gold coast school

The Gold Coast Schoolyard: A Crossroads of Gender Equity

Setting the scene for gender equity in education

Australia has made significant progress with respect to gender equity over the last century, yet there remains much more work to be done. The most recent report by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency suggests that a 21.7% gender pay gap persists between women and men. And despite being known as the lucky country, statistics reveal that 1 in 6 women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner (compared to 1 in 18 for men).

While issues of payment and violence rightly capture significant media attention, there are many forms of everyday discrimination that reflect beliefs about gender. Schools play a major role in determining what is considered ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ for different bodies and people and communicate these beliefs through diverse policies and practices. These can range from policies about eligibility for enrolment, uniform requirements, expectations on subject choice and career pathways, to opportunities for participation in various forms of ‘extracurricular’ activity, the resources and curriculum material used to support learning, assumptions made about preferred ‘learning styles’, and, of course, day-to-day interactions with staff and students. Some students encounter school environments with strictly enforced rules relating to where different genders are allowed to be and what they are allowed to wear. All of this contributes to a wider cultural environment that sees gender as some kind of oppositional construct: where men and women are seen as different and, by extension, both likely to experience and expect different opportunities and treatment.

Overcoming this historical barrier requires work at every level and in every context. If the goal is to achieve a school system where gender equality is pursued through policies and practices enabled by frameworks that allow for representation and redistribution, we need to be willing to look at the current state of play. Schools are incredibly complex places, but one of the first points of contact for many parents and students is their website. Like every text, a school website sends overt and covert messages. It tells us what the school values and who the school values. We can look at a website and ask questions such as; Who is included/excluded? Who is valued/devalued? What is shown as natural or normal? Who is missing? Who is shown as abnormal? Who is celebrated? Are there differences in terms of the rewards offered by gender?

Schools represent our best hope for sowing the seeds today for a better society tomorrow. This study represents the first of its kind in exploring the public-facing data relating to schools’ positions on key gender equity indicators in Gold Coast schools. It seeks to quantify the comparative degree to which schools champion equity, allowing children to freely express themselves, or whether they cling to outdated norms and gender stereotypes.


We examined the websites of 114 schools located in the Gold Coast region, as defined by the ABS SA4 Gold Coast delimitation. We developed a 20-point objective test to assess the existing level of gendered practices within these schools’ online material and websites. Each of the 20 points was scored depending on whether the school materials indicated gender bias, provided insufficient information for assessment, or demonstrated gender neutrality. The chosen criteria can be categorised into 5 themes: mental health, uniform and appearance, operations, activity, and inclusivity.[1]

  • Mental health: assessed if schools have any relevant accreditation or affiliation based on gender equality, such as White Ribbon, if schools’ materials mention respectful relationships, and if the curriculum includes education about gender and consent.
  • Uniform and appearance: this dimension examined if the dress code and uniform guidelines apply equally to all genders, allow for gender-neutral options, whether girls can wear shorts and boys’ kilts or skirts, and if the sports uniform is the same for all genders.
  • Operations: assessed if the school mentions equality or equity in their mission, vision, or values, if there are explicit mentions of gender equity or equality on the school website and policies, and if there is gender diversity in the operational leadership team.
  • Activities: studied if schools participate in campaigns or initiatives that promote gender equity, such as Wear It Purple Day, if they implement respectful relationships or similar programs and the opportunities for participation in various forms of curricular and extracurricular activities, such as sports, STEM programs, and arts.
  • Inclusivity: examined the language used on schools’ websites, newsletter, and online material, the use of nonbinary gender references, acknowledgment of nonbinary and transgender students, and if gender references are included when encouraging parental involvement (is it more focused on mothers/female guardians). Finally, whether the school provides gender-neutral bathroom facilities.

[1] We undertook a content analysis study where we systematically evaluated the content of these schools’ websites and online materials. The scoring criteria were rigorously applied to each school, ensuring a fair and consistent evaluation process by cross-checking the analysis by two senior consultants, with no conflict of interest with any of the assessed schools. Data was manually collated during December, 2023 and January, 2024.

The Spectrum of schools: from leaders to resistors

The data unveiled a spectrum of performances among the schools. However, these results are open to various interpretations. Some schools might deliberately align with traditional representations of masculinity and femininity, seeing it as appropriate and desirable to convey this alignment through website imagery and policies. On the other hand, certain schools may have embarked on the journey of gender reform but have yet to fully confront the myriad public-facing challenges, resulting in a discrepancy between their professed values and the representations they project. It is also possible that some schools have a bespoken commitment to gender equity that is reflected in more comprehensive, consistent, and transformative practices.

Regardless of the underlying reasons for each school’s performance, we categorised the schools into four distinct clusters—leaders, followers, laggards, and resistors- based on the levels of commitment to gender equity practices they exhibited within the areas we studied.

Leaders: Schools in this tier present at the forefront of gender equity, characterised by progressive uniform policies and high performance in the dimensions of mental health and activities. Mudgeeraba State School, Robina State High School and Coombabah State School standout, showcasing their commitment through equitable dress codes and a proactive approach to embracing student diversity.

Close on the heels of the leaders, followers weaken in the uniform and appearance and operations dimensions, especially because of the lack of gender equity references on their website and online material and the lack of diversity in their leadership teams. Examples of schools in this cluster include Broadbeach State School, Biggera Waters State School, and Ashmore State

Laggards: These institutions demonstrate commitment to certain aspects of gender equity, like the criteria around mental health, but also exhibit signs of conservatism, especially in the operations and uniform dimensions, resulting in even lower average scores than the followers. Nerang State School, St Kevin’s School and Burleigh Heads State School are some of the schools that were assigned to this group.

Resistors: Positioned at the lowest end of the spectrum, resistors are schools which showed very little commitment to gender
equity in all dimensions assessed, with gendered dress code policies, unequal access to activities and no apparent education around gender and consent. Kings Christian College, A B Paterson College and Somerset College are among the schools in this cluster.

Table 1. Performance clusters


The crossroads: government vs. non-government schools

Figure 2-3

A striking disparity emerges between government and non-government schools in their approach to gender equity, with the former significantly outperforming the latter in the assessed measures. Government schools scored an average of 9.83 points out of the 20 criteria assessed whilst nongovernment schools achieved an average of 2. This suggests that the influence of governance structures and public policy could be playing a pivotal role in advancing gender equity in public education.

In fact, 62% of the non-government schools assessed were classified into the resistors group, and 81% fall either into the resistors or laggards’ groups; the two with the lowest performance. Conversely, in government schools, only 8% are in the resistors group, and more than half are in the highest two groups.

The study outlines a narrative where public institutions seem to have a strong performance on the mental health, activities and uniform dimensions, by offering broader access to activities, gender neutral uniform options, hair policies that apply equally to all genders, implementation of respectful relationship programs, and use of nonbinary gender references on the school material.

Meanwhile, private schools appear to adhere to a more traditional, perhaps outdated, script, scoring poorly in every category assessed by this study, but specially in the criteria regarding uniform and appearance.

Faith and flexibility: religious affiliation’s role in gender policies

Figure 4-5

When breaking down the performance of schools based on their religious affiliation, non-denominational schools predictably emerged as the frontrunners in gender equity. However, the unexpected revelation came from catholic schools, which secured the second-best position, with scores closely trailing those of non-denominational schools. Mother Teresa Primary School, St Brigid’s Catholic Primary School, and St Vincent Primary School earned spots in the ‘leaders’ cluster, while St Joseph’s College and Star of the Sea School landed in the ‘followers’ group. This notable achievement makes catholic schools the only ones with a religious affiliation to reach these two higher clusters alongside non-denominational schools, challenging the long-standing anecdotal stereotype of the “strict catholic school”.

The high overall performance of catholic schools is primarily driven by their high performance in the mental health and activities criteria. Meanwhile, their non-denominational counterparts excel in the same areas but further distinguish themselves with their commitment to equity and inclusiveness of their uniform and appearance policies.

The age of equity: gender equity by school type

Figure 6

The analysis comparing primary, secondary, and combined schools reveals that primary and secondary schools exhibited almost identical performance on average. However, a stark contrast is seen with combined schools, which notably lag behind. In fact, 77% of combined schools fall into the resistors group. This trend becomes more understandable when considering that 90% of combined schools are non-governmental, which we already discovered appear as underperforming.

Examples of combined, non-governmental schools classified within the resistors group include The Southport School, All Saints Anglican School and St Andrews Lutheran College.

Figure 7

Unlike their counterparts, combined schools often do not offer gender-neutral uniforms and exhibit inflexibility in uniforms for both boys and girls, alongside maintaining gendered hair policies. This dimension, more than any other, underscores the significant gap in gender equity practices between combined schools and their primary and secondary school peers.

The singular challenge: single-sex schools

Figure 8-9

Among the schools we examined, only four schools are single-sex institutions: Men of Business Academy, St Hilda’s School, The Southport School and Toogoolawa School. It comes as no surprise that the overall performance of this group was markedly low, with all four schools being classified into the resistors cluster.

This finding highlights the inherent challenges that single-sex schools encounter in promoting an inclusive and equitable learning environment. We observe that areas like uniform and appearance, activities, and inclusivity score extremely low among this group because offering ungendered options presents a real challenge and can even seem counterintuitive.

Despite perceived limitations in enabling gender equity, these institutions possess the unique capability to enhance their educational focus on respectful relationships, gender, and consent. Such initiatives could serve as critical steps towards improving their inclusivity and, subsequently, their overall contribution to fostering gender equity.

Triumphs and trials

Reasons for optimism

The study highlights admirable achievements across schools, offering hope for further progress. A standout success is seen in the inclusivity dimension, where it was found that 90% of schools actively promote parental involvement without gender references, seemingly encouraging both mothers and fathers to participate in the school community. Also, 80% of schools mention respectful relationships in their school material. However, it is important to note that government schools are mandated to implement respectful relationship programs, rendering this finding somewhat expected rather than exceptional. Additionally, in the domain of the uniform and appearance, an encouraging 83% of schools have adopted a single sports uniform policy, simplifying dress codes in a way that can support gender equity.

More work to be done

Despite these positive strides, the results also revealed significant areas needing improvement. Only 42% of the assessed schools boast leadership teams that reflect gender balance and merely 31% include concepts of equity, equality or inclusion in their school’s mission or value statements. This indicates a need for a more concerted effort to embed gender equity into the very fabric of school governance, strategy and ethos.

In terms of inclusivity, the adoption of language that acknowledges nonbinary and transgender students on school’s website, newsletters, or materials, is disappointingly low, observed in only 13% of schools. Furthermore, only 24% of schools explicitly recognised or celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion days, such as Wear It Purple Day, suggesting that the celebration of diversity is not yet a widespread practice across educational institutions.

These findings underline the dual nature of the journey toward gender equity in schools: while there are clear achievements to celebrate, considerable work remains. Bridging these gaps requires a holistic approach, incorporating policy changes, educational reforms, and a shift in cultural attitudes, to ensure that every student feels valued, respected, and represented.

Conclusion: the educational odyssey

This comprehensive examination of Gold Coast schools’ websites and online materials serves as both a mirror and a map: reflecting our current stance on gender equity and charting the course for future endeavours.

The leaders’ group, composed of 21 schools, showcased the most progressive and inclusive websites and policies in terms of gender equity, with a particular strength on the uniform and appearance area. Schools in this cluster include Helensvale State High School, Currumbin State School, Tamborine Mountain State School, among others.

Conversely, the lowest band, composed of 30 schools, was found to be far from representing gender-equal practices. Remarkably, schools that are typically considered top tier, such as Emmanuel College, All Saints Anglican School, Coomera Anglican College, among others, were found to be among the resistors.

Key findings reveal an impressive majority of schools promoting equal parental involvement and adopting single sports uniform policies, whereas, at the same time, less than half of the schools demonstrate gender-balanced leadership teams or included equity or equality in their mission statements, there was minimal use of inclusive language and a systematic lack of celebration of diversity, equity, and inclusion events.

The contrast between government and non-government schools, as well as the distinct challenges faced by single-sex and combined schools, highlight the influence of governance structures, funding mechanisms, and educational models on gender equity outcomes. Catholic schools, surprisingly outperforming other religiously affiliated institutions, challenge preconceived notions and suggest that perhaps faith-based education can indeed align with progressive gender equity practices.

In conclusion, while the landscape of gender equity in education is marked by notable achievements, the path forward requires sustained effort, innovative policies, and a commitment to inclusivity from all stakeholders. Schools must continue to evolve, ensuring that every student, regardless of gender, can thrive in a supportive, respectful, and equitable learning environment. The findings from this study not only serve as a benchmark for current practices but also as a guide for future endeavours, inspiring continued progress towards the ultimate goal of true gender equity in education.

Meet the authors


Luke Ingles
Managing Partner


Maria Josefa Arias
Senior Consultant


Mark Morris
Associate Director


Sanuri Da Silva
Senior Consultant

About Barcley Consulting

Barcley Consulting is a boutique management consulting firm based on the Gold Coast, focused on helping corporations and government with strategy, innovation and execution. For more information on their other publications, please visit

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