Female backlash as focus turns to boys

20th April 2001 at 01:00
Women teachers are losing out as school governors promote men. Amanda Kelly and Clare Dean report

ATTEMPTS to tackle boys' under-achievement have worsened women's career prospects, it was claimed this week.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, Sue Rogers, a history teacher and former president of the union, said: "The whole issue of women's career prospects has disappeared from the agenda.

"Schools are now more interested in recruiting and promoting strong male role models, particularly in primary schools."

New figures also show that, during the past year, the proportion of women appointed to secondary headships has fallen by 10 percentage points.

Recent research by Marianne Coleman, senior lecturer in education management at Leicester University, found that 60 per cent of the 670 female secondary heads in England and Wales believed they had been victims of sexism, particularly when seeking promotion.

She also believes the problem is being compounded by the crusade to boost boys' performance. "Whenever there is an issue about boys being disadvantaged, that always seems to overshadow the issue of girls' and women's equal opportunities. Boys have once again taken centre stage and their under achievement at GCSE has pushed females off the agenda."

Women delegates at the NASUWT conference told The TES that they were now not only fighting sexism, long hours and childcare difficulties, but also the knock-on effect of schools concentrating on employing male role models to inspire disillusioned boys.

Latest Government figures show that although three times more women than men embark on a career in primary-school teaching, they are three times less likely to reach deputy head level within 10 years or gain a headship within 15 years of service.

In secondary schools, men are twice as likely as women to reach head or deputy head level with less than 20 years of experience.

Since September 2000, women have accounted for 71 per cent of primary headship appointments and 30 per cent of secondary headships.This represents a decrease on last year when the figures were 75 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

Margaret Morgan, deputy principal of Ilfracombe College in Devon, lost out on a headship to a male candidate after being told he was "the safer pair of hands" as men were considered the natural leaders.

John Howson, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, said that although women were making good progress into middle management, they were struggling to make it to the highest ranks.

He said: "What is less clear is whether this is because employers are favouring male over female applicants or whether women are simply not applying. But I can imagine a male applicant being favoured by governors for a senior post because they are keen to employ a figure the boy pupils can look up to."


Jenny Monk started teaching 40 years ago and never once took a career break despite having two children. She repeatedly applied for promotion but never made it to either head of year or department.

The 62-year-old science teacher, who worked in schools in Kent and Liverpool until 1999, is now doing supply work.

"I was consistently turned down for promotion because of my children. I was asked at one interview how I would cope if we had another baby. I was led to believe that as a woman perhaps I should not expect to take on a senior position, even though I worked really hard and rarely took time off.

"Things don't appear to have got much better for today's women teachers - there is still that widespread assumption that men should be leaders."


New entrants to teaching


men pound;15,090

women pound;15,040


men pound;15,360

women pound;15,170

Full-time classroom teachers


men pound;21,030

women pound;20,900


men pound;23,930

women pound;22,660

Primary heads

men pound;33,070

women pound;32,120

Secondary heads

men pound;45,700

women pound;42,700

Source: DFEE statistics of education teachers, England and Wales 1999

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