Governor ‘prejudice’ denies women top posts

Prejudice among some governing bodies are stopping women becoming headteachers, a charity warns.

The Future Leaders Trust says that while 52 per cent of its participants are women, they make up only 39 per cent of the primary and 31.5 per cent of secondary headteachers appointed through its Future Leaders programme.

However, the charity says that there are encouraging signs this academic year with half of eight top jobs on its new Talented Leaders scheme going to women.

Women are often overlooked because of attitudes from governing bodies, who make the final decision, says Kate Chhatwal, the charity’s chief programme officer.

Talented Leaders places heads in struggling schools. CVs of three final candidates are sent to each school and, in theory, the trust could only forward female candidates – an option that Mrs Chhatwal rules out.

She says women face three barriers when they apply for headships, including a lack of self-confidence.

“The second and more significant issue, however, is the prejudice among some governing bodies and recruiters, which means that credible female headship candidates are less likely to secure positions.

“We don’t have data on the make-up of governing bodies, but one hypothesis is that the age profile of some governing bodies, especially chairs, may mean that they have outdated views of women in the workforce.

“We have heard anecdotal feedback that the reasons some women have not been offered the job is for things such as needing a man to engage with the local mining community, or that the leadership team is all female so there needs to be a male head.”

The third issue is job/family life balance. “Some governors are still asking questions or expressing concerns about a woman’s commitment to the job if they have a young family, or if they perceive a ‘risk’ of them taking maternity leave in the future if they don’t have children,” she says.

“We have been working with the National Governors’ Association (NGA) to raise the profile of the issue of prejudice among some governing bodies and to get them to think differently about what they expect from a successful headship candidate.

“One of the other issues is that because Future Leaders is an accelerated headship programme, our candidates tend to be younger. I have heard of a case where one of our female participants was turned down for a headship, which was then offered to a man a year younger than her, so the combination of being young and female appears to be particularly challenging.”

NGA chief executive Emma Knights said: “The information from Future Leaders provides a good prompt to governing board selection panels to double check that they have eliminated discrimination from their assessment and decision-making processes.”

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