Sexuality and gender in UK high schools
: a policy analysis and case study of one Midlands-based school

  • LJ Potter

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this thesis I contribute to the expansion of queer and critical psychology by examining gender and sexuality within a high school setting, with specific reference to ‘sex education’ policies and teaching. Explicit exploration of sexuality and genders beyond the binary have hitherto received little research attention, with much of the focus of research being a more generalised approach looking at ‘young people’s experiences’ of generalised sex and relationship education (SRE). My research, by comparison, considered the topics of gender and sexuality specifically, both within the topics as taught, and paying due consideration to the performative nature of gender and sexuality within the school (including within the classroom). My research brings together ideas from critical psychology and queer psychology, and working from a social constructionist position, explores portrayals of gender and sexuality. I also consider how policies that might be expected to inform the teaching of SRE situate topics of gender and sexuality. The research presented draws on four different sources of qualitative data: SRE policies of schools across the West Midlands; from within one school, classroom observation data of SRE classes from years 7 and 10, focus groups with pupils from years 8 and 10, and interviews with five members of staff. These data are analysed using critical realism-informed thematic analysis. In the first analysis chapter (chapter four) I report how SRE policy documents from schools across the West Midlands position SRE. In chapter five I examine how the concepts of gender and sexuality have been both problematised and simplified within the classroom. In chapter six I look further at the constructions of gender and sexuality within the educational environment. In chapter seven I consider the personal and structural barriers that were felt to be in place by staff and students when teaching gender and sexuality. In my concluding chapter I discuss the contributions of my research and taking the significant changes that occurred within the SRE landscape into consideration, I identify some possible areas for future research.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorAdam Jowett (Supervisor) & Suzanne Clisby (Supervisor)


  • LGBT
  • sex education
  • critical psychology
  • qualitative research
  • thematic analysis

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