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Maternity leave: 'Women need more support from schools'

School leaders need to do more to help women before and after having a baby, argues Charlotte Andrews, and maternity coaching is just one option

maternity leave

School leaders need to do more to help women before and after having a baby, argues Charlotte Andrews, and maternity coaching is just one option

Maternity coaching is not a new concept – it has been a growing industry for over 10 years in the private sector. So how did it come about? What are the benefits? And why should schools care?  

Having a baby is a major life transition. It offers a new perspective and raises questions about both personal and professional identity. Supporting women as they negotiate this new territory is not simply a way of making them feel valued and promoting well-being (as important as these things are), it also makes good business sense. As well as providing personal support, maternity coaching helps women to plan for and manage their maternity leave and feel comfortable in their return to work.

The fundamental motivation for most of the banks and law firms who started this trend was to retain valuable employees who were otherwise quitting. And it seems to work. Hanging on to talented and experienced women is both financially beneficial and improves business performance, with women returning to work more confident and better prepared for the impact of changes to their family life – and ready to get on with work.

Maternity coaching: how does it work?

But what is it about coaching that’s so effective? For starters, there is no well-meaning advice; new parents get plenty of that already. Instead, it offers a supportive space where women can gain clarity about what they want, build their confidence, and feel empowered to take the steps that are right for them to get there.

Maternity coaching also helps to address the assumption that women returning from parental leave lack ambition or want to sideline their careers. For some women, this may be true (at least temporarily), but more often, I speak to women who are actively looking for ways to develop their career or are seeking promotions. This is no less true of teachers than it is in other professions.   

With women representing nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of the teaching profession, it’s a no-brainer: maternity coaching can be as valuable for schools as it is for big corporates in terms of retaining and developing staff. It should be provided as standard.

So, what can school leaders do to start to incorporate maternity coaching?

  • Invest in support that spans the whole transition period: maternity coaching is most effective when support is provided before, during and after maternity leave. The return to work can be a particularly challenging time.  

  • Incorporate maternity coaching into a wider picture of options to support parental leave. This might include part-time and flexible working as well as job shares and strategies to deal with performance management, interviews and promotions whilst on leave.

  • Offer paternity coaching, too. Perhaps more men would take up the government’s offer of shared parental leave if they had a forum to be strategic about how it could work for their families.  

  • Use an accredited coach who is passionate about supporting parents and schools. The Maternity Teacher Paternity Teacher Project can offer support with this.

  • Be creative about funding. KIT day money is one possibility, but ultimately, it is also worth remembering the lesson from the private sector that maternity coaching makes good business sense: so it will always be a good investment.

Charlotte Andrews is a former teacher, maternity coach and accreditation coach for the Maternity Teacher Paternity Teacher (MTPT) Project. @maternitycpd

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