Gender balance of secondary heads won’t match workforce until 2040

Fewer than four in 10 leaders of state secondaries are women, survey finds

New research into the proportion of female secondary headteachers reveals wide variations across the country.

Dr Kay Fuller, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Nottingham, found that women made up just 38 per cent of headteachers in state secondary schools in 2015, up from 25 per cent in 2001.

“I think that’s very slow progress in 15 years,” she said. “At that rate of progress, it will take until 2040 to have the same proportion of women headteachers as women teachers in secondary schools.”

The survey of England’s 3,266 secondary heads, which was completed with information from school websites, found that the proportion of female headteachers matched or exceeded the proportion of female secondary teachers nationally in just seven of the 151 authority areas with secondary schools.

A societal issue

Women make up about 62.5 per cent of secondary teaching staff, according to the latest government figures from 2014, but this was reflected in only the London borough of Merton (where the proportion of female heads was 62.5 per cent), Darlington (62.5 per cent), Wokingham (66.7 per cent), Bracknell Forest (66.7 per cent), Bristol (68.2 per cent), Richmond upon Thames (70 per cent) and Thurrock (70 per cent).

London had the highest proportion of female heads of all the regions in 2001 at 41.1 per cent, but by 2015 there had only been a slight rise to 42.9 per cent and the capital was overtaken by other metropolitan areas. Over the same period, the proportion of female heads in South Yorkshire rose from 25.3 per cent to 47.1 per cent.

Dr Fuller said: “I think it is a societal issue. I think schools are reflecting society but it’s an important issue for schools because schools are the first outside organisation that children have access to. They see the people in power in that organisation and they really should see a more equitable range of people in power.”

The lowest proportion of female heads was in Kensington and Chelsea, where none of the six state secondaries were led by a woman. The next lowest was Herefordshire, where 12.5 per cent of the 16 secondaries had female headteachers.

A spokesman for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said: “The appointment of headteachers is a matter for the governors of individual schools. We are confident that the headteachers in the borough’s secondary schools and indeed in our primary schools as well are doing an excellent job which is borne out by the number of parents who wish to send their children to a Royal Borough School.

“It is worth noting that Kensington and Chelsea is the second smallest borough in the country and that [the principal of] the borough’s sixth-form college is a woman.”

Negative stereotypes

In the nine largest authorities, which all have more than 50 secondary schools, the proportion of women headteachers varied from 51 per cent in Kent to 29.6 per cent in Lincolnshire.

“There remain stereotypes around leadership being male and the stereotypes around women are negative. There is discrimination,” Dr Fuller said. “There really is a glass escalator for men.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know women are currently under-represented in top school leadership roles, particularly at secondary – that’s why the secretary of state announced a support package in March to help more women reach the top of the profession and drive up the number of female headteachers, including better access to job shares and flexible working, alongside coaching and mentoring for anyone returning to work or wanting to move into a leadership position.”

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