‘A lot of people told me when I had my son I wouldn’t be able to get into leadership. Now I’m a head’

TES reporter Helen Ward reports from the first WomenEd conference in London

“We don’t want this to be a great day out and then it stops here,” said Vivienne Porritt, one of the founders of the networking group WomenEd, at the first conference in London today.

Ms Porritt, executive director of school partnerships at the UCL Institute of Education, told more than 200 people at the event that the next step was to set up regional networks to enable women in education to access mentoring and share information and support.

The WomenEd conference, or unconference as it was billed, sprung out of the WomenEd group and website. That was launched just six months’ ago, when the shock at the continuing low numbers of women in leadership positions in schools led some of those women leaders to think about what they could do to help their peers who aspire to headship.

Author and trainer Sue Cowley, who spoke about the importance of ‘taking the leap’ at the conference’s keynote speech, told TES: “I think this conference is fantastic. The thing about these things is if you are going to make something happen then you need to go ahead and make it happen.

“That is the message behind this. Don’t just have a chat about it. Get together and do it.”

Rimah Aasim, head of Worth Valley primary in Keighley, West Yorkshire, and Allison Moise-Dixon, head of The Palmer Catholic Academy in Ilford, east London, both became headteachers just five weeks’ ago.

“A lot of different people told me when I had my son, that that was it, I now was not able to get into leadership,” said Ms Moise-Dixon. “You need to be pro-active. Schools are more diverse and we need more diverse leadership.”

Ms Aasim echoed this sentiment: “I have wanted to be a headteacher since I was six. Having two children has not stopped me. Find people who believe in you. Find people to help you on that journey. It can be done.”

The all-day event, sponsored by Microsoft, included 59 workshops covering subjects from “the mystery of headship” to “courageous and compassionate leaders”.

Jill Berry, education consultant and former president of the Girls School Association, told a packed audience that every teacher already leads learning in their classroom and she believed that every teacher had significant leadership skills.

She said: “Don’t sell yourself short. You might not want a formal leadership role, it’s not for everybody. But if it’s not for you, is that for the right reasons?

“The summer before I started headship, I burst into tears in the B&Q car park. I thought ‘why was I doing this? I might be rubbish’. But if you are not prepared to fail, you will not achieve success.”

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