Diary of a headteacher: Where are all the female leaders?

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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I’ve long thought this too. We see many female assistant heads, running round doing all the leg ...

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When our headteacher diarist is presumed to be a primary leader because she is a woman, she reflects on why secondary school leadership is still failing to close the gender gap...

I left my house at 7am this morning. A regular morning and not an unusual time to leave. This was not a usual journey, though. I was travelling to Colchester to join my first local authority headteacher conference.

I drove through the traffic on the M25 and onto yet more traffic on the A12. I was due to arrive at 8:30am for coffee. By 9am, I was stuck in the middle of a field. Literally.

In the field I got the call from school to say a window had dropped out. Couldn’t do much about that from a field so I carried on driving.

Arriving in the rain at 9:30am, I spent 15 minutes trying to find a parking space. Who knew a golf and spa hotel could be so popular on a wet Thursday morning (my life in schools for 25 years has never once led me to being at a golf course or a spa at 9:30am on a Thursday morning. How the other half live).

It was actually a very interesting event. A former schools minister (and current Knight of the Realm) gave some thought-provoking ideas on school system change. Whether anyone in the room agreed with these suggestions was another question.

Next came the national director of education for Ofsted. Imagine two hours immersed in the proposed new framework with someone who has actually been involved in writing it. The truth about his presentation is perhaps surprising. He was very warm and engaging and, dare I say it, even funny. Imagine that.

The last speaker was an author, speaker and founder of a certain educational organisation that most readers will be aware of. He travelled around the room depositing his books for delegates. His face was a picture when I told him he had formerly been my husband’s head. He remembered my husband well as he had been his NUT rep up until he left headship (hopefully the two aren’t connected).

An interesting conference overall, but something made me think. That morning I had been pleasantly surprised that many of the faces which had turned to stare as I made my grand late entrance (think pub scene from American Werewolf in London) had been female. However, as the day unfolded, my initial positivity changed. There were lots of female heads – but not in the secondary sector.

I remember reading some research when I started my headship last year. Statistics from the Department for Education show that 63 per cent of all teaching staff in English state-funded secondary schools are female. Despite this, just 38 per cent (1,400 of England’s 3,700 state secondaries) are headed by women. The gender ratio for all secondary school teaching staff in England suggests that this should actually be closer to 2,330 female headteachers. This statistic resonated with me as I sat among my peers, not least when one fellow head assumed with no prompting that I must be a primary school leader.

I am just a few weeks away from having survived my first year of headship. My school has gotten tangibly better. We were allocated more year 7 students on national offer day than the school would have ever dreamed of having for the past three years. Things are going well, in spite of all the white noise around us.

I am growing a team of the next generation of school leaders. I hope to develop them so they can go out and lead other schools in the future. My hope after this conference is not one I expected. Having listened to the three male presenters (all very good) while surrounded by male secondary headteachers (all during Women’s History Month), I hope that some time soon there will be more heads like me represented; more heads who can do a great job and who look just a bit more like the pupils we serve.

  • The author is a headteacher in her first year of headship at a secondary school in east London.

Well done for a successful first year. Keep inspiring those girls and let’s hope for more of a balanced future. X
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Well done on a successful first year - and best wishes for the future. Keep growing those leaders at all levels - the strong aspiring Middle and Senior Leaders today should go on to be enlightened school leaders in the future. Let's hope the balance (re: ethnicity and sexuality, as well as gender) continues to improve.
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I’ve long thought this too. We see many female assistant heads, running round doing all the leg work and then relatively few deputies and far fewer heads. Even my all girls’ school is led by a man. Sad to think in 2019 there are still only 38% of secondary schools led by women. I hope more women start to think about going for the top job, however hard it may be. It’s about time for a change.
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Very open, sincere and thought provoking. Gender balance in all levels of seniority is essential for a well rounded education system!
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Excellent piece and so true!
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