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Revising the Politics A-level curriculum

3 min read

Baroness Parminter writes following her recent Oral question in the House of Lords regarding proposed changes to the Politics A-level curriculum.

Education has a key role in helping women play their full part in society and addressing the challenges of gender equality. So it is troubling to see that the Tory Government have proposed to cut the study of feminism from the Politics A Level syllabus and include only one female amongst the list of sixteen political thinkers.
It is vital that young people have the opportunity to understand the political thinking and movements that have generated progress to date, and the ongoing barriers to women’s equality.  Discussion at the sixth form level is a crucial part of achieving that.  

This is facilitated in the current A Level Politics syllabus by the inclusion of feminism under ‘other ideologies that emerged either out of or in opposition to liberalism, socialism and conservatism’.  Students are expected to know at least the key concepts of ‘sex and gender, gender equality, patriarchy, public/private divide and [gender] essentialism.’

In the proposed changes to the syllabus the Government will minimise the role women have played in British politics, international politics and the development of political philosophy.  Moreover, they are reaffirming gender bias that treats men and their interests as the norm and women and their interests as optional extras.

There is a high level of interest and public demand for women and feminism to receive greater attention in the A Level Politics Syllabus.  A petition started by June Eric-Udonie, a sixth former student and writer for the Guardian and New Statesman attracted tens of thousands of signatures.  Submissions to the Government consultation (which closed last week) included those from the Political Studies Association, the Fawcett Society and Girlguiding. The 2014 Girls’ Attitudes Survey carried out for Girlguiding found that three in five of those aged 11 to 21 think that schools should have to teach gender equality (62%) and more than half support more political education in schools (55%).  

We need the Government, as they now consider the responses to the consultation, to include feminism as one of the political ideas which students will be expected to understand, discuss and critique and to include more women amongst the key thinkers of liberalism, socialism and conservatism that students will study.

The Liberal Democrats as part of the Coalition Government reduced the gender pay gap and increased the number of women on boards.  Removing the women’s rights movement and the political theory it produced within the A Level Politics curriculum does nothing to build on that record and move us towards greater gender equality in British society. Excluding women – both as key thinkers and political actors in their own right - sends the message that women do not and have not made significant achievements in politics and political thought.  This move by the Tories will have the damaging consequence of slowing down the pipeline for future female politicians, campaigners and leading thinkers.

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