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Statistics speak louder than action

Most German regions now have "positive action" schemes to help women into top posts, including preferential employment policies, appointment targets, and extra training opportunities - but women are still crowded into the lower echelons and the worst-paid sectors, writes Jennie Brookman.

Teaching is considered to be a female profession in Germany - only 38 per cent of teachers are men. Though they represent 90 per cent of part-time teachers, and predominate in kindergarten (95 per cent) and primary schools (70 per cent), women hold only only 32 per cent of grammar school posts.

Education agencies, perhaps significantly, have no figures on women in management. But the national headteachers' association, ASV, confirmed that there are relatively few women heads.

The prospects for women who take career breaks seem likely to worsen. Most western German teachers are Beamten (state employees enjoying tenure and enviable benefits). If they take maternity breaks they are guaranteed their old job at the same pay on return. But Beamten status is being scrapped because of its cost.

Teaching is also a predominantly female profession in France, but again women remain concentrated in the lower grades, writes Jane Marshall.

Civil service status gives men and women teachers equality of opportunity and pay, and there are regulations designed to help women wanting to combine career and motherhood. These include at least 16 weeks' maternity leave, and rights for either parent to work part-time or take (unpaid) parental leave until the child is three. Nevertheless, most teachers who opt for part-time work are women.

Three quarters of teachers in primary education are women, though recent teacher-training reforms are raising the status and pay of primary staff to the same level as those in secondaries.

Women account for 56 per cent of general secondary teachers, and tend to teach arts-based subjects. But, predictably, the proportion of women declines as the status of post becomes higher; only 29 per cent of secondary heads are women, and they are under-represented in the preparatory classes for the elite grandes ecoles.

About 63 per cent of Denmark's secondary teachers are women, but they hold only one in five of the country's 3,718 secondary headships, writes Michael de Laine.

Nevertheless, many Danes do not consider there is any discrimination against women. Birgit Lose, in her mid-40s, is head of Koge Bugt Privatskole, at Solrod, 30 kilometres south of Copenhagen, for 12 years. She says: "I cannot recall any discrimination at the schools where I have taught. As far as I can see, if the teacher is competent enough there are no problems."

Female employees are generally well protected and their rights during maternity leave (eight months) and parental leave (12 months) are normally respected. Nevertheless, there are documented instances of staff being sacked during pregnancy, and "missed" promotions during leave.

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