The Department for Education is almost a year behind on its target to link 1,000 women teachers with 1,000 coaches, through its scheme to encourage more female school leaders.
Launched by the DfE and National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) in March 2016, the Women Leading in Education (WLE) programme promised to 1,000 connections by International Women’s Day in March 2017.
But almost a year since the deadline passed, only 850 coaches have registered and the number of teachers benefiting from the coaching, which is delivered for free, is unclear.
Concerns were raised about the progress of the scheme in November 2016, when after eight months only 257 coaches were involved and the number of teachers was unknown.
In a blogpost on the topic, Hannah Wilson, headteacher of Aureus School and a coach herself, said the DfE was “not interested in being involved in the operations and logistics, just in the tokenistic tick-box exercise of doing something for equality”.
When asked this week how many female teachers were signed up to the programme now, the DfE told Schools Week that just 119 participants had confirmed that they were currently taking part in, or had already completed, coaching through the initiative.
A DfE spokesperson said that it is not a requirement for participants to notify the department when they receive coaching, but added that 854 “live” candidates had expressed interest in the programme.
“We hear from our community that there are more coaches registered than required and that many female teachers, especially those who are not on social media, are unaware of this free resource,” Wilson told Schools Week this week.
In November 2017, responsibility for WLE coaching was transferred from the NCTL to the Teaching Schools Council (TSC), which now hosts a directory of all the coaches who are signed up.
Participants are also now required to register before they can access the coaching directory, and the DfE expects this to provide “a more precise figure on the total number of participants”.
Many female teachers, especially those who are not on social media, are unaware of this free resource
Each coach has written a profile and the TSC recommends participants email them directly to agree “whether you wish to work together”, and set “a format for your coaching”.
Nicola Brooks, the “WLE champion” for the south-west, said that while this “is a great opportunity” which her network actively promotes, it can feel “impersonal”.
“What would make the coaching programme better is something like what we are trying to do at our networking events – which is to let those relationships naturally occur,” she said. “When you are in a room talking about things somebody might say, ‘yes I’m happy to have a chat with you about that’, or ‘why don’t you come and visit’.”
There are nine school-led regional networks set up to promote the WLE programme, and the south-west is looking to build up its own coaching partnerships.
“Even if it’s just through some time at the start of our three of four events per year,” she said. “It helps to meet face to face.”
Wilson said that the south-east network is also working to match teachers with coaches, through coaching “speed dating”, adding: “The format worked really well and we have now cascaded this out across the region.”
“Male and female leaders from all backgrounds have been invited to sign up to pledge to coach women to support career progression, and the recently appointed school-led regional networks will also take an active role in supporting the coaching pledge by helping to match participants with suitable coaches,” a DfE spokesperson said.