Academy CEO diversity audit: More women bosses, but work to do

Campaigners have offered a 'cautious welcome', but note there is room for huge improvement

Campaigners have offered a 'cautious welcome', but note there is room for huge improvement

1 Oct 2021, 11:00

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The proportion of female bosses running England’s largest academy trusts has risen to a third, while the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders remains static.

The annual Schools Week diversity analysis looked at the make-up of the 117 trusts with 15 or more schools, as well as government education departments’ management.

The findings come as the first major study into equality in the sector recognised poor levels of diversity among chief executives, but an optimism “that things have got better”.

Campaigners have offered a “cautious welcome”, but note there is room for huge improvement still.

Policymakers now want government to start collecting official figures on school leader diversity.

Diversity audit findings revealed

Our analysis suggests a third of the biggest academies are now run by female CEOs (39 out of 117 trusts) – a five percentage point rise from similar analysis last year. In 2018, just 26 per cent of top trust bosses were female.

Sameena Choudry, co-founder of WomenEd, offered a “cautious welcome”, but said: “We are still talking about relatively small numbers and all you need is a few less [leaders] and that situation can go backwards.”

Diversity research published by Forum Strategy this week noted a “progressing picture for gender equality”, but caveated this was not reflected in pay.

A previous Schools Week investigation found just one of the top 20 highest earning CEOs was female.

The gender make-up lags behind other education roles. Workforce data from 2019 shows three-quarters of teachers were female. Women account for more than two-thirds of headteachers.

Across the Department for Education, Ofsted and Ofqual, 43 per cent of those listed as ministers or in the ‘our management’ sections of their website are female.

Ofqual said its diversity and inclusion strategy was a top priority. Ofsted is aiming to improve diversity through shadowing programmes and the Civil Service’s positive action programme.

Forum’s report found the FTSE 100 has just 12.2 per cent of the top roles filled by females. In policing 35 per cent of chief constables are females while 44 per cent of NHS trust CEOs are female.

Lack of focus on BAME leaders

The same level of progress was not seen among BAME leaders.

In 2018, we found two of the 72 trusts with 15 or more schools were led by a non-white boss.

Despite 117 trusts now making up the sample size, only two BAME leaders remain on the list: Hamid Patel of Star Academies and Ashfaq Rahman of Nova Education Trust.

Rahman said equality, diversity and inclusion was a “priority area” for Nova as it develops leaders “that are representative of the communities we serve”. He added all staff “have the opportunity and a professional duty to be critical agents of change”.

The lack of progress comes three years after the Department for Education published a statement of intent to improve diversity in the sector.

Part of this was a £2 million diversity hubs for school leaders scheme, which was ditched last year.

“The DfE hasn’t been forthcoming in making change happen”, says Allana Gay, headteacher and BAMEed Network founder.

“The DfE has shown it’s not willing to invest in these projects – a natural progression isn’t going to happen because the culture isn’t there to support it.”

‘Discrimination widespread’

Forum Strategy – a MAT CEO network organisation – found that experience of discrimination among leader and senior management teams is “widespread”.

Over 50 per cent of 120 CEOs surveyed disagreed that the education sector is an even playing field.

Choudry added: “There’s still a hell of a lot that needs to be done in terms of improving chances and opportunities for BAME colleagues in education.”

The Forum report wants a clear commitment from government to addressing the diversity of boards who appoint and promote senior leaders.

They also say CEO diversity should be tracked as current data for school leaders is non-existent.

Gay believes more power for Ofsted and Regional School Commissioners to monitor trust diversity would ring “much faster change”.

The DfE said it wants teaching to be an inclusive profession. Diversity has been made “a feature of our Recruitment and Retention Strategy and [we are] investing in programmes that support all teachers to develop and progress their careers.”

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