October 2015


  • The new normal
    At the start of the academic year, education is going through a period of transition with system leadership fast becoming the norm. Reflecting this, ASCL is introducing a raft of changes of its own, says Brian Lightman, to recognise the new skill-set that leaders now require. More
  • Unlocking potential
    Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan sets out her priorities for the next five years and says she is committed to working with ASCL members to achieve them. More
  • Turning the tide
    The number of women deputy and assistant heads is growing but if they are to aspire to headship realistically, the profession needs to offer them more targeted career support and development now, says Carol Jones. More
  • Briefer encounters
    The impact of leadership is the key evidence that inspectors will be seeking under the new shorter Ofsted inspections. Suzanne O’Farrell explains this and other significant changes to the framework. More
  • Joint enterprise
    Peter Tomkins explores the thinking behind a new multi-academy trust that has no CEO and where every school is an equal partner holding the others to account. More
  • University challenge
    The University of Southampton is supporting sixth form students taking the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) to give them a taste of what academic life is like – and what skills they will require – at a research-intensive institution. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
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The number of women deputy and assistant heads is growing but if they are to aspire to headship realistically, the profession needs to offer them more targeted career support and development now, says Carol Jones.

Turning the tide

It’s going to be a critical year for women in school and college leadership.

The latest School Workforce Census analysis has suggested a change in the gender balance in school leadership and this year’s ASCL women into leadership conferences will be drawing up intervention plans to accelerate that change. So,refresh your diaries and get ready to participate in what promises to be an exciting 12 months.

Positive change

Although data from the census for the last three years continues to indicate that women are under-represented in secondary headship, analysis of the 2014 figures shows there’s a change in the right direction: the number of female secondary headteachers has increased to 1,300, up from 1,200 in the two years previously. It puts the proportion of female headteachers in secondary schools at 37.1 per cent, while the proportion of female classroom teachers in secondary schools is 63.9 per cent.

However, the number of female deputy and assistant heads rose from 8,600 in November 2012 to 8,800 in November 2013 and it increased again last year to 9,600.

If this group of women deputy and assistant heads is our ‘pipeline’ into future headship we need to plan professional development and support for them. To do this we need to understand what challenges women school leaders face.

Challenges ahead

There are pay differentials between men and women in senior leadership.

In her article ‘Women dominate the teaching profession, but men are winning the pay game’, Dr Rebecca Allen, Director of Education Datalab, presents evidence showing not only the under-representation of women into secondary headship but also the inequality in pay, with women achieving a smaller annual pay rise than men at all levels of seniority.

Career move differences are particularly pronounced for deputy heads with women being more likely to achieve internal promotion to headship within the same school but far less likely to be promoted to a different school in the same region or in another region. Why? Dr Allen suggests that women may feel less confident that they are ready for promotion to headship or may have other life commitments – such as childcare arrangements or needing to stay in the same place because of their spouse’s job – meaning that they feel unable to move school.

Men achieve substantially greater pay rises on promotion to headship than women do and this is true whether they do so via internal or external promotion. The apparent wage bargaining advantage for men is much stronger in secondary schools than in primary.

Parenthood and family choices is a familiar barrier to women into leadership, a theme picked up by Dr Kate Chhatwal, programme leader for Future Leaders, who has written about the ‘motherhood penalty’ and ‘fatherhood bonus’ for those aspiring to school leadership.

The high risk inspection regime has changed school leadership for us all with its now well recognised ‘football manager syndrome’ but it is, according to Dr Karen Edge of the Institute of Education, unique to UK school leaders. In researching young city global school leaders (‘Generation X’), she cites examples of women delaying having children until after an Ofsted inspection or deciding against becoming a parent altogether if taking on the headship of a school requiring improvement.

Governing boards and recruitment panels are key to addressing the under-representation of women at secondary headship. It is generally accepted that some governors have an unconscious gender bias in appointments. In an article entitled Finding the right woman for the job, Kate Chhatwal describes what happened when governing boards were removed from the recruitment process, using the example of the Future Leaders Talented Leaders Programme. A very rigorous interview process, without governors, was applied. The outcome was that women and men fared equally well.

Current strategies – systemic and individual

Strategies to address gender imbalance have been both systemic and individual.

An example of systemic intervention is the Bristol project where two-thirds of the 21 secondary headteachers are women. This is a consequence of a specific programme, started in 2006, to transform leadership in the city’s then much-derided schools, elements of which included women coaching the next generation of heads into headship and training for governors. Bristol continues to invest in governor training, the view being that because governors appoint heads, governor training matters.

Systemic intervention is also behind the National College for Teaching and Leadership’s equality and diversity funding. It has enabled schools and teaching alliances to deliver continuing professional development and learning (CPDL) programmes for BME/global majority leaders as well as for women in preparation for headship, including the Courageous Leadership programme. Could it be programmes such as this that have contributed to the increase in the number of Black Caribbean women into headship, rising from 0.5 per cent in 2012 to 1.6 per cent in 2014?

Individual interventions that work on women’s individual experiences help to develop the skills and confidence necessary for headship. Developing self-confidence and being mentored by women leaders who are able to role model, coach, actively apprentice and encourage women to apply for posts is key, according to researchers.

Developing confidence is part of the Future Leaders Women into Leadership programme, delivered by Eve Warren and Meg Maunder of WiSH (Women into School Leadership). Over half of last year’s Future Leaders cohort securing headships were women.

Eve and Meg are delivering ASCL’s professional development on Women into Leadership – Developing Confidence, which provides top tips, training and guidance on presentation skills throughout a senior leadership application process, as well as ways of selling yourself with authenticity and integrity and finding your own leadership style. Once women are appointed to headship support continues through their first stages.

“Women generally ask two key questions of themselves as part of developing confidence: ‘Can I do the job?’ and ‘Can I do the job with a life?’” says Eve. “Women like to form connections and we explore real life issues in very practical ways. We focus on the skill-set needed for the role and develop competence as well as confidence.”

Moving forward and getting connected

Building on what we have learnt from evidence-based research and existing strategies will enable us to develop clear intervention plans to encourage women assistant and deputy heads into headship when we come together at this year’s events.

ASCL is adopting both a systemic and individual approach to equality that includes specific interventions for women into leadership through a network of women leaders who can coach and encourage others into headship.

If you’re interested in joining the ASCL Equalities Network or in receiving any information on the Women into Leadership programmes, email carol.jones@ascl.org.uk

Further  reading

Get involved

We invite readers to engage in the following ways:

  • Attend the forthcoming ASCL PD course, Women into Leadership through Developing Confidence (20 October in London, 4 February 2016 in Manchester) www.ascl.org.uk/confidence
  • Attend the Leading Women’s Summit of 15 January 2016, which will also include a parallel student summit. The summit will be building on the outcomes from the #WomenEd Conference of 3 October.
  • Join ASCL’s Equalities network to link in and match with women headteachers who are ready to mentor and coach women into promotional leadership. Contact carol.jones@ascl.org.uk for further information at this stage

Carol Jones is ASCL Specialist for Leadership and Teacher Professionalism