The ‘hidden curriculum’ is said to be a curriculum in schools that is covertly and or subconsciously in being. The ‘hidden curriculum’, it is claimed, is said to be in place so that a girl grows into the type of woman that a patriarchal society wants ensuring that society continues to be dominated by males.  Abbot and Wallace have written about the ‘hidden curriculum’ from a feminist perspective and they identify four major areas of the hidden curriculum that disadvantage girls; these are:


1)    The academic hierarchy



2)    Stereotyped attitudes


3)    Textbooks


4)    Subject choice and activities



Children learn about the world and their place in it through their experiences within both school and the wider social world. Through their socialising experiences both boys and girls develop an understanding of the nature of society (how to conform to social expectations/the consequences of deviation etc).The idea is that children are sent messages from the world around them and they internalise these messages


The academic hierarchy: highest positions in schools = men – women mainly occupy lesser roles – children are surrounded by role models that suggest positions of highest status should be occupied by men.Stereotyped attitudes: Stanworth, in the study of FE A-level pupils found pupils underestimated girls academic performance, capability and intelligence. Teachers also tended to see girls futures in terms of marriage, child-rearing and domestic work. Future careers were stereotyped into secretarial and caring work


Estimations of capability and intelligence were also based on how students respond in class – boys demand more attention from teachers in class and teachers are more likely to deliver lessons that they feel will capture the attention of boys = tactile. This means they contribute more = appear more intelligent to teachers.     


Textbooks: Writers such as Loban, Stanworth, Spencer and Reynolds have shown how children’s books are gender stereotyped in terms of the messages they convey to pupils. Males appear more frequently – they are more likely to be shown in active rather than passive roles and there are clear stereotypes about how males and females should look and behave. Lobban has noted how stereotyping is more pronounced in children’s books than in reality and Spender has argued that women are frequently ‘invisible’ – they rarely appear in textbooks aimed at maths and science pupils.


Subject choice and activities: Sports activities and subjects such as cookery, woodwork and metalwork remain gendered where pupils are given a choice. Clarricoate’s observation of primary school teaching noted that because boys require more control and discipline, they have more contact with teachers and lessons are organised and structured around assumptions about kinds of things and activities that will keep the interest of, and help to control, boys.


Trowler (education and training) notes language is a significant discriminatory medium in both education and society. English, for example, generally favours masculine forms of expression (dustman, postman, spokesman) as well as using the term ‘man’ to signify humanity as a whole (mankind, man-management).


Subject choice and activities: Scott (patriarchy in school textbooks) found three basic themes in her analysis of curriculum materials:


1)    The derogation of women


2)    The invisibility of women

3) The insignificance of women


All of the above aspects of the hidden curriculum are significant – especially in relation to the concept of a gendered curriculum. It seems difficult to relate them to the fact that girls generally outperform boys in the education system nowadays. It seems difficult to see how stereotyping, gendered role and so forth (hidden curriculum) can explain this fact. The type of ideas noted above suggest that boys are greatly advantaged within the school – this does not tally up with an overall worsening of boys academic performance


Clearly, teacher labelling and stereotyping may be changing as perceptions of female academic performance change – but again this fails to adequately explain how the change in performance could have started if it is simply related to school factors.


The above aspects of the hidden curriculum are significant in terms of explaining the gendering of curriculum choice – but much less plausible in explaining the declining relative performance of boys. Therefore, it would seem reasonable to conclude that factors outside the school (such as: the increasing number of women working, the development of greater levels of female independence and emancipation from male domination) seem to be more significant in achievement terms. Additionally, economic changes and cycles may have a significant impact on boys’ perception of the relationship between academic achievement and work. If we consider that unemployment levels have dramatically increased in areas of tradition male employment and increased in newer service areas of the economy – these structural changes in society may be having more impact upon educational achievement levels than school-based factors.

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex