Unpaid DfE coaching scheme for women teachers criticised as ‘tick-box exercise’

A government scheme to encourage more women to become school leaders has been dubbed a “tick-box exercise” by those involved in the initiative.

Launched by the Department for Education (DfE) and National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) nearly eight months ago, the scheme promised to link 1,000 women teachers with 1,000 coaches and school leaders by International Women’s Day in March 2017.

But only 257 coaches are involved at present. Even fewer teachers have signed up, with 30 coaches saying they have not been approached at all.

Progress is hampered by the government’s failure to reimburse coaches and a poorly designed government website, says Hannah Wilson, professional learning consultant leader at the Harris Federation and a coach in the scheme.

The DfE has said it wants to support women teachers, yet why are they not paying anyone for their time?

“There’s a bit of a dichotomy here, because the DfE has said it wants to support women teachers, yet why are they not paying anyone for their time?”

Meanwhile, more than 40 teaching schools have won £20,000 in diversity and equality grants, demonstrating funds can be made available when prioritised, Wilson says.

Benny Osei-Bonsu, a pastoral manager at Harris Academy Greenwich said being coached had encouraged her to take the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL).

“I speak to my coach a lot on the phone, and I’ve seen her twice. She’s good at checking in weekly. I never would have gone for the NPQSL otherwise.

“I’ve been in education for 10 years, and there’s a lack of BME [black and minority ethnic] leaders and other senior staff. I want to inspire other BME teachers.”

Osei-Bonsu came across the scheme at a WomenEd event but said it was unlikely she would have otherwise found it.

The initiative was launched in response to figures showing that while 74 per cent of teachers are female, they only make up 65 per cent of headteachers. That gap widens among chief executives of the 25 largest multi-academy trusts with just three headed by women.

A spokesperson for the DfE said the government was investing £270,000 in the establishment of nine school-led regional networks, which would support the coaching pledge.

“The Women Leading in Education programme was developed with school leaders in direct response to calls from the sector for more coaching and support for female teachers. All coaches are required to provide feedback on their work and we gather feedback from participants as well. This is used to ensure the programme is meeting the needs of teachers.”

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  1. I am part of this programme and it has had such an impact on my confidence as a leader – in fact it led me to apply for and get my first SLT role. I could not recommend the programme more – it is certainly not a ‘tick box’ for those who really value the experience!