Going Dutch but still far from fair

11th October 1996 at 01:00
Nearly 1,000 researchers gathered in Seville two weeks ago for a conference that mixed flamenco and flying cockroaches with a desire to fan awareness of their work across Europe. David Budge reports. The British invariably look to Denmark and Holland when searching for examples of gender equality at work. But women teachers in both countries are still seriously under-represented in management posts.

Some Dutch cities have insisted that half of all senior school posts should be occupied by women.The Danes have also helped ambitious women to climb the career ladder by setting up an almost universal child-care service.

Nevertheless, there are proportionately fewer women headteachers in Denmark and Holland than there are in England. Women held 10 per cent of Danish headships in 1992, compared with 13 per cent in Holland (primary) and 20 per cent in England. The slow progress to gender equality is being charted by three research teams in Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Sheffield, who have been funded by the European Commission. But the researchers are doing more than merely recording statistics; they are promoting small-scale pre-service and in-service training initiatives that are designed to foster women's management ambitions.

The Danish team are handicapped by the national taboo on putting oneself forward as a cut above the rest, but they are aiming to increase women teachers' self-esteem and encourage them to think of teaching as a career as well as a vocation. The Rotterdam researchers have developed a course on career planning for future female school managers and have introduced a second course that is aimed at ethnic-minority teachers.

In England, Sheffield Hallam University researchers Hilary Povey and John Coldron have adopted a different tactic. They are undertaking a case study in a formerly male-dominated secondary school which has been trying to achieve a better gender balance.

The male principal and three male vice-principals have been joined by three women chosen by their female colleagues. However, ironically, the school has been unable to pay the women teachers any extra for their management role. "This structural difference between the vice-principals and the women managers has caused considerable problems," Povey and Coldron add. That sounds like an understatement.

Women's careers in teaching: how can we redress the balance? by the Women's Careers in Teaching project team.

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