Are schools to blame for stereotypical female careers?

You may think schools help children strengthen their individuality, but a survey has found that mixed-sex schools are not doing enough to promote girls' confidence and ambitions

When you were a child did you dream of being a hairdresser or an astronaut? If a recent survey is anything to go by, it was probably the former. New research suggests that girls at mixed schools are more likely to follow conventional career routes, with the majority taking up stereotypically female work placements in education, hair and beauty.

Single-sex schools say they find it easier to promote confidence and competitive attitude among girls in the absence of boys, but inspectors found that even in these single-sex environments the pattern of entries for GCSE and A-level subjects conformed to the national picture of girls choices.

‘From an early age, girls surveyed had held conventionally stereotypical views about jobs for men and women,’ says the Ofsted report. ‘They retained those views throughout their schooling despite being taught about equality of opportunity and their rights to access any future career.’

Chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, says: ‘What is worrying is that girls all too often follow courses and qualifications that don’t give them these opportunities in practice.’

If this report is correct and less than a tenth of female work placements are unconventional, should schools be doing more to help challenge these gender stereotypes and enable girls to carve out more alternative career paths?

‘Schools need to develop more opportunities for young women to meet professionals working in non-stereotypical roles, and to learn more about what the job entails through diverse work placements,’ says Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

But with a struggling economy and a lack of work placements can schools be blamed for failing to provide suitable opportunities? Was this your experience at school? Did you feel coerced down a stereotypical path? Join the debate by posting a comment below.

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