Women trail on top jobs

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Men still rule when it comes to headship appointments. Karen Thornton reports

Women are failing to erode male dominance of school leadership posts in Wales. The proportion of female heads was virtually unchanged this year from last at 49.4 per cent, according to the General Teaching Council for Wales.

Yet women make up 73 per cent of GTCW-registered teachers, up from 72 per cent two years ago.

At the current rate, it could be 27 years before the number of women primary heads reflects the current gender balance among teachers, and even longer in the secondary sector, according to more detailed Welsh Assembly statistics.

Teachers and researchers suggest that discrimination by appointment panels or childcare responsibilities may be to blame.

The figures were described as "extremely disappointing" by the Equal Opportunities Commission in Wales. Meanwhile, the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru is to survey its members about headteacher pay differences, amid concerns that women are losing out financially - even when they get promotion.

Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, said: "It's hard to believe that the proportion of women heads is so low because women have chosen not to go for headship. Our research into pay differentials will be useful in finding out what the problems are."

Women make up 81.4 per cent of the primary teaching force, but only 53.6 per cent of heads - a figure that has risen less than two percentage points in five years. However, 70.6 per cent of primary deputies are women.

In secondary schools, women account for 56.5 per cent of all teachers, 17.2 per cent of heads, and nearly a third of deputies. Women are doing better in England where they hold 61.8 and 31.2 per cent of primary and secondary headships respectively.

Pat Clarke, head of St Mary's church-aided school in Overton, near Wrexham, was asked what she would do if her own children were sick when she applied for headships 18 years ago. None of the male candidates were.

"I would like to think things have changed over 18 years, but I'm not sure they have. I can only put it down to the governing body appointment system.

I know women who would love to be a head, but if there are men on the shortlist they seem to get the job."

Colin Thomas, director of Governors Wales, said governors want to appoint the person they feel is best qualified and experienced. But he suggested parenting responsibilities might hold women back from applying.

Trevor Guy, vice-chairman of CELT, the consortium responsible for headship training in Wales, feels women are less likely to put themselves forward for headship. But the National Professional Qualification for Headship - currently held by more than 500 Welsh heads, nearly 300 of them women - is helping to create a more level playing field for appointments, he suggested.

"I'm not convinced there is any one factor operating here."

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly government said: "We would like to see more women headteachers but appointments are a matter for individual schools. Women pursuing headship appointments suffer no more barriers than in any other profession. Rates of pay are set for all teachers."

Ruth Marks, chief executive of Chwarae Teg, the body which promotes the economic development of women in Wales, said: "We need to get to the bottom of why the gap is not closing."

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