Keeping Girls In Focus

September 2013

We talk a lot about boys and young men in the work we do via the PINS network  - but the time is right to question what the current situation is like for those girls and young women in education who are considered vulnerable, challenging, marginalised or excluded.

Our seminar used research and professional experience to:

  • Look broadly to establish gender differences in the experience of school.
  • Raise the profile of girls and young women as distinct from boys and young men.
  • Identify particular issues, challenges and good practice when it comes to working with girls and young women in educational settings.

The seminar included these inputs: click on the PowerPoint presentation to find out more about what our speakers  shared with delegates.

David Watt (Senior Education Officer for Supporting Learners Education Scotland)located the day’s discussion in the context of a national commitment to equality and personalised learning for all. David’s presentation came in 3 parts.

Download the PowerPoint HERE

Dr Gillean McCluskey (Head of Institute for Education, Community & Society at the University of Edinburgh) guided us through girls' attainment, achievement, exclusion from school and well-being in general, highlighting the key issues which lie behind national statistics and why we should continue to be concerned to keep girls in focus. Gillean’s PowerPoint poses some key questions for every team’s consideration. Download PowerPoint HERE

Dr John H. McKendrick (Senior Lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University) explored the impact of poverty on education, with a particular focus on what this means for girls and what educationalists and other service providers can do about it. Download PowerPoint HERE

Delegates rated the day extremely highly. See the delegate evaluation HERE

The seminar also involved workshops presented by a range of practitioners and services working with girls and young women. Some of the key issues and areas discussed are identified here. Click to view responses

Hospital Outreach Teaching Service (HOTS) works with pregnant schoolgirls and young mums in their Young Mums Unit. For many of the young women their experience of school up until their pregnancy may have been characterised by non-attendance or challenging home circumstances. The aim is to maximise attainment and achievement for learners whist supporting them in their role as mothers. When their baby is born there are 2 options; the young women can stay at her own school to continue her education but still access the complimentary curriculum at YMU or she can transfer to the YMU. The session addressed the issues and challenges in working with these learners and explore the support available to young mothers. Issues which arose in workshop discussion included:

  • Young women who are pregnant whilst at school want to be good mums.
  • A package of both pre-natal and post-natal support for learning is most effective.
  • More schools are improving the support they provide within the young woman’s own setting.
  • Support for learning has to sit alongside all necessary practical and emotional support for a young mum as well as support to address longstanding family issues that might affect the capacity of the young mum to cope and to learn.

The Girls' Brigade Scotland provides an important mix of educational, physical, service and spiritual opportunities and experiences to girls aged 5-18 in Scotland. GBS embodies key characteristics of learning practice that are rated as ‘good quality’ (HMIe) and fit well with current national policy priorities. Their focus on young women and girls has never faltered in its 120 year history. Although a recent study suggests GBS provides much of what girls currently need, their popularity dwindles with many girls missing out on an opportunity to ‘be part of something big’. The workshop asked participants to consider: what then can others learn from the GBS model and what can GBS do to widen its appeal? Issues which arose in discussion included:

  • As a third sector provider Girls’ Brigade follows a holistic model for learning and closely aligns with the aims of Curriculum for Excellence.  Girls set their own goals and are supported through the process to ensure that they are successful at meeting each level.
  • Girls’ Brigade is geared toward the future of the girls by using a lifelong learning structure.
  • To keep up with modern technology and demands, Brigaders have asked for more opportunities and support to explore career choices, computer skills, public speaking.
  • Relationships are central to success. One young person said: ‘You feel like you can approach the adults and they don’t judge.  You have a relationship with them and you can ask questions if you need to.’
  • From girls perspective the key elements are their personal achievements and creating a close group of friends and supportive adults.

LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Scotland. We developed a Toolkit for Teachers in 2009 on ‘Dealing with Homophobia and Homophobic Bullying in Scottish Schools’  in partnership with Education Scotland and in 2012 we completed a schools project that engaged with more than 9,000 pupils and carried out research with more than 350 LGBT young people on their experiences of education in Scotland. We run services specifically for LGBT young women and gender theory and practice under pins our work. The experiences of LGBT young women can vary, however research shows that they experience high levels of bullying in schools, colleges and universities and experience poorer health outcomes. The workshop addressed this range of issues. Issues which arose in discussion included:

  • In a discussion of LGBT and gender stereotypes, many LGBT young people might have a sense of uncertainty about their identity and where they fit; they might not see themselves represented or only seeing negative stereotypes.
  • Practitioners should challenge language and ‘low-level’ bullying by explaining why the behaviour is unacceptable and allow young people to discuss and learn about the impact that these words/behaviours have.  This is instead of just having a zero tolerance policy where language/behaviours are restricted with no explanation.  Instead of policing behaviour, maybe it’s about actively promoting inclusion.
  • There is a need for further staff training in how to approach inclusion and bullying, especially when there are challenges from the school’s culture or religious affiliation. 
  • There needs to be more work with young people themselves so that the movement towards inclusion comes from them instead of being a top-down effort from school administrators/adults.

The Young Women’s Centre is an innovative multi-agency, evidence-based centre for the most vulnerable young women in Glasgow (aged under 18 years). It provides holistic support through a range of specialist interventions including an onsite female specific education base. The workshop looked at how to engage with chaotic and vulnerable young women and drew on research undertaken with young women in Glasgow in order to gain an understanding of females needs and their expectations around service provision. Issues which arose in discussion included:

  • The centre has used peer research to help build an evidence base about what young women want and need; their views are essential to addressing what might work.
  • Young women with multiple issues and needs respond better where they build strong relationships with a smaller number of professionals working out of a multi-disciplinary setting; it is then the role of professionals to work together to meet expectations – it’s about relationships! 
  • The challenge is to integrate support around a range of issues whilst maintaining a focus on learning.
  • Young women with difficulties need to know and experience the professional team getting alongside them, working with them for change in a safe and nurturing environment.

Panmure St. Ann’s School (Edinburgh) encouraged participants to consider the of experience of leading the care and education of S3/S4 girls in an all-female group;  how this safe and supportive setting empowers and enables marginalised girls to explore complex personal issues and develop their confidence, skills and abilities.  Success is seen in terms of an individualised programme delivered in an informal, flexible single gender environment suited to vulnerable, disengaged non-attenders who require in-depth support with family and social issues. Issues which arose in discussion included:

  • Young women are very conscious of the labels they are given. They strongly believe that they should be seen as individuals and professionals must always see them as such.
  • The relationships which are built are core to success: between staff, between peers and between young women and staff these must reflect the ethos of the establishment.
  • Expectations must always be consistent and high.
  • A focus of work alongside the young women must be community connectedness because we must always be thinking what’s next?