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Glass ceiling is in sight but the view is distorted

Women appear to be nearer to breaking the glass ceiling in landing the top school jobs, according to the latest information on Scottish local authorities. But the figures are not what they seem.

Data for 2003-04, published yesterday (Thursday) by the Accounts Commission, show that 33 per cent of senior management in secondaries and 82 per cent in primaries were women. But this includes depute heads - and their numbers are inflated because of the inclusion of former assistant heads, many of them women.

The most recent school census, for 2003, showed that only 18 per cent of secondary head posts were held by women, although they made up 57 per cent of the teaching force. And in the primary sector, where 80 per cent of primary heads were women, 93 per cent of teachers were female.

The picture for deputes in the census is the most positive despite the distortion of the assistant heads - 36 per cent of secondary deputes and 91 per cent of primary deputes were women.

In East Dunbartonshire secondaries, 67 per cent of secondary heads and deputes were women, compared with Falkirk where the figure was only 12 per cent.

East Dunbartonshire also had more women in the top two jobs in primary schools, 98 per cent, in contrast to Glasgow where only 64 per cent were women.

John Simmons, head of education at East Dunbartonshire Council, stressed that it does not operate any policy of positive discrimination and job applicants are treated on merit. Despite its statistical rating at the top of this particular league table, the authority has only one woman head in its nine secondaries; it previously had two, but one retired and was succeeded by a man.

It seems that women wanting to make it to the top should consider a career in special education. There the proportion of female teachers to heads and deputes is almost perfectly in kilter - 83 per cent and 80 per cent respectively.

The Accounts Commission report also covers school occupancy levels and the qualifications of pupils leaving care, where little has changed.

Some 33 per cent of primaries and 11 per cent of secondaries were "seriously under-occupied" (less than 60 per cent full). And 60 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds who left care had no Standard grades in English and maths, compared to just 7 per cent for the school population as a whole.

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