September 1, 2015 / 6:03 PM / in 4 years

UK girls' schools want more female composers, scientists in curriculum

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of top girls’ schools in Britain has launched a campaign to make sure important women in history, science and the arts are included in the curriculum to challenge a “default to men” attitude in schools.

Girls react after collecting their A and AS-level results at Latymer Upper School in London August 20, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The issue was raised by West London student Jessy McCabe, 17, who started a petition calling for more female composers on the music syllabus after realizing that none of the 63 composers featured on her A-level course were women.

She launched the petition after contacting examination board Edexcel and being told that few women had been “prominent in the western classical tradition”.

Girls’ school leaders will publish a list of women they want to be listed for study for future exams, including two-time Nobel laureate Marie Curie, who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, painter Frida Kahlo, and artist Tracy Emin.

Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls’ School Day Trust, a group of independent schools, said there was a real opportunity within education to level the playing field and ensure the achievements of pioneering women were recognized.

“I don’t believe that there is a group of men sitting in the offices of the exam boards saying to themselves ‘how can we exclude women?’... (but) you start to feel that there is a ‘default to men’ wired in to so many of our organizations.”

“Women are excluded, not deliberately, but thoughtlessly,” Fraser said in a statement.

In response to the campaign, several examination boards said they would consider changing next year’s syllabus, which is due to be updated in an effort to make exams more demanding.

Edexcel said it was right to encourage study of the broadest range of composers and performers, and it would consider how best to showcase great composers, both male and female, in its 2016 music exam course.

The OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA) exam board said the gender divide in education would be the subject of a conference later this year.

Reporting By Aldo Cetrullo, Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

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