Making school leadership more accessible to women

For the first time we have a woman prime minister, home secretary and education secretary in office at the same time. But that doesn’t mean equality of opportunity for women in education is secure, says Jon Chaloner

Last year #WomenEd was created by a number of female leaders as a grassroots movement to connect existing and aspiring leaders in education. My awareness of the group has increased this year by working alongside a number of the group’s founders through the Headteachers’ Roundtable (HTRT).

Last Saturday I was invited to the second #WomenEd conference with three other male heads, as panellists for a Q&A session #HeforShe. This allowed me to look more deeply into the group’s remit, as well as the international #HeforShe campaign.

It is just over two years since actress Emma Watson addressed the United Nations at the launch of the campaign, which promotes “an innovative, inclusive approach that mobilises people of every gender identity and expression as advocates, and acknowledges the ways that we all benefit from this equality”. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was last month appointed the campaign’s champion for youth engagement.

Moving from the “outside” to the “inside” with the #WomedEd event last Saturday has enabled me to understand more clearly the group’s desire for equality of opportunity.

How can we change the system from within?

I am not sure what I was expecting, but men were outnumbered 15 to 1. This reminded me a little of 2010 and my first week as executive headteacher of a local primary school. Male teachers are in a distinct minority in primary schools. Conversely, the number of male heads in the primary sector is significant. Why?

At #WomenEd I encountered no evidence of negativity towards men in leadership roles; just a desire for equality of opportunity. One question to the panel asked how male leaders can help to make change.

This is indeed the challenge. It is hard to put in words the tangible feeling of excitement and positivity in the building on Saturday. I left feeling energised, inspired and empowered to be a male voice championing women in education more visually and directly. My experience challenged me to examine what more I can do to help. But how can we change the system from within? How can more male leaders lend their support? How can every man be “10 per cent braver”?

Chris Hildrew led a session on his first year in headship and his approach to gender equality and women moving into leadership. He subsequently published a blog on the Staffrm website, in which he reflects on his privilege as a white, middle-class male: “My privilege gives me advantages,” he writes. “When I speak, people listen. They always have. I expect them to. I’ve never known any different.” He goes on to express concern that “voices like mine – confident, white, male – can unintentionally intimidate and silence others.”

The question that follows is, as male leaders and heads, what we will do about it?

Job flexibility was a common theme at #WomenEd. For instance, is it right that a part-time teacher with a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) is expected to fulfil the whole role, yet is paid only a proportion of the TLR payment? Is it right that some heads – in the primary sector in particular – will not tolerate a class teacher job-share because “the parents won’t like it”? Is it right that any part-time assistant head and deputy head roles are usually set up in this way in response to an existing colleague’s request? Rarely is a senior post advertised externally to enable potential part-time applicants to apply. Historically, the education system is predicated upon full-time workers.

I am concerned that the #flatcash issues facing many schools will restrict the commitment of so many to provide more flexible approaches to women’s ability to continue to contribute fully in schools whilst juggling other responsibilities.

To ensure our commitment to #HeforShe, together we must build a responsive system that enables talented women to remain in education and allows them to flourish as leaders.


Jon Chaloner is chief executive of the GLF Schools group

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