Sisters doing it for themselves

21st March 2008 at 00:00
The support young women teachers get from female heads is a key factor in giving them confidence to enter school leadership, they say.

Eight out of 10 women heads would encourage female teachers to step up to headship, according to a survey commissioned by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL).

The college believes England's schools face a leadership recruitment crisis over the next three years as many heads retire. Steve Munby, its chief executive, wants women and ethnic minorities to be among the young teachers promoted to succeed the retiring heads.

Two out of three primary and nursery heads are now women, a 10 percentage point rise since 1997.

But some female teachers surveyed believe it is becoming harder to juggle a head's workload with childcare, career breaks and other domestic responsibilities, the survey says.

Mary McManus and her sister Catherine both have headships and live together in Birmingham.

On the evening that they both waited to learn whether they had been appointed to their first headships, they stood side-by-side by the phone

"When it rang, we didn't know who should answer it," said Mary. Within 10 minutes, they had both received the news they had been waiting for. Mary was appointed head of the 240-pupil Birches Green Junior School, while Catherine became head of Highfields Children's Centre, with 230 pupils.

Neither Catherine nor Mary has children, so they have not had to deal with childcare and the career breaks that deter some women from leadership. But they said schools were becoming some of the best places to work for parents - mothers or fathers - who need to work flexibly around their families. Catherine said some teachers are put off by heads' paperwork and enjoy working with children so much that they want to stay in the classroom. "But there's no reason why becoming a head needs to take you away from that," she said. "The problem has been that women lack confidence. Yet women are very good at multi-tasking and time management. What is important is that women are beginning to believe in themselves more."

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