It's grim up North for female high-flyers

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Are women getting a fair crack at headship? It depends where in the country you're asking.

Sandra Edwards and Geoffrey Lyons have a regional guide to who's in the hot seat

It still seems to be seen as risky to appoint a woman as a headteacher. The older the children, the bigger the school - or the further away from London - the greater is the need perceived to be for a male hand on the tiller.

Figures from the Department for Education and Employment for March 1993 show that of the 196,632 full-time teachers in secondary schools in England and Wales half are men and half women. However, in the same figures 78 per cent of heads are male. In Scotland, Scottish Education Office figures for the same year reveal 24,345 full-time secondary teachers, half men and half women though men occupy 95 per cent of heads' posts.

Our own database covering almost 27,000 maintained schools shows that London has a higher proportion of female heads - more than 50 per cent in inner London authorities such as Camden, Hackney and Newham(which has 69 per cent). In the outer London boroughs the distribution of females in secondary headship lies somewhere between 35 per cent and 45 per cent. However, there are exceptions; only 11 per cent of secondary heads in Barking are women.

But as one moves north, south, east or west from London the percentage of female secondary heads steadily declines. The northern shires, the West Country and most of Wales invariably had less than 13 per cent of female heads, and it is a rarity for the other shire counties or ex-metropolitan areas to attain 30 per cent or more. North Tyneside, Wakefield and Dyfed had no female secondary heads.

For an experienced, ambitious and managerially capable woman looking for promotion to senior positions in secondary schools, and then for a headship, the picture presented in the larger part of England, Scotland and Wales is bleak.

These most recent figures show a slight improvement in females holding secondary headships since we last looked at this issue in 1994. However, many local authority areas have relatively few secondary schools, particularly if grant-maintained figures are excluded, so one appointment can amount to a large percentage change.

Figures recently published in Hansard (January 30) also show a slight increase in the percentage of female secondary heads in recent years. The past seven or eight years have shown a greater turnover in headteachers than had been seen for a considerable number of years previously. But even if this rate were to be maintained into the future, some semblance of a fair reflection of gender numbers in the workforce is unlikely to be achieved within the working lives of most women currently thinking of headship.

In Scotland, 8 per cent of the total 22,196 full-time primary teachers (1,704) are men, but men fill 26 per cent of primary headships.

In England and Wales, according to Department for Education and Employment statistics in March 1993, 50 per cent of primary headships are held by men and 50 per cent by women. While that may seem equable, the male half of headship posts are filled from 19 per cent of teachers.

Also, the distribution of men and women primary heads is distorted across the sector. In infant schools in England, 97 per cent of the heads are women, in Wales 99 per cent; 74 per cent of first school heads are female. Only 31 per cent of junior heads are female and 69 per cent are male. Similarly 74 per cent of middle school headships are held by men. In Wales 76 per cent of junior headships are held by men.

And again, the further from the London area the higher the proportion of males to be found in junior and middle schools headships, and in headships at the larger primary schools (200 pupils or more).

It would seem, then, that: * Women heads are strongly to the fore where younger children are the principal pupils; the reverse is the case for male heads.

* The London area appears to display these traditional values to a lesser degree - except in infant and first schools. It could be, however, that jobs in leading inner-city schools are not so attractive to men and are left available for women. There is also a legacy of the old Inner London Education Authority's forward-looking equal opportunities policies.

* The further one moves away from the London area, the greater the tendency for the age of pupils and size of school to be directly related to the gender of the head.

Women teachers in most parts of England and (particularly) in Scotland and Wales are still facing unfair prejudice in terms of promotion and career progression.

Assuming that women are equally able and intelligent, and just as interested as their male colleagues in fulfilling their career potential, why should a female secondary teacher in Scotland or Wales have a less than one in 10 chance of achieving headship, while their colleagues in London appear not to suffer from these demeaning prejudices?

While this situation prevails the opportunity for females to manage secondary schools in a female way is constrained, and the relevance of management development for half the teaching force is likely to be negated before it has even started. Meanwhile, the role model by which duties in schools are discharged and leadership portrayed to pupils is seriously constrained.

While many heads are thriving on the new responsibilities offered by the recent education acts, vacancies for headship are staying open longer as the job appears increasingly onerous. Women give up applying sooner than their male counterparts - rejection is probably perceived as a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the consequences are counterproductive. A nonsense is made of equal opportunities policies, at least of their monitoring and evaluation, and the figures point at a very real waste of ability and experience. Market forces and equal opportunities co-exist uneasily.

Professional associations are in a difficult position on this issue since they must equally represent the interests of both male and female members. Female professional associations no longer exist.

Within this context, the Teacher Training Agency's intention to provide criteria for the accreditation of headteachers is important. At last women applying for headship will know exactly against what criteria they are to be assessed. If they have achieved the qualifications recommended by the TTA and have not been selected for interview, they will be in a stronger position to challenge that decision.

A group of United States elementary principals told us that they could not understand why litigation had not long ago been used to resolve these issues. The evidence will soon be to hand to enable this.

* Sandra Edwards is a senior lecturer at the University of East London. Geoffrey Lyons is head of the Education Management Research Group


Region Fewer than 200 pupils More than 200 pupils Female Male Female Male Wales 42 58 27 73 Scotland 76 24 67 33 England 48 51 41 59 England Regions Greater London 65 34 60 40 Home Counties 58 42 44 56 West of England 44 56 28 72 East of England 49 51 43 57 Midlands metro 34 66 42 58 Midlands West Midlands 49 51 33 67 North Midlands 44 56 29 71 MerseysideManchester Yorkshire metro 48 52 40 60 Tyne and Wear 45 55 44 56 North of England 49 51 33 67


Region Infant Junior Secondary Female Male Female Male Female Male Wales 99 1 24 76 10 90 Scotland NA NA NA NA 5 95 England 97 3 31 69 21 79 England by Region Greater London 96 4 44 56 40 60 Home Counties 97 3 37 63 26 74 West of England 97 3 28 72 15 85 East of England 98 2 30 70 16 84 Midlands metro 98 2 31 69 23 77 MidlandsWest Midlands 93 7 21 79 24 76 North Midlands 95 5 23 77 16 84 MerseysideManchester Yorkshire metro 95 5 28 72 19 81 Tyne and Wear 100 0 31 67 16 84 North of England 98 2 21 79 13 87

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