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Gender Bias is a prevalent issue relating to SEND identification across the globe. Following analysis of SEND data over a two-year period at Ranches Primary School in Dubai it can be seen how this effect is being reflected in Dubai’s Educational Landscape.

UNESCO has found that globally the ratio of identified SEND needs has a male: female ratio of 3:1.

This effect is even more pronounced in the Arab educational sphere and has been a source of hot conversation in recent years.

This is reflected in the current case study where a ratio of 4:1 male to female is represented in identifying SEND needs.

These findings have been represented in an array of studies worldwide leading to a very relevant question:

 What could be contributing to this bias? 

There are a number of contributing factors but according to research, fortunately, many of them can be tackled to reduce their effect,

“gender bias among referring agents is a major factor in the unequal distribution of males and females in learning disabilities programs” Anderson (1997).

Cultural bias 

As much as we, as teachers, parents and stakeholders may think otherwise, research shows that our identification of needs is influenced by cultural bias against girls.

  • boys may be seen as destined to become breadwinners and so given priority in schooling (Rousso, 2000).
  • identifying girls with disabilities may reduce the chances of getting married (Fahd et. al, 1997) and so affects the willingness to identify.

 Biological bias 

  • Higher rates (among boys) of foetal mortality, postnatal mortality, complications during pregnancy/childbirth and congenital malformations (Eme, 1984).
  • Boys mature more slowly than girls (Nass, 1993). This may impact on their adaptability to the educational environment.
  • Genetic link to autism?  Recent research (e.g. Werling and Geschwind, 2012) has suggested that the absence of a second X chromosome in males could render them more susceptible to autism.

Behavioural bias 

  • Boys who are frustrated academically ‘act out’ (Oswald et al., 2003), tend to be physical in class and express themselves verbally, this is more visible than silent behaviours.
  • Girls tend to internalise their feelings and work harder to please; girls experiencing anxiety issues tend to remain silent (Biederman et al., 2002).
  • These qualities may skew the numbers and imply boys have higher incidences of emotional behavioural difficulties.
  • ‘Good behaviour’ is appraised differently for boys and girls. Girls tend to be deemed as well behaved when they are quiet whereas boys are deemed to be naturally more boisterous.

These biases are disproportionally greatest among children aged 5-11, during which rates for boys surge (Philips, 1982).

So What? 

Be aware!

Pay close attention to girls in your class who are quieter or disengaged and think ‘Why?’

Be mindful of the typical gender biased stereotypical behaviours we look for in boys and girls.

Analyse your own referrals- are there disproportionately more boys than girls, is this a true reflection of the cohort?

Ask yourself some key questions:

Do I encourage and empower boys and girls equally?

What kinds of praise do you use, does it differ for boys and girls? What kind of tasks do you ask boys and girls to participate in, take leadership of?

Do I offer equal talking and listening time to both girls and boys?

Take a  specified period of time in your day, 15-20 mins and have a colleague to track your talk time with boys and girls to see if your typical interactions differ, raising awareness is the first step toward change.

Is there a balanced representation of the characters in my class library?

Very regularly there is an overrepresentation of male characters in children’s books, this is an easy change to make.

By raising awareness, perhaps, we can work toward reducing this gender gap and promote a more equal distribution for SEND intervention.



Denise Frawley, Selina McCoy and Joanne Banks (ESRI) (2015) Bold Boys and Good Girls? The Gender Gap in Special Educational Needs in Irish Primary Schools 

Harilyn Rousso (2000) EDUCATION FOR ALL: A GENDER AND DISABILITY PERSPECTIVE, CSW, Disabilities Unlimited 

Kristen G. Anderson (1997) Gender Bias and Special Education Referrals 

Annals of Dyslexia Vol. 47 (1997), pp. 151-162 Published by  Springer Stable URL:   

By: Catherine O’Farrell