Gender and attitudes towards religious education in the primary school

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Kungliga Tekniska Hogskola]On: 07 October 2014, At: 22:59Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    British Journal of Religious EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cbre20

    Gender and attitudes towards religious education inthe primary schoolGeraint Davies* aa Trinity College , Carmarthen, UKPublished online: 19 Oct 2010.

    To cite this article: Geraint Davies* (2004) Gender and attitudes towards religious education in the primary school, BritishJournal of Religious Education, 26:1, 85-94, DOI: 10.1080/0141620032000149944

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0141620032000149944

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  • British Journal of Religious Education, Vol. 26, No. 1, March 2004

    ISSN 01416200 (print)/ISSN 17407931 (online)/04/01008510 2004 Christian EducationDOI: 10.1080/0141620032000149944

    *Faculty of Education and Training, Trinity College, Carmarthenshire, SA33 3EP, UK.Email: G.Davies@trinity-cm.ac.uk

    Gender and attitudes towards religious education in the primary schoolGeraint Davies*Trinity College, Carmarthen, UK

    Taylor & Francis L tdCBRE260 108

    10 .1080/01416 200320 001499 44British Jou rn al of Religious EducationResearch ArticleJanu ary 20 03Taylor & Francis L td261114Janu ary 20 03Fa culty of E ducation and TrainingF acu lty of Educatio n and Training , Ca rmarth en shireSA3 3 3EPUKA detailed questionnaire containing a range of questions to assess perceptions of RE and worshipwas completed by 361 of the 577 primary school head teachers employed by the Ceredigion,Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Swansea, Newport and Cardiff Local Education Authorities.While the degree of support for both religious education and worship was found to be similar forboth male and female head teachers significant differences emerged between their views regardingrelated issues. The findings suggest that structural location theory and gender orientation theoryshed some light on the differences in perceptions between male and female head teachers. Thesuggestion is made that these theories might also help to explain why a career in primary schoolteaching is more likely to appeal to females than males.

    Introduction

    The findings of this paper raise a number of questions not only about how sexinfluences opinion about religious education and worship but also how it influencesdecisions regarding entering the profession of teaching in the primary school. Whileit is not claimed that these findings are conclusive, what this paper seeks to do is toraise several issues which impact upon the education of our children which meritfurther research.

    Research tradition

    Numerous studies conducted in different parts of the world have shown conclusivelythat there are significant differences between the levels of religiosity displayed by menand women. Most of these have been quantitative studies which have shown that ina variety of ways women are more religious than men.

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  • 86 G. Davies

    A large body of this research has shown that Christian religious participation in itsdifferent forms is higher among females than among males. Studies reported byArgyle and Beit-Hallahmi (1975), and Gee (1991), have shown that women are morelikely than men to attend church. Studies reported by Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi(1975), Bouma and Dixon (1987), and Tamminen (1996) have shown that femalesare more likely to participate in prayer than males. A study by Harrison (1983) hasrevealed that reading the Bible is more common amongst women than men.

    A number of studies have also shown that there are marked differences in the waythat males and females respond to religious beliefs, concepts and practices. Femalesare more likely than males to claim feelings of being close to God (Greeley, 1992), tohold traditional beliefs (Harding et al., 1986), and to claim to derive comfort fromreligion (Abrams, 1985). Among schoolchildren, girls have been found to have morepositive attitudes towards religion than boys (Hyde, 1965, 1990; Turner; 1970;Greer, 1972; Francis, 1987). Significant differences have also been found in thereligious emphases of girls and boys with regard to religious activity and participation,religious experiences, religious beliefs, religious thinking, concept of the Bible, imageof God, concept of prayer and existential questions (Tamminen, 1996).

    Over the years several theories have been proposed to account for these genderdifferences. According to Kay and Francis (1996) these can be divided into fivegroups. The first group, described as sex-role socialization theories, argue that men andwomen in westernised societies are brought up with distinct ideals and values.According to this view, males and females behave in different ways because of thedifferent ways they are socialized by society.

    The second group of theories, called structural-location theories, come in two forms.The first form claims that women show higher degrees of religiosity because they seethemselves as role models for their children. Accordingly, mothers try to provide agood example for their children by being church-orientated. The second argues thatwomen display higher degrees of religiosity because their differing role within theworkplace provides them with more opportunities to become religious.

    The third group, described as gender-orientation theory, is based on the notions offeminine and masculine orientations of personality. According to this theory, differinglevels of religiosity are to be explained not by gender but by gender orientation. Bothmales and females display different levels of masculinity and femininity. In general,males display higher than average levels of masculinity while females display higherthan average levels of femininity. Religion tends to appeal more to people who scorehigh in femininity and is thus more likely to be appealing to women rather than men.

    The fourth group, described as depth-psychological theories, is based on the Freudiantheory that within monotheistic religions God is modelled after the father and that thediffering gender responses to religion can be explained by the differing genderresponses to the father figure. Thus it is argued that since females tend to have a closerrelationship with their fathers it is easier for them to associate with God the Father.

    The fifth group, described as personality theories, focus on the personality differencesbetween males and females in areas indirectly related to religion. These theories arguethat religion provides answers to negative feelings and states of mind such as guilt,

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  • Gender and attitudes in the primary school 87

    frustration, submissiveness and dependency. Since these are more characteristic ofwomen than men, it follows that religion is more likely to appeal to the females.

    The work of Kay and Francis (1996), based on 25 years of research into attitudestowards Christianity during childhood and adolescence, concluded that sex differencesin religiosity are best explained by gender-orientation theories and personality theories.However, they felt that sex-role socialization theories needed further exploration withinan interdisciplinary framework. In a nutshell, they argued that having more negativeattitudes toward religion was not a phenomenon so much characteristic of men as aphenomenon characteristic of individuals who emphasise the personality characteris-tics of masculinity at the expense of the personality characteristics of femininity (p. 21).

    The present study seeks to take the above discussion forward by exploring genderdifferences in head teachers perceptions of religious education and worship in theprimary school. Given that women display more positive attitudes towards religionthan men, it seeks to find answers to several questions. First, do female head teachersdisplay a higher degree of religiosity than their male counterparts? Second, do malehead teachers exhibit less positive attitudes towards religion in the primary schoolthan female head teachers? Third, do male head teachers display less positive atti-tudes towards acts of worship within the school context than female head teachers?Fourth, in what ways does gender affect perceptions about the content and presenta-tion of religious education and worship within the primary school? Fifth, do thetheories discussed above contribute in any way to our understanding of head teachersperceptions of religion in the primary school?

    Method

    Sample

    A detailed questionnaire was sent out to every primary school head teacher employedby the mainly rural Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire EducationAuthorities and the mainly urban Swansea, Newport and Cardiff Local EducationAuthorities. Of the 577 questionnaires sent out, 361 were returned, making a responserate of 62.5%. The respondents included 143 males (39.6%) and 218 females(60.4%). Two hundred and two (56.0%) were based in town or city schools, and 159(44.0%) were based in rural or village schools. The ages of the respondents were clas-sified into three groups. The youngest group comprised 62 (17.2%) respondents aged3039, the middle group comprised 155 respondents (42.9%) aged 4049 and theoldest group comprised 144 (39.9%) aged 5059. Sixty of the respondents (16.7%)were responsible for church schools, while the other 301 were responsible for countyschools. The 60 church schools included Church in Wales voluntary controlled,Church in Wales voluntary aided and Roman Catholic voluntary aided schools.

    Questionnaire

    Part one of the questionnaire asked the respondents to provide information aboutthemselves, including their sex and levels of church attendance. The majority of these

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  • 88 G. Davies

    questions were asked by means of multiple-choice questions. Part two of the ques-tionnaire asked for a response on a range of issues, including: whether children shouldbe taught what to believe; good practice in religious education; the content and presen-tation of religious education; the religious education syllabus; teaching world religions;which faiths should be taught; and the content of school worship. The survey soughtto ascertain whether the sex of the respondents had any influence over their levels ofchurch attendance and their religious attitudes. It was also designed to gather data toshow how sex impacts upon views about issues related to religious education.

    Data analysis

    The data were analysed by means of the SPSS statistical package (SPSS Inc., 1998).The statistics are based on the agree and strongly agree categories which weremerged together for the purposes of this study.

    Results and discussion

    Several issues emerge from this study.First, the figures show that as a group, the primary school head teachers in this

    sample are more closely associated with the church than is the case among thepopulation as a whole. Almost two-fifths (39%) attend church regularly (comparedto 7.9% of the population as a whole, see Brierley, 1999). However, no significantdifferences can be seen in the levels of church attendance of the sexes. If, as gender-orientation theory suggests, there is a positive relationship between religiosity andpsychological femininity, then it would follow that a significant number of primaryschool head teachers of both sexes would score highly on a femininity scale. Thishypothesis seems to be supported by the fact that teaching in the primary school is aprofession that attracts significantly more females than males. There is a suggestionin the figures that the males who are attracted to the profession are likely to scorehigher in psychological femininity than the majority of the male population. Severalstudies (for example, Francis, 1991) have shown that male clergy display higher levelsof psychological femininity than the general population. Further research needs to beundertaken to establish whether this is also true of males in the teaching profession.

    Second, no significant differences emerge between the views of male and femalehead teachers regarding the desirability of teaching religious education and holdingacts of worship in the primary school. The support for both of these aspects of schoollife is high in both cases. Almost all male and female head teachers believe thatreligious education should be taught in the primary school (97% and 96% respec-tively). Similarly, at least nine-tenths of male and female head teachers also feel thatworship should be conducted in school (90% and 94% respectively). Whilst thereseem to be more positive attitudes toward religion amongst females than males in thepopulation as a whole, views about religion in school engender similar positiveresponses from head teachers of both genders.

    However, when the views of head teachers regarding particular aspects of religionin school life are examined, it can be seen that there are significant differences

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  • Gender and attitudes in the primary school 89

    between the sexes. As Table 1 shows, when asked whether pupils should be taughtwhat to believe, female head teachers were more likely to support a confessional typeof religious education than male head teachers. Two statements, in particular,highlighted this difference of emphasis. Female head teachers were more likelythan male head teachers to claim that pupils should be taught that the Bible was true(48% compared to 38%) and that they should be taught to say the Lords Prayer(87% compared to 76%).

    Table 2 shows that male and female head teachers have a different emphasis in theway they feel that the subject should be taught. Making use of the childrens ownexperiences, and in particular their experiences of religion, and extending thisthrough role-play, is given higher priority by female head teachers (95% compared to82%; 92% compared to 83% and 94% compared to 82% respectively).

    Similar findings emerge in Table 3, which suggests that female head teachers valuea broader religious education programme than male head teachers. Thus, they displaymore favourable views about the use of stories from other faiths (87% compared to75%) and the use of secular stories (83% compared to 75%). The use of religiousartefacts is also more likely to be favoured by female than by male head teachers (97%compared to 90%). The figures suggest that while female head teachers welcomemore traditional outcomes to the teaching of the subject, they are more inclined towant the content and the teaching approach to be broader.

    The findings of Table 4 provide further evidence that female head teachers place ahigher value on a broader type of religious education than male head teachers. Whenasked what should included within the religious education syllabus, male and femalehead teachers are likely to place a similar value on the cognitive aspects of the subject.

    Table 1. Should children be taught what to believe?

    Primary school children should be taught Male % Female % X2 P

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