Losing out in caring roles

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
... as men still get paid more and are more likely to be leading primary or secondary schools. Sophie Kirkham reports.

Pupils are growing up with an "accepted" view of a sexist society because of the lack of women in senior positions in schools, research has found.

School governors, responsible for appointing headteachers, are criticised for holding some "very traditional" views on gender roles while heads are unaware of the inequality.

Women make up 69 per cent of full-time qualified teachers and the majority of the temporary and supply market, but statistics from the Department for Education and Skills show that men are 3.1 times more likely to become primary heads and 2.6 times more likely to become head in a secondary.

A gender pay gap also exists with men attracting higher salaries for the same jobs: a male secondary head gets pound;58,510 on average, compared to Pounds 55,180 for a woman.

Marie-Pierre Moreau and Jayne Osgood, who led the research at the Institute for Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan university, said:

"Elsewhere (in society) you have equal opportunities and talk of gender equality, but in schools there is this hidden implication that it is accepted again for women to take the caring positions and for men to have the more valued positions.

"This is a serious matter of which importance should not be understated: if traditional gender constructions are conveyed to pupils, this may restrict the possibility for a more gender equal society in the future."

While teaching is labelled a female-friendly profession, the report claims this can only be true "if women are prepared to expect less from their careers and their employers than their male counterparts". Women who had progressed to management positions were more likely to be single or divorced, it said.

The report The career progression of women teachers in England: a study of barriers to promotion and careers development, is based on interviews with more than 100 women teachers, heads and governors at 15 schools.

Interviewees complained of misogyny in schools where they were bullied by male colleagues and pupils.

Positive discrimination for men in primary schools was acknowledged alongside the culture of drinking and playing golf with the male boss to gain promotion. Equal opportunities statements were dismissed as "bits of paper" as decision-makers put women's lack of progression down to personal choice. Flexible working arrangements were often viewed negatively and as "preferential treatment". Maternity leave was likened to demotion.

Schools are excluded from specific duties under the Government latest sex equality legislation, possibly as a result of fears that single-sex schools could be damaged.

Jenny Watson, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: "This report highlights the need for focused action... the issue will not be addressed unless the Government plugs the holes that exist in the Equality Bill."

The report calls for equality training for heads and governors, and more awareness of the gender imbalance at senior levels.

The report can be read online at http:www.londonmet.ac.uklondonmetlibraryc51886_3.pdf

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