Ready for leadership

21st February 1997 at 00:00
Women teachers are the most accessible role models for girls. But are women teachers showing girls that they can reach the top of aprofession? Or are they perpetuating the role of women who support but never lead?

The statistics speak for themselves. In nursery and primary education, one in three men is a headteacher, the ratio for women is one to 14.

In secondary it is a similar picture. One man in 27 is a head while only one woman in 97 makes it to that level.

This is the result of a whole range of factors that affect men and women in different ways such as organisation and social culture, expectations, sexism, childcare and working practices.

It's not easy, but it is possible to break through these barriers with planning. Most teachers are overwhelmed by the million and one day-to-day things that demand attention right now.

Getting a grip on planning a career is always something that can be done some other time after the exams, the Office for Standards in Education inspection, the play, the marking. Then after work or in the holidays the family needs extra attention, the bedroom needs decorating, the dog needs a bath...

There is no place like a school for justifying career inaction. If you are good you will be needed. And there's nothing like being needed, by the children, the parents, the head, to justify self-inflicted sacrifice. These influences are powerful, but career success will only come from spending a little time on yourself.

Pauline Rowson, running women's courses for the Hampshire Education Business Partnership, says: "Women need to look outside their comfort zone.They say 'I really need to stretch myself, but what if I can't cope?' Women teachers have the same sort of problems as women in other professional groups but are also batt-ling the overall image of teaching; they are in a profession that is being knocked, which doesn't do self-esteem any favours."

Strategies on courses like this take assertiveness techniques a stage further to help women project a positive image, recognise what they are good at, take credit when it's due and win at organisational politics.

And when women teachers understand how to apply these techniques and how to plan for more flexible careers for themselves, they need to pass them on to girls as part of their preparation for work.

How to get going

There are a few things that you can do immediately that don't commit you: - Ask your head for a personal development session or an appraisal.

- Lift your thinking away from your own school; start to consider how wide the geographic area available is. That doesn't mean that you have to uproot the family to the other end of the country unless you are in a really remote area.

- The LEA is a good starting point for finding out what jobs are available, and where jobs are advertised.

- Go on a promotion or preparation for management course. If this is impractical speak to the personnel office in your LEA for a copy of the equal opportunities policy. At the very least get yourself a book on recruitment and selection.

- Have a career development plan, don't just drift.

- Get your qualities known, tackle additional tasks that will get you noticed but don't overburden yourself by being the school dog's-body.

- Get as much training as you can, anticipate what skills a head or deputy needs. The other advantage of training is that you'll get to meet people from other schools, governors and LEA officers and widen your contacts.

- If there are career development courses or opportunities such as work-shadowing , try them out.

- Don't be put off if your management style is different. Women tend to have a more participative style and it's the style that works best in times of change.

- Get moral support from other women. Many authorities will have women's networks or a gender officer.

You can do all this before you've even put pen to application form. Through all this you will be refining what you want. You may decide that promotion is not for you. That's good because you'll be doing what you want on the basis of an informed decision.

Getting Short-listed

- You won't get short-listed if you don't fill in the application correctly, submit an old dog-eared CV, write a long rambling letter obscuring your skills or assume that the panel already know you.

- Don't apply for a job unless you really want it. Applying for anything that's going or for interview practice will just create a poor impression.

- Most job descriptions have a person specification or a list of essential and desirable qualities. You must show how you met the criteria.

- Don't devalue your work by giving credit to everyone else. If you did something, say "I" in your application, not "we".

- If you get an invitation to an interview, don't panic. Again, careful preparation, like a pre-visit can help you assess the school's culture. Ask for copies of policies, the annual report to parents, statistics.

- Talk to anyone who knows the school, but beware of canvassing.

- Re-read your application form, the job description and notes from any career development course.

- At interview bear in mind that the panel are only human. Some of them may be inexperienced or nervous. However, you should be treated courteously and fairly.

- First impressions count. The right clothes, words, body language and a confident smile can swing a panel in your favour in the first few moments. u Remember that selection is not a scientific process. Even when following equal opportunities procedures, the panel are conditioned by their own backgrounds and prejudices. If you have genuine cause for complaint, raise it quickly. If there has been a breach in procedure, raising it when someone else has been appointed is too late.

- Don't take it to heart if you don't get appointed. Being short-listed is good progress. Ask for feed-back in a positive way. Women teachers are the most accessible role models for girls. But are women teachers showing girls that they can reach the top of a profession? Or are they perpetuating the role of women who support, but never lead?

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