to comment.  

A number of points were made including:

  • the importance of taking into account the youth work and adult learning strategies as part of the taskforce’s work
  • the need to consider subject choice in schools as well as the link between it, and the impact upon future employability, taking into account the home life of women and girls and how stereotypes played out there can impact upon them  
  • girls’ experience in the classroom and how their peers can influence the path they take, shaping both their school experience and life choices later on (research was cited which supports this, whereby payment to study physics at A level was not enough incentive for girls to do so, due to the bullying and harassment they would experience from the boys in the class)  
  • the need to make the distinction between the terms ‘gender neutral’ and  ‘gender equality’ and the need to be clear about this in order that the taskforce’s approach is not too broad or potentially misconstrued
  • the need to establish a strategic approach to the SG’s work on gender equality, which is currently lacking, resulting in it being seen as an ‘add on’ rather than being at the core of policy development and decision making  
  • the importance of being prepared to set out what the challenges are and what the tangible changes should be going forward
  • the need for the taskforce to take a systemic approach to its work and identify what the barriers are at that level, where mainstreaming is required and who will be accountable
  • the requirement for an intersectional approach throughout, ensuring that race, disability and indeed all of the protected characteristics which girls and young women embody, are embedded in the taskforce’s work from the outset

Comfort break

Discussion on: 

  • work plan  (paper 01/05):

DFM asked the group to focus on accountability, experience, leadership and how the right conditions can be created in order to frame the workplan successfully. He noted the need to ensure that young people’s voices are heard and that lived experience is taken into account.   

MfOPE asked the group to consider whether the focus should be on the cause or the symptoms of gender equality, with a strategic approach dealing with the cause and individual incentives addressing the symptoms.

The discussion focussed on the following:  

  • the need for Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) to inform the workplan, but also to consider how it would benefit from being made gender competent. The current iteration of CfE (which is not gender competent) may make it more challenging for educators to identify what they can do to tackle gender inequality.  However its ability to provide local solutions for local challenges should not be downplayed
  • the need for gender competence to be built into ITE from the outset
  • the need to ensure that gender equality remains at the forefront of policy development even after the taskforce has concluded, in order to continue to challenge society, social class and CfE 
  • the issue of mental health and how it often declines sharply in teenage girls around the age of 15, and how the taskforce might take this into consideration
  • the need to ensure that all adults who influence pupils at schools and in the community are reached as part of this work

In concluding this part of the discussion and in order to identify next steps, it was agreed that the group needed to be clear about what the specific barriers are to potential outputs and outcomes and how these can be addressed. 

Andrew Drought (AD) advised that the work plan needs to be informed by a clear vision and shared goals under which it will sit. It was agreed that members would share their thinking on:   

  • what the clear, shared vision should be
  • what the understanding is across partners of where we are currently. This was partly informed by papers 01/03 and 01/04 but there is a need to continue to build the picture using up to date data, anecdotal evidence from everyone round the table as well as wider stakeholders, and lived experience from girls and young women
  • suggested concrete actions. What will the taskforce do specifically to move from the current position to the position where its vision is being realised? There will be existing activity and practice which is already contributing to the achievement of that vision, but equally there will be gaps and areas which we need to address. Once those gaps are identified, the concrete actions that are needed to address them need to be articulated
  • agreement of terms of reference paper 01/06: the Secretariat asked members to submit their comments on the terms of reference via email

Next steps, time and location of next meeting 

The Secretariat advised that the next steps would be:

  • for members to provide their thoughts on vision and aims in order that the Secretariat can produce a draft workplan
  • to identify how other valued partners and stakeholders will input to the taskforce
  • to confirm location of next meeting. It will take place at a school which has progressed some of Education Scotland’s IGBE programme activity
  • to undertake pro-active comms activity. The secretariat encouraged members to tweet and retweet about the meeting to ensure greater public awareness of the first meeting


  • Secretariat to advise members of the location of the next taskforce meeting in May
  • Secretariat will approach members by email asking them to provide their thoughts on the four key points for discussion in paper 01/05 as well as what the vision and concrete actions to achieve it should be
  • members to provide the Secretariat with their comments on the terms of reference (paper 01/06)  


LM referred to point 9 in the remit section of the ToR and asked the Secretariat to share an overview of how the taskforce will adopt an intersectional approach and what steps have been taken in this regard already. 


  • Secretariat to produce and share with members 

DFM and RH thanked the group for their time and input into discussions. 

Date of next meeting: 13 May 2020 (venue to be confirmed)

Gender Equality Taskforce in Education and Learning Secretariat
February 2020

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