2019 Autumn Term 1


  • Strength in numbers
    Geoff Barton welcomes members to a new academic year and says over the next 12 months, ASCL will continue to evolve into a trade union fit for the 21st century, setting the education agenda, and representing and listening to the views of members across the UK. More
  • The forgotten third
    Chair of ASCL's Commission of Inquiry on The Forgotten Third, Roy Blatchford CBE, presents the commission's findings on why a third of 16 year-olds leave school without a 'standard' pass and the impact this has on their futures. More
  • A friend in need
    Emma Moss's world was turned upside down when she became gravely ill. Support from the ASCL Benevolent Fund has helped Emma and her family deal with the practical and personal fall-out ever since. More
  • Stop the rot
    Former ASCL Specialist Anna Cole explains how schools and colleges can harness the power of the #MeToo movement to help keep students safe. More
  • Time for T
    The first three T level qualifications in digital, education and construction will become a reality from September 2020 but just how prepared are providers for delivery? NFER's Suzanne Straw investigates. More
  • Leading women
    An ambitious programme designed to empower, inspire and support women into leadership has been launched by a partnership between ASCL, the Leading Women's Alliance and Leadership Live. Carol Jones and Gwen Temple explain the rationale. More
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An ambitious programme designed to empower, inspire and support women into leadership has been launched by a partnership between ASCL, the Leading Women's Alliance and Leadership Live. Carol Jones and Gwen Temple explain the rationale.

Leading Women

The women’s National Professional Qualification for Senior Leaders (NPQSL) is aimed at growing a network of confident, ethical and effective women senior leaders.

Created by ASCL in partnership with the Leading Women’s Alliance and Leadership Live, based at Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby, it is the first accredited programme of its kind. Open to all new and aspiring female senior leaders, it is intended to tackle the long-standing problem of too few women rising to senior leadership roles in education.

School workforce data, compiled by the DfE, has consistently shown an under-representation of women, as well as BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) leaders, at headship and deputy headship level. However, recently, there has been an increase in the number of early stage senior leaders – assistant heads. They are progressing more rapidly to leadership than previously and more than half are women.

In response to this trend, and coinciding with the emergence of women’s organisations such as #WomenEd and the Leading Women’s Alliance, in 2016–18 the DfE introduced the Leadership Equality and Diversity (E&D) Fund, offering NPQ providers and leadership organisations funding to run continuous professional development and learning (CPDL) programmes and events to help close the gender gaps in school leadership.

Most CPDL equalities programmes are unaccredited. However, an analysis of the use of the Equality and Diversity Fund highlights the beneficial impact of such programmes. The impact on individual leaders includes increasing confidence, the opportunity to support and share strategies, to be part of a network, to explore the underlying reasons for a lack of diversity across the system and to enhance leadership skills and qualities.

Research also shows that bespoke CPDL programmes for specific individuals and staff groups are most effective. We realised that a women’s NPQSL programme, bespoke to women leaders, that would be accredited and provide a leadership qualification, could have an impact, not only on women leaders but on their schools and colleges, children and young people, and might enhance the system as a whole.

The programme

Our NPQSL partnership draws on our own individual and on the partnership’s expertise: Carol’s experience of designing and delivering effective women’s leadership programmes and ‘pop-ups’ for women aspiring to headship; Gwen’s from Leadership Live, run by Lawrence Sheriff School; and ASCL’s professional development team.

The programme is led and facilitated by the kinds of female role models aspiring women leaders need. Participants follow a blended learning programme, starting with a residential in July. They have access to regional peer hubs and are assigned regional coach-mentors to encourage them, helping them to build confidence and network.

They also have access to the Leadership Live website content, including the 360° diagnostic profile enabling evaluation of each participant’s leadership skills, plus priority access and reduced rates to any of the Leading Women’s Alliance events.

The content

Participants lead a school/college improvement project, lasting at least two terms, focused on reducing variation in pupil progress and attainment and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching. This means that the school itself and its pupils benefit from the programme, too.

Women share solutions and network with other women leaders within a nurturing and challenging peer learning programme, led by our partnership team.

The existing NPQ national curriculum has been expanded, adding the theories and practices of women’s leadership, and further research by women. Following the mantra ‘If you can’t see it you can’t be it’, the programme’s hidden curriculum includes positive images of diverse women leaders in the materials used, in readings and references and in the TED Talks and ‘women’s cinema’ materials. Humour, building a sense of camaraderie and finding yourself are all part of the learning.

Participants have access to current writings and to existing women’s leadership networks and are encouraged to develop their own – research suggests that women in particular respond positively to being ‘tapped on the shoulder’. The principle of encouraging others is enhanced by access to regional women coaches who are serving school leaders.

We also address issues particularly affecting women leaders, ranging from self-worth affecting confidence and imposter syndrome, to being a leader and carer, and alternative models of leadership, such as co-headship.

A focus on ethical leadership is central to the programme and ASCL’s recent launch of the Ethical Leadership Framework supports this focus. Ensuring that we build greater diversity in leadership is not enough; what we do and how we do it as women leaders is what matters because the behaviours of school leaders, as well as leadership styles, are what shape our schools.

Women’s experiences so far

At the inaugural NPQSL residential, many women commented on the “challenging yet supportive environment” the programme fosters.

As one participant said: “Spending time with like-minded women who are passionate about education has allowed me to feel safe to share my ideas without feeling judged.”

Another described the programme as imbuing her with a sense of empowerment. “I am really starting to believe that not only is SLT for me, but that I might actually be able to do a really good job…and this is thanks to the focus on women who have succeeded beforehand.”

The importance of a programme dedicated to women has wider, strategic benefits, too, one leader pointed out. “Fifty per cent of young people we’re working with are women – they need strong role models too!”

The value of camaraderie, networking and learning in an environment where not only women’s voices but women’s experiences were taken seriously was particularly highlighted. It helped to affirm women’s belief that “We can be great leaders,” said one.

Others voiced their appreciation of a ‘ safe’, non-judgemental environment.

“It’s been good to hear the different struggles women face on the journey to leadership without judgement,” said one, while another added: “Having a women’s NPQSL gives a safe space for women to discuss the unique challenges that face us in leadership. It helps to confront why we feel like imposters and should develop confidence and assertion that we are good enough.”

More support

There is a wealth of materials and networks, via #WomenEd, the Leading Women’s Alliance and other regional groups, as well as free coaching that women can now draw on to support them into leadership.

If you wish to register your interest for cohort two of the NPQSL programme, please email npqsl@ascl.org.uk or, if you would like to support the programme by coaching women in our network, and you’re a serving female school or college leader with coaching experience, contact us via ASCL PD npqsl@ascl.org.uk or call on 0116 299 1122.

“Spending time with like-minded women who are passionate about education has allowed me to feel safe to share my ideas without feeling judged.”

“Fifty per cent of young people we’re working with are women – they need strong role models too!”

Carol Jones
Course Director of the Women’s NPQSL, Chair of the Leading Women’s Alliance and a former secondary headteache

Gwen Temple
Director of Leadership Live and Senior Deputy Headteacher of Lawrence Sheriff School


#WomenEd www.womened.org and The Leading Women’s Alliance leadingwomensalliance.wordpress.com/about/

School Leadership in England 2010 to 2016: Characteristics and Trends, July 2018 tinyurl.com/y6kc5248 

Ethical Leadership Commission www.ascl.org.uk/EthicalLeadership Equality and Diversity Fund tinyurl.com/yaexsdxx