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Employment Choices

Volume 473: debated on Monday 17 March 2008

8. What steps his Department is taking to encourage male and female school pupils to consider a wider and less stereotyped range of employment choices; and if he will make a statement. (194070)

I expect schools and the external information, advice and guidance services that support them to be rigorous in challenging gender stereotypes and low career aspirations. We have taken, and are planning, a range of measures that make clear our expectations and which will embed good practice. For example, all 14 to 19 consortiums wishing to deliver diplomas have to undergo a rigorous diploma gateway process assessing them against a number of key criteria, including how they will challenge gender stereotypes and raise aspirations.

I welcome that response. The Women in Work commission report and the recently published Select Committee report, “Jobs for the Girls”, identified occupational segregation as one of the major reasons for the continuing gender pay gap. In view of that, will my hon. Friend consider the proposals in the Committee’s report for providing further funding and resources specifically for careers advice and work placements, such as the proposal from the YWCA that boys and girls should have more than one work placement so that opportunities are not limited at too early an age through the assumptions embedded in families and society in general?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s consistent championing of these issues in the House. We will, of course, look closely at the Select Committee report to which she has referred. I pay tribute, too, to the YWCA for the work that it has done. I met representatives of the YWCA before the Committee stage of the Education and Skills Bill, and they found that the lowest paid apprenticeship, hairdressing, is more than 90 per cent. female while the highest paid, the electro-technical trades, pays twice the average and is 100 per cent. male dominated. It is clear that we need to do better as regards careers advice. That is one reason why we have brought in a new quality standard, which all authorities will need to have regard to in the future.

Why does the Minister think that male and female pupils choose stereotypical employment? Is it nature, nurture or neither?

The hon. Lady has raised an interesting doctoral question. I suspect, Mr. Speaker, that you would not want me to expand at any great length on it. I imagine that it is a combination of the two, but I leave hon. Members to reflect on where the balance lies. That does not take away from the need to do more about gender stereotyping. I saw an excellent example in a school that took year 7 pupils and gave them taster sessions of work experience that did not fit their gender stereotype. As a result, interest in such careers increased significantly. If people have access to such taster sessions, which are more nurture than nature, it can only be a good thing.


We are implementing a wide range of measures to help schools tackle bullying. These include reinforcing the power of school staff to discipline pupils who bully and providing them with comprehensive practical guidance on proven strategies for tackling bullying. We also provide support for individual schools through the Anti-Bullying Alliance, support peer mentoring schemes and fund a helpline for parents whose children are being bullied.

My hon. Friend will be aware that because of new technology, bullying now involves the internet and mobile phones. Sometimes, advertising such things makes the situation worse, as can be seen in some schools. What is my hon. Friend doing to try to solve the problem and what discussions has he had with service providers and schools to try to tackle that new kind of bullying?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Bullying takes lots of new forms because of the new technology that is available. I agree absolutely that the virtual world is not a valueless world, and we should ensure that we enforce the same standards when dealing with online bullying or the use of mobile phones as we do when we deal with more traditional forms of bullying. We have taken measures to make it clear in law that schools can confiscate mobile phones when they are being misused and that discipline can be enforced beyond the school gates when bullying takes place online.

Given the finding of the Stonewall school report that no less than two thirds of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have suffered bullying, will the Under-Secretary of State join me in congratulating Stonewall on the magnificent campaign that it is waging across the whole country, working through no fewer than 5,000 secondary schools, on the theme, “Some people are gay. Get over it!”? It is a good campaign that is making progress, and it has elicited a very positive response. We need to see more of that.

Yes; unfortunately, the legacy of section 28 lives on to a certain extent in our system. I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work on equality as a pioneer in his party on the subject. He will be aware that we issued guidance on homophobic bullying last September. In fact, I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attended an event with Stonewall a month ago in relation to that.

On the legacy of section 28, does my hon. Friend agree that homophobic bullying is not just a matter of victimising pupils who are gay or lesbian, but about the routine use of the terms “gay” and “lesbian” as forms of abuse? Does he recall that the Select Committee on Education and Skills report on bullying last year placed huge emphasis on the role of head teachers and governing bodies in establishing firm anti-bullying policies in schools? Will he incentivise efforts to stress the importance of that to head teachers and the chairs of their governing bodies?

I am happy to do that, and to confirm what my hon. Friend said. We all agree that relationships in our schools should be based on respect—respect between teachers and pupils, respect between pupils and respect between families and parents who use the school. That is why we issue anti-bullying guidance on all forms of bullying. I am happy to tell the House that in the near future we hope to issue the guidance that we have been developing on tackling the bullying of children with disabilities.