The DfE School Workforce Census continues to evidence the underrepresentation of women in Headship in all sectors, compared to their numbers in the profession. With women accounting for over 60% of the profession in secondary and over 85% in primary we would expect to see more women headteachers than the disproportionate 37% and 71% respectively.
The Census shows that female deputy and assistant headteachers now make up over 50% of senior leadership teams, an increase of nearly 2% in both primary and secondary schools since 2011. In 2014 there was an incremental increase of 1.6% over the last three years for women in primary headship and a slight improvement in the number of women secondary headteachers by 0.7%.
At WiSH, we are keen to support and encourage this momentum. There is still much to do, but it need not be difficult. Practical, focussed and inexpensive strategies can have great impact. We hope that we may bring our expertise to work alongside you, either supporting your path to headship or assisting your projects to develop women leaders of the future.
Over many years we have supported gifted, aspirant women school leaders as they grow in confidence and develop readiness for promotion. We know that women feel more confident to step up to senior leadership roles as a result of relatively small, targeted interventions. We have identified many of the issues facing women, in particular, what stops them from applying for the most senior job in a school. In the maintained sector at secondary level we see that fewer women put themselves forward for headship of successful mixed schools. This inevitably means fewer women shortlisted which increases the odds against a woman being appointed to the post.
More positively, we know what helps women address and overcome these obstacles, and what organisational adjustments can enhance the talent pool.
Successful women headteachers sighted having the opportunity to ‘act up’ into a promoted role or to ‘shadow’ the head in her/his current role considerably increased their confidence to apply for headship. The very act of doing the job in an acting capacity demystifies the complexity of the role and gives women confidence that they ‘can do’ what is expected of them within the role.
Similarly, working with governors or chairing key governor committees increase confidence. It enables aspirant women leaders to gain insight into governance - often the ‘secret garden’ of school leadership - open only to substantive headteachers. It also enables them to fully appreciate and understand the role of governors and their importance in the leadership of schools.
Many aspiring women headteachers are reticent to apply for the top job because of the demands it puts on family life, particularly when their own children are growing up. Discussing this with successful women heads in similar positions assures them that it is possible to balance life-work demands.
Our approach on courses is to provide as many opportunities as possible for women to fully appreciate and understand the impact that they, as successful senior women leaders can have on the life chances of children. Discussing the demanding role of headship and sharing similar concerns with other successful practitioners is often a revelation, discovering that they are not alone in having such feelings. We provide practical solutions in a positive, friendly, non-judgemental environment where women feel ‘safe’ to explore their potential for senior leadership roles.
We have devised and delivered courses, training and coaching to help women overcome their perceived barriers to promotion and to headship. One of our tried and tested strategies is to deliver training programmes to women-only groups. These provide the unencumbered opportunity for women to explore more personal leadership issues on an individual basis, as well as address the professional questions that are of concern. Whilst men may well face some of the same challenges or have similar concerns, the way that these are typically explored can be very different in mixed sex groups. You can read more about women-only training and development here.