Life skills and Pastoral Care

This section explores Life Skills and Pastoral care, and the place gender issues have in the delivery, content and curriculum of these areas. In many national contexts, schools and other education providers will offer pupils a range of life skills education and pastoral care covering sex education, drugs education and careers guidance. This can include a range of subject areas, and have a number of curriculum headings e.g. Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE), and Personal & Social Education (PSE).

The relatively marginal status of pastoral care and life skills within the curriculum means that the scale, content and delivery methods of the content various between regions, between schools and between year groups. For example, whilst some schools may use specific discreet curriculum time for dedicated lessons, other schools may tie it into wider lessons across the curriculum or into themed days, assemblies and other activities. The remainder of this page will look at three aspects of life skills and pastoral care. These are: Sex & Relationship Education, Careers Education and Drugs Education. While much of the material here is UK based, it is intended to raise wider issues that will have salience for educators in other national contexts.

Sex & Relationship Education (SRE)

Sex & Relationship Education may be delivered in a range of subjects, although the biological aspects may be covered in the science curriculum, form tutor time and subjects such as PSHE/PSE also often provide the main forum for the delivery of the majority of SRE. Teachers may find this particularly challenging as there may be little attention given to delivering effective Sex & Relationship Education in initial teacher education and/or continuing professional development. Indeed, in many contexts schools can often rely on outside speakers and agencies or the school nurse, pastoral staff or youth workers to deliver much of the SRE curriculum.

Feminist scholars and educators have critiqued sexuality education provision for reinforcing heteronormative sex-gender norms and expectations, and are insufficiently sensitive to the needs of pupils. In recent times, several feminist groups have begun to develop resources for the use in SRE classes to expand and broaden the range of approaches covered to explore gender issues, sex and relationships. There have been increasing calls (including in the GEA response to the recent 2011 PSHE review in England) to explore issues via the SRE curriculum such as pleasure, negotiating consent, reciprocal relationships, gendered violence, child care, wider caring work, parenting, emotional literacy, as well as wider issues including same sex desire and pleasure and homophobic bullying. Indeed, as the GEA review states ‘it is important to develop teaching about gender and sexuality equalities and rights and the prevention of sexual harassment and abuse, as a core part of the curriculum of schools, and not only in PSHE’.

Action Points

1. Review your existing school policy and practice. Conduct a gender audit and consider what is taught, when and where and by whom?

2. What taken-for-granted assumptions are in play in relation to content, resources and delivery? How might these be complicated and challenged?

3. Is there always a presumed heterosexuality in content and delivery? Does it concentrate on purely the physical aspects of heterosexual intercourse and safer sex, or have you space to expand the curriculum to look at a range of issues around young people’s expectations and experience of present and future relationships?

4. Can you broaden out of the curriculum to consider issues of agency, pleasure and consent supporting young people to consider how they negotiate their relationships including their sexual relationships?

Careers Education

Effective careers education provides a space to prepare pupils for their future work role and opportunities beyond school. At this time of record high youth unemployment in many countries, careers education becomes an increasingly important site for supporting gender equity for the future.

Internationally, one key issue is gender occupational inequality, particularly horizontal and vertical gender segregation. Horizontal gender segregation is where the majority of an occupational group is made up of one particular gender e.g. the dominance of men in mechanical engineering or women in early years care. Vertical segregation focuses on the career opportunities and progression within an occupation. This may be seen in the narrowing of opportunities for progression in a particular career, notably restrictions and barriers in women entering senior management. For example, in primary schools women may outnumber men in teaching roles, although men remain often overrepresented at headteacher level.

The lack of progression and concentration of women in lower paid occupations has long-term effects on women’s pay and wider career opportunities. The gendered clustering in particular occupations is maintained via socialisation and gender norms, educational opportunities, and workplace cultures. In recent decades a range of national and  international initiatives have aimed to encourage girls and women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the related higher paid occupations. Indeed, women are underrepresented in almost all STEM subject areas in many countries except for health and health-related professions. This is especially challenging as the STEM subject areas are seen as a direct route into a growing area of new employment opportunities and progression in an internationally increasingly technologically-based economic future.

These wider issues of gender segregation are linked to the quality and kinds of careers education offered in schools and colleges. In the past there has been much debate on the gender normative direction and quality of careers education in British schools. For example, a 2011 Ofsted UK report, Girls’ Career Aspirations, found that that girls were often receiving weak careers education, which makes it difficult for them to make properly informed choices about future courses and career options. As the UK based Platform 51 argues: “Many young women are still steered towards what is traditionally considered to be ‘women’s work’ and are particularly over-represented in low-paying sectors, including hairdressing, childcare and social care, administration, and retail. This means they are frequently trapped in low-skilled and low-paid work, and subsequently consigned to a life of poverty.”

Academic research by GEA members has explored the role of gender on future aspirations and occupational choices. This shows that the continuation of strong gender stereotyping that marked young people’s transitions from school to work. Indeed, Becky Francis (2002) notes that, while male and female pupils’ have higher academic and career aspirations than in past decades despite continuing concerns about boys’ underachievement at school, these still reflected an enduring gender dichotomy in relation to future occupational destinations.

Action Points

1. Review your existing school policy and practice on career education. Conduct a gender audit and consider what kinds of careers guidance and opportunities are offered to pupils? Consider auditing the gender ratio of pupils across subject areas. What kinds of support are students given in considering non-gender stereotyped careers?

2. Can you provide a ‘taster’ day and/or invited speakers to enable pupils to consider a broader range of options? Does your education provider’s vocational options reproduce gender stereotypical choices?

3. Take some time to work with pupils’ to consider gendered occupational aspirations in the light of present and future employment trends in the local, national and international contexts.

4. Explore Platform 51’s and Feminist Webs’ activities and youth work exercises to consider how you might explore the gender pay gap with pupils in PSHE lessons and form tutorials?

Drugs Education

Aspects of drugs education in common with other areas of the curriculum can uphold gender stereotypes, in addition to being insufficiently sensitive to issues of gender equity and experience to provide sufficient support for all pupils.

As with other areas, school practices can make and remake gender, and there is a need for educators to be mindful in relation to how normative ideas about sex-gender are upheld and reproduced via resources, content and delivery. For example, in other aspects of health education, young women can be viewed as having a caretaker role in protecting their own and male peers’ health. This can be seen at the range of health education interventions aimed specifically at women. My own research shows how some of the anti-smoking and alcohol campaigns have specifically targeted young women’s concerns with losing their looks as a key site to promote abstinence or reduced drinking and smoking.

Illicit drug taking is a deeply gendered act. Yet, there is scant research on the effectiveness gendered drug education intervention aimed at young men or women.  In a study of girls and smoking Mitchell & Amos (1997) argue that rather than smoking being a sign of girls’ low self esteem, the young women in their study were often high status, and smoked to demonstrate their cool fashionable identities. Other work on gender and smoking has also noted the need to explore the gendered aspects of young people’s drug taking and social worlds. As Ettorre (2007) has noted moral panics around issues such as the potential damage to unborn children, mean that women’s bodies becomes the sites of policy and education interventions. Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli’s (2003) study of sex-gender within schools provides interesting reflections on discourses of riskiness and masculinity and how this can provide challenges for health education sessions exploring sex and relationship and drug issues.

Action Points

1. Review your existing school policy and practice. What kinds of materials do existing teaching staff and visitors use to explore drug issues with young people?

2. Is gender ever mentioned explicitly/implicitly in the drugs education curriculum? How does this draw on sex-gender discourses in exploring drug issues more broadly?

3. Consider using media clips to discuss gender stereotypes and drug use with pupils. What readings do your pupils take from anti-drugs commercials, popular TV shows and music videos? Use media education approaches to critique and explore gender and drug issues more broadly.

Play these two clips.

Aging smoking

Binge drinking

Ask students to write down what they think the key message is of the clips. How is the message gendered? How is it constructed to appeal/alarm the viewer. How might the message be differently packaged if aimed at young men? How does this relate to wider norms around smoking and drug use and gender?

4.  After reviewing drug education materials/videos in a group explore with your class how they might design a campaign to support tobacco and alcohol education initiatives that challenges heteronormative gender norms? In small groups take some time to storyboard their campaign and present it to the rest of the class. Ask students to reflect on what kinds of discourses they have drawn upon to create their drugs education video storyboard.

Useful Links on Sex & Relationships Education

Schools Out Resource for Key Stage 4 on LGBT issues in SRE

The National Children’s Bureau website contains a broad range of sex education resources

Womankind’s White Ribbon campaign includes issues of relationship and sexual violence, and ensuring that school SRE policies and curriculum engage with these topics with all students. There are resources here for both primary and secondary aged young people.

Scarleteen is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. They have a range of articles, links and resources. This article explores: What is Feminist Sex Education?

The International Women’s Health Campaign has downloadable resources and activities exploring gender equity issues, sexuality and consent for use internationally.

The Expect Respect Toolkit (produced by Women’s Aid for teachers) is a useful resource for tackling the issue of teenage relationship abuse

Further Reading on Sexualities & Relationship Education

Allan, L. (2010) Young People and Sexuality Education: Rethinking Key Debates. Houndmills: Palgrave: Using research, this book addresses the question: What would sexuality education look like if young people designed it?

Alldred, P. & David. M. E. (2007) Get real about sex: the politics and practice of sex education. Maidenhead: Open University Press: This book brings together views of sex education, schooling and parenthood from young people, teachers, school nurses and head teachers and considers the potential conflicts between approaches to education and health.

Prendergast, S. (1996) A ‘discourse of the pinks and the blues’: Some arguments for the visibility of gender in the SRE curriculum, Health Education, 5: 30-34

Useful Links on Careers Education

Ofsted’s 2011 UK Girls’ Career aspirations report

There’s a range of resources on STEM careers and gender. Including: the US Girls Scouts’  survey and resource exploring young women’s views of STEM subjects and careers and their top tips for adults and educators in encouraging young women to explore STEM career choices; the UK based National STEM resource centre; and the STEM Careers Project Equality & Diversity toolkit.

Further Reading on Careers Education

Francis, B. (2002) Is the Future really Female? The Impact and Implications of gender for 14-16 year olds career choices, Journal of Education and Work, 15 ( 1): 75-88: The career aspirations of 14-16 year old students are analysed in terms of gender. It is shown that girls’ occupational choices have become far more ambitious than was previously the case. However, boys’ occupational aspirations remain high, questioning some assumptions in the literature. Yet it is maintained that the choices of both girls and boys still reflect to some extent a deeply embedded gender dichotomy.

Osgood, J, Francis, B & Archer, L. (2006) Gendered identities and work placement: Why Don’t boys care? Journal of Education Policy, 21 ( 3): 305-321: This article examines the problem of persistent gender stereotyping of career roles and aspirations among young people, and the choices and educational experiences that shape this. It draws upon data from a study conducted in England for the EOC entitled ‘Gender Equality in Work Experience Placements for Young People’, which included 566 15-16 year-old student questionnaires and 32 interviews with young people.

Useful Links on Drugs Education

Gender and Drug Education: A briefing paper for Drug Education Practitioners.

Drug Education forum

Further Reading on Drugs Education

Cullen, F.,(2010)  ‘I was kinda paralytic’: pleasure, peril and teenage girls’ drinking stories. In: Jackson, C., Paechter, C. and Renold, E. (eds) Girls and Education 3-16: Continuing Concerns, New Agendas. Milton Keynes: Open University Press: This chapter is based on a feminist ethnography of young women’s use of cigarettes and alcohol.

Measham, F. (2003) The Gendering of Drug Use and the Absence of Gender, Criminal Justice Matters, 53 (1): 22-23: In this short article, Fiona Measham explores the centrality of gender to drug use and berates the lack of empirical research on the subject.

Martino, W. & Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2003). So what’s a boy? Addressing issues of masculinity and schooling. Maidenhead: Open University Press: Through interviews with boys from diverse backgrounds, this book explores the various ways in which boys define and negotiate their masculinities at school including ideas of riskiness that relate to use of cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs.

Ettorre, E (2007) Revisioning women and drug use: gender, power and the body. Basingstoke: Palgrave: In this book female drug use is viewed as a form of embodied deviance linked with tasks of restraint, reproduction, representation and regulation. It offers a necessary corrective to the moralist agendas.

Page author: Fin Cullen

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