The Official Launch: March 2002

The first ever GEA event was held on International Women’s Day – Friday, 8 March – 2002 at the University of North London (now London Metropolitan University) and attended by some 60 delegates, guests and invited speakers.

The day began with a warm welcome from Brian Roper, the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of North London. Brian noted how close the university’s interests were to those of the Association in terms of issues of equity, access and participation. Brian was followed by three generous spirited, forthright and accomplished speakers. These were Pam Hirsch, the eminent women’s historian; Ann Phoenix, whose work on ‘race’, class and gender continues to inspire and Madeleine Arnot, whose work has had such a profound impact on gender and education students and scholars internationally.

There were some very clear messages from these speakers for GEA. We must continue to celebrate our successes without forgetting the ‘disgraceful’ history associated with those who aver feminist activism. We must continue to work through the complexities of difference and in so doing not forget the significance and importance of the ‘insider’ account for understanding complex positions. And in developing our voice at local, national and international policy levels we would do well to consider the fields of citizenship, information technology and violence in education as key contemporary concerns.

The Association’s official birth was toasted at lunchtime. Miriam David spoke of the Association’s development starting from the First International Conference in Gender and Education held at the University of Warwick in 1997 through to plans for the future. Christina Hughes updated members present on the international mix of those joining GEA and commented on how Brenda Wilson, the Association’s secretary, had dealt with over 500 email enquiries in the three short months since we first advertised the Association. Ian White, representing Graham Hobbs at Taylor Francis Carfax (and sponsors of the champagne!), remarked on the growth of interest in gender and education from the journal’s beginnings on Madeleine Arnot’s kitchen table to a vibrant network of committed scholars and activists.

The afternoon kept up the pace of the morning but gave a welcome opportunity for greater discussion and inter-change. Chaired by Carrie Paechter, three speakers admirably set the tone by outlining contemporary concerns in related gender and education fields. These were Christine Skelton who discussed policy developments in respect of the ‘evidence base’ of publishing in education; Jackie Brine who outlined the lifelong-lifewide conundrums of post-compulsory education; and Hilary Claire who discussed some perennial issues in teacher education that had a flavour of wheel reinvention and represented a good case of why we need a Gender and Education Association to provide more powerful, authoritative and influential voices in the development of policy and practices. Four discussion groups followed these presentations: policy making; lifelong learning; school education; and initial teacher education.

Miriam David chaired a final plenary with the aim of bringing the discussions together and to help the Executive Committee plan for the next stage of the Association’s development. In short, the report-back from the groups were:

  • Policymaking: GEA has a key role here in terms of considering how it might influence policy. This requires the Association to develop lobbying, monitoring and scanning skills; to identify appropriate spaces where influence might be brought to bear and to provide members with information about those spaces. The development of a strong regional network (currently planned) was also seen to be      important to this.
  • Lifelong learning: This group raised four areas for developing knowledge. These were: technology in learning; feminist knowledge of the field of lifelong learning; individualism; generational issues (i.e. the development of new learning communities, grass-roots learning). The group proposed a one day seminar in the late summer/autumn to progress these issues.
  • Schooling: This group rasied the following concerns with the felt should become foci for GEA’s work: to bring girls back onto the agenda; to reverse the over-emphasis on attainment in order that students’ experiences of school were no longer marginalised; to focus on schooling before the secondary age group and particularly early years.
  • Teacher Education: What has changed over 20 years? was a key question for this group. Certainly discourses around education had changed with, for example, an emphasis now on outcomes. Some  current teacher education students had themselves some experience of gender and ‘race’ issues in their own schooling and had useful insights into this that could not only support teachers who were putting forward critical perspectives but could help develop further initiatives. However, to avoid reinventing the wheel it was important not to forget the work undertaken and published in the 1980s. A suggestion was made that to ensure contemporary relevance authors of key texts might consider publishing second editions!

A helpful discussion ensued in respect of GEA’s future work. This included developing networks with other feminist organisations. For example Miriam outlined the Association’s planned links with a newly developed policy group organised through the Fawcett Society and Christina noted that a Career Development Day was being held in association with the Women Studies Network (UK) and the Women in Higher Education Network at the University of Warwick on Tuesday 19 March 2002. It was also noted how important the international aspects of the Association were, that we should not become either too England-centric nor London-centric and thus how we might develop high levels of inclusivity. This included the development of regional international networks and seminars and was being progressed by Sarah Whitelaw and Elaine Millard. Participants in the audience offered excellent suggestions of publishing opportunities, other networks to make links with, email and internet developments and so forth. Participants were reminded of the next Gender and Education Conference to be held at the University of Sheffield in 2003. Participants were also invited to send any suggestions, news, details of their recent books and so forth to the address. Debbie Epstein and Carrie Paechter will include useful material for publication in our space in the Gender and Education journal and GEA will also circulate members with any information provided.

The day would not have gone so well, of course, without the support of the staff at the University of North London and the hard work in convening the day that was undertaken by Jane Martin and Chris Mann. Both were rushed off their feet during Friday. Jane managed for us the interface between the conference and the institution. Chris became official GEA photographer a job for life if ever there was one.

Christina Hughes, University of Warwick

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