New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
5 March 2015

I’m sorry Tristram Hunt, but careers education won’t make girls more ambitious

Tristram Hunt's plans for careers education for girls won't make us more ambitious - and I should know.

By June Eric-Udorie

At the London Festival of Education,  the Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt made remarks about encouraging girls to be more ambitious with their career choices. He said, “Girls should start careers education from the age of seven to encourage them to become more ambitious”. He then went on to say that this could help them “broaden their horizons” so girls realize that “they can be architects, they can be engineers or they can be doctors”.

I’m sorry Tristram Hunt, but careers education from years three and four (age seven, eight or nine) is not going to solve the problem. The problem is not that girls don’t want to be ambitious. The problem is that girls live in a society where from a ridiculously young age they are bombarded with messages about what girls can or cannot do.

The messages are often detrimental and affect the decisions girls make. When a little girl holds a stethoscope, we assume that she wants to be the nurse, not the doctor. Walking down the aisles of toy shops, you have ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’ and in most situations the boys toys are more adventurous and offer more opportunities for boys, whereas girls toys offer very limited opportunities.

Tristram Hunt is not wholly wrong about the lack of girls reaching the highest positions. Women make up only 17.7 per cent of FTSE 250 directors.  Out of the 650 MPs, in Parliament, only 147 of them are women. Only seven per cent of the engineering workforce are women. Studies have shown that nearly half (46per cent) of the state schools in Britain had no girls studying Physics at A-Level.  Boys make up four out of five entries for physics A-Level.  

And, at my school, there are no girls taking Computer Science for A Level. In one Further Maths class, there are only two girls. We still live in an 80-20 society, however, to suggest that the way to tackle this is to start educating girls from age seven is absurd. Not only because at that age you go through phases where you want to be everything and anything, but because this is an issue that is clearly to do with wider society and how we bring up our daughters.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

What Tristram Hunt should be focusing on is building the confidence and self-esteem of young girls. Instead of careers education, we should educate girls and boys about the dangers of gender stereotypes. From an early age, we should educate and encourage both girls and boys to dream big and discourage the idea that there are certain things you should or shouldn’t do based on your gender. We should stop using harmful and sexist language like “girl sport’ and ‘boy sport’. What exactly is a ‘boy sport’ anyway?

This isn’t just to do with sexism and gender stereotyping.  Apart from the internalized barriers that means girls think, “girls don’t do that” this is an issue to do with representation. I’ve often felt that there were certain things I couldn’t do because I was a girl. My little sister is nine and loves football but questioned whether she could play football because she never saw any female footballers. A friend of mine wanted to be a scientist but felt this was impossible because she’d never seen any black female scientists. I always find it interesting that Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Physics, yet I hardly see her on display in schools. Or Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, an amazing black female space scientist – where is she?

Careers education is not going to solve the root cause of the problem. Girls live in a society that tells them what matters is how you look and where doing something ‘like a girl’ is an insult. We are girls called slags and sluts and the worst thing a boy can be told is he is ‘acting like a girl’. You’re reminded that no matter how ambitious or brilliant you are, it doesn’t matter because you are a girl. At 16, I already have enough careers stress on my plate and that doesn’t need to start earlier. What needs to start earlier is changing the society we live in – so girls can have big ambitions and fulfill them.

Content from our partners
<strong>The future of private credit</strong>
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce