The Association for Science Education
  1. Home
  2. Resources
  3. Welcome to Sci-Tutors
  4. Professional issues
  5. P1.1 Ethnicity and Gender Issues in Science

P1.1 Ethnicity and Gender Issues in Science


This article stresses the importance of ensuring that trainees have access to appropriate ideas and resources to enable them to engage with ethnicity and gender issues. An introduction to the legal framework is provided together with examples of course related activities and resources. These have been used in both primary and secondary training programmes.
Standards: The issues raised in this section permeate the teaching agenda but they are aspecially relevant to: Q1, Q2, Q3, Q6, Q10, Q15, Q18, Q19, Q20, Q21, Q25 & Q29.
Key words: Inclusion, Ethnicity, Gender, Equality


1.0 Introduction
2.0 Legal Framework
3.0 Organising Sessions
3.1 Secondary
3.2 Primary
4.0 Reading
5.0 Standards
6.0 Useful Organisations

1.0 Introduction

Trainees need not only to be exposed to the underlying arguments but also to be furnished with ideas and resources that will allow them to engage with this agenda. Here we cover issues of ethnicity, race awareness and learning through English as an Additional Language (EAL) from a specific science point of view. For a more general overview of issues please visit either of two recently developed PRNs (Professional Resource Networks). Mulitverse, as its name implies, deals with ethnic diversity, and NALDIC is the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum - working for pupils with English as an Additional Language.

Underlying Arguments
Reg Dennick Writing in the School Science Review (1992) concluded that 'most schools now accept that a multicultural curriculum must go hand in hand with an antiracist policy and the polarity between these views is gradually diminishing. Nevertheless, it is the recognition of racism and ethnocentrism in science that makes antiracist science education of fundamental importance. Not only should antiracist science teaching adequately challenge racist ideology in the classroom from a powerful scientific base but it should also make people aware of the global economic and ecological connections between different peoples of the planet.'

'Hoyle (1995) [Race Equality and science teaching, in Hull, R (ed) ASE Science Teachers' Handbook, Cheltenham, Stanley Thornes.] stated that 'All aspects of the culture and ethnicity of pupils need to be recognised, valued and used if all our young people are truly to benefit from and have equality of access to education.'

What needs to be remembered here is that all pupils have a culture and an ethnicity. This latter aspect has been defined by Roxy Harris of King's College as groups with shared:

  • Language
  • History
  • Ancestry (real or imagined)
  • Religion
  • Dress and decoration
  • Physical characteristics

The interrelations between these areas make this a complex area.

Ross, Lakin and McKechnie (2010) in their book Teaching Secondary Science - Constructing Meaning and Developing Understandingmake the point (p212) that 'when teaching we need to remember that racism remains a powerful force in our society, affecting pupils' attitudes and the way that they learn.' It also needs to be borne in mind that the prejudices that underlie racism affect teachers too. It is important therefore that training enables participants to reflect on their own beliefs and practice.

This is not an easy task. Trainees need not only to be exposed to the underlying arguments but also to be furnished with ideas and resources that will allow them to engage with this agenda.

Engaging with the agenda
This area lies firmly within the inclusion agenda and as such underpins much of the work that we as teacher trainers and educators do. To this end we must consider both the pedagogical implications, and the legal base and issues of recruitment of minority ethnic trainees in the first place.

The TDA have produced a report - Ethnicity and the Professional Socialisation of Teachers - which addresses this issue to some extent.

2.0 The Legal Framework

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a statutory duty on public authorities. This means that everybody 'shall, in carrying out …functions, have due regard to the need:

  • To eliminate unlawful racial discrimination;
  • To promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups.

There are specific duties laid down by the act. For example there is a specific requirement for schools to maintain a written Race Equality policy. This must be formulated in such a way that it deals explicitly with race equality and must promote this equality and tackle discrimination. In doing this the policy must take a proactive approach to the issue, building race equality into the mainstream.

Institutional racism is defined in the MacPherson report as:

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.' Thus racism as 'conduct or words which advantage or disadvantage people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin' is not just the rabid sort of racism which manifests itself in violent attack, rather it causes lowering of expectations and sins of omission that only careful reflection and constant challenge can address. 'in its more subtle form it is as damaging as in its overt form.

3.0 Organising Sessions

  • Issues that will need to be addressed with trainees include:
  • The legislative framework;
  • Differential patterns of achievement and expectations of pupils within different communities
  • Factors affecting pupil achievement
  • What equality and inclusion means in terms of schools and individual practice. For example,
    • Using appropriate resources
    • Presentation of a broad and balanced view of cultures
    • Challenging assumptions
    • Using a global perspective
    • Creating an open climate.

The general guidance for teachers provided on the QCDA website makes the point that it is important to challenge stereotypes and to introduce critical perspectives into discussion of diversity. This is seen as being central to effective practice in anti racist and multicultural education. It may be useful to set up specific scenarios for discussion between trainees. These could be constructed around the type of comments that trainees are likely to come across in the science classroom, the staff room or around the school.

Clay and George (2002 in Ellis (ed) Learning and Teaching in Secondary Schools Learning Matters) offer up three such scenarios as well as producing a useful agenda for a discussion between two trainees, including such statements as 'the classroom can be seen as a microcosm of society' and 'challenging inequalities (and supporting young people to do the same) is the responsibility of the teacher through the formal, informal and hidden aspects of the school.' Thus alongside a consideration of content there needs to be some appreciation of the implicit value positions that will be held by themselves, their colleagues and their pupils.

Driver et al's (1996) work on children's views of how science works led to the conclusion that the dominant perception of science was as a white, male dominated activity. Clay and George (2002) point out that the monitoring of targets and testing at end of key stages as the mechanism to drive up standards '…recognises and privileges the view that differences in attainment alone prevents individuals and groups from participating fully in the social, political and economic spheres, [this] is highly problematic and contentious.' This point is explored further by Michael Reiss in the chapter 'The nature of Science - What is Science' inTeaching Science in Secondary Schools (Amos and Boohan (2002) (eds) OU/Routledge Farmer).

Alsop and Hicks (2001) make the point that 'whatever happens in the world outside of schools, the key points… are to examine some of the causes of these divisions in and around science classrooms, and to explore just how the science teacher can make a difference.'

This can be used to inform some structured observation within the school setting. Within their book - Teaching Science - a handbook for primary and secondary school teachers - Alsop and Hicks lay out several useful observation tasks. Admittedly some of these focus on the equal opportunities issues relating to gender but the modification to issues of ethnicity can be easily made.

These observation tasks are grouped under the following headings:

  • Classroom time
  • Expectation and achievement
  • Test results
  • Categorising learners
  • Preferred learning styles

Case studies of practice within secondary and primary training are included.

3.1 Secondary

The material within the secondary case study has been kindly provided by Aftab Gujral of St Martin's College Lancaster. The issues associated with ethnicity are placed within a wider equal opportunities agenda and so some of the material refers to gender.

Aftab writes:

'My lecture on equal opportunities (see download 3.1a) was a 3 hour session with Secondary PGCE students. It was designed to help trainees to write down a statement about their view of science, to act as an awareness raising exercise to look at inequalities in society, to get them to talk about their own experiences and consider how schools might unwittingly discriminate against girls/ boys / different minority groups. It also acted to raise some practical considerations (see download 3.1b).

The support material for this session consisted of a reading list and a list of websites where the trainees could get materials about women scientists and scientists from other culture. If I was doing it again, I might get them to research a particular scientist and do a short presentation / prepare an A4 paper on him / her and then photocopy these all out and give each person one or produce a webpage.'

EAL, Punjabi and the Plane Makers

'The plane making exercise was used with all of our PGCE trainees. The idea was to make them feel what it was like to be in a lesson and not understand the language which was being used for teaching. We then moved on to show them some strategies that could be used to help pupils who did not know the language.

One of the questions they were asked to consider was how they could make sure that pupils in their lessons were achieving something and how they could improve their own lessons to make sure that they were accessible. It was also to get across the point that just because a pupil did not speak a language, it did not mean that s/he was of a lower ability. This it did very successfully because they are all graduates and all but a handful of them did not achieve anything when the instructions were in Punjabi speech alone. It made them very frustrated and threatened. They commented that they knew they were good / intelligent but the first 5 minutes had been very difficult

The session worked like this. The trainees came into the hall, my colleague, Alan Childs, did his introduction in Punjabi, which was followed by my input in Punjabi on how to build a paper aeroplane, firstly just speech, secondly speech and demonstration and thirdly with speech, demonstration and OHT. So for the first 15 - 20 minutes nobody spoke any English. Some of the trainees obviously found this threatening / uncomfortable and one of them actually asked out loud what the point was. He was asked to wait until the end and listen patiently. During the discussion it was useful to have mixed groups as they could challenge each other and talk about their own experiences. Our Modern Linguists (PGCEs) were brilliant and jumped on anyone who they thought was being obstructive, silly or unco-operative. This was followed by Alan's input from his Power Point (see download 3.1c). The trainees were allowed to comment through this. They then broke up into subject groups and carried on their discussions with their tutors.

We wrote up this exercise for a journal, the paper (see download 3.1d) is also included.

3.2 Primary

In primary science there are many opportunities to include a multicultural dimension and to provide this by encouraging children from other cultures to share their knowledge to inform other pupils. The comments in download 3.2a have been collected through working with mainly Asian pupils in the East and West Midlands. Consequently the points can only provide some initial suggestions.

The children may need a lot of confidence before admitting to having this specialist knowledge. For example, in a student project on diet with a group of children, all from different ethnic groups, the children initially only gave answers that included examples of western diets. They did not talk about other diets until the student showed them word and picture prompters that included typical examples of foods they were known to eat at home (see Download 3.2a).

The International Nature of Science - Stereotypical view of third world countries
Graham and Lynn (1989) report that it is common for infants and immature juniors to have a stereotypical view of people from Third World countries who they think of being hunter-gatherers. This view was so strongly held that the children in their study rejected the idea that modern urban areas occur in these countries. Reassuringly the writers reported that this image was less noticeable in schools with a large proportion of black pupils and/or where the school was actively encouraging pluralistic attitudes, as this implies that these views can be questioned and altered. Consequently trainees need to be alert to opportunities to show the advantages of Third World cultures in a realistic way.

Stereotypical view of scientists
As part of developing an international view of science it is important that all children appreciate that scientists come from all over the world and that all children can have an equal expectation of achieving success in scientific work. At present there is a very strong Eurocentric view of science. However, more material is becoming available that enables trainees and teachers to show children work of non-Caucasian scientists.

Work of Chinese and Islamic scientists of the past and recent contributions of Americans, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Russian scientists can be used as part of literacy work on biographies. These biographies might include:

Elijah McCoy, the inventor of a device for lubricating locomotive engines which was so good buyers only wanted this system so they would ask "Is it the real McCoy?", could be mentioned in studies about transport.

Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) a black American, invented a breathing devise to enable firemen to enter a house filled with suffocating smoke (1912) traffic lights in the 1930s.

Granville Woods (1856-1910) a black American produced a large number of electrical appliances. When he died he had 60 patents on systems and devices for the control and distribution of electricity. He set up an overhead conducting system for electric railways in which a pole from the train or trolley drew the electricity needed from a power line above (1888). He also invented the third rail now in use in subway systems, an egg incubator heated by electricity controlled by means of an electric thermo-stat. (Haber L., 1970).

Charles Drew (1904-1950) found a way of storing blood. He was in a car accident and was rushed to a hospital which was using his discoveries but they would not take black people. He died.

Further material can be found in T. Jarvis and L. Rennie (2000) Helping Primary Children Understand Science and Technology SCIcentre: Leicester.


  • Graham J. and Lynn S. (1989) 'Mud huts and flints: Children's images of the Third World', Education 3-13, Volume 17, Number 2.
  • Haber L (1970) Black Pioneers of Science and Invention USA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Section developed by T. Jarvis University of Leicester

4.0 Reading

Click the downloadable file for the reading list (see download 4a)

5.0 Standards

This area provides an important dimension to almost the full range of the 'Q' standards but most particularly:

Q1: Have high expectations of children and young people including a commitment to ensuring that they can achieve their full educational potential and to establishing fair, respectful, trusting, supportive and constructive relationships with them.

Q2: Demonstrate the positive values, attitudes and behaviour they expect from children and young people.

Q3: (a) Be aware of the professional duties of teachers and the statutory framework within which they work.

      (b) Be aware of the policies and practices of the workplace and share in collective responsibility for their implementation.

Q6: Have a commitment to collaboration and co-operative working.

Q10: Have a knowledge and understanding of a range of teaching, learning and behaviour management strategies and know how to use and adapt them, including how to personalise learning and provide opportunities or all learners to achieve their potential.

Q15: Know and understand the relevant statutory and non-statutory curricula and frameworks, including those provided through the National Strategies, for their subjects/curriculum areas, and other relevant initiatives applicable to the age and ability range for which they are trained.

Q18: Understand how children and young people develop and that the progress and well-being of learners are affected by a range of developmental, social, religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic influences.

Q19: Know how to make effective personalised provision for those they teach, including those for whom English is an additional language or who have special educational needs or disabilities, and how to take practical account of diversity and promote equality and inclusion in their teaching.

Q20: Know and understand the roles of colleagues with specific responsibilities, including those with responsibility for learners with special educational needs and disabilities and other individual learning needs.

Q21: (a) Be aware of the current legal requirements, national policies and guidance on the safeguarding and promotion of the well-being of children and young people.

        (b) Know how to identify and support children and young people whose progress, development or well-being is affected by changes or difficulties in their personal circumstances, and when to refer them to colleagues for specialist support.

Q25: Teach lessons and sequences of lessons across the age and ability range for which they are trained in which they:

        (a) use a range of teaching strategies and resources, including e-learning, taking practical account of diversity and promoting equality and inclusion

        (b) build on prior knowledge, develop concepts and processes, enable learners to apply new knowledge, understanding and skills and meet learning objectives

        (c) adapt their language to suit the learners they teach, introducing new ideas and concepts clearly, and using explanations, questions, discussions and plenaries effectively

        (d) demonstrate the ability to manage the learning of individuals, groups and whole classes, modifying their teaching to suit the stage of the lesson.

Q29: Evaluate the impact of their teaching on the progress of all learners, and modify their planning and classroom practice where necessary.

6.0 Useful organisations


The ASE has a well defined policy on Race, Equality and Science Teaching. It has produced a number of resources which are of relevance to this area of study including two excellent publications on multi-cultural science entitled 'Race, Equality and Science Teaching'. The first is an INSET manual for teachers and educators, the second is a handbook. ASE's Global dimension - highlights key teaching issues, offers links to key organisations, and pulls together hot issues from the news that have a global dimension. There are links to sources of guidance and support for this area as well as suggestions for learning activities and resources.

The Commission for Racial Equality

The Commission for Racial Equality is a publicly funded, non-governmental body set up under the Race Relations Act 1976 to tackle racial discrimination and promote racial equality. They work in both the public and private sectors to encourage fair treatment and to promote equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of their race, colour, nationality, or national or ethnic origin.

  • They provide information and advice to people who think they have suffered racial discrimination or harassment.
  • They work with public bodies, businesses, and organisations from all sectors to promote policies and practices that will help to ensure equal treatment for all.
  • They run campaigns to raise awareness of race issues, and encourage organisations and individuals to play their part in creating a just society.
  • We make sure that all new laws take full account of the Race Relations Act and the protection it gives against discrimination.

National Strategy

From the original Key Stage 3 Strategy is a Guidance document - Access and engagement in science - Teaching pupils for whom English is an additional language. This document is downloadable from their website.

This guidance focuses on how the principles of the Key Stage 3 National Strategy applied to the teaching and learning of science for pupils for whom English is an additional language (known as 'pupils learning EAL'). It suggests some strategies to help teach pupils at different points of learning English.


Ofsted have produced a number of relevant documents on this issue. Each is available to download from


The QCA website gives background to the inclusion agenda and its place within various policy and framework areas. These are then developed into practical responses within schools and within specific subject areas.

This unit authored by: Neil Herrington, UEL London
Additional help provided by:

  • Aftab Gujral, St Martin's Lancaster (secondary)
  • Tina Jarvis, University of Leicester (primary)

Published: 11 Jun 2007
Last Updated: 11 Jun 2007