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Women heads lose out

Survey shows gender gap in Welsh heads' salaries, with sexist attitudes still in evidence. Karen Thornton reports.

Women headteachers in Wales are routinely not paid as much as male colleagues for doing the same job, according to survey findings released this week.

Sexist attitudes, informal and formal restraints on funding, lack of comparable pay information, and inadequately trained governors are all partly to blame, according to the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru.

Regional officer Anne Hovey claimed one governing body had considered sporting prowess to be a key quality in their new head - but had nonetheless overlooked a female candidate who was a world champion in her sport because it was not a mainstream team game.

But she said women also need to be more stroppy when it comes to demanding their just desserts. NAHT Cymru, at its annual conference today in Llangollen, is expected to call on the Welsh Assembly government to require local education authorities to collect pay information to help address the gender gap.

The conference was told that national data shows school leaders in Wales, both male and female, are paid less than their counterparts in England.

Last year, Welsh heads were paid 89.8 per cent of the pay of their English colleagues, according to data from the School Teachers Review Body.

Welsh women heads, in turn, are paid less than Welsh male heads, according to data collected from four education authorities on around 500 heads.

For example, in one LEA in 2003, only 20 per cent of female primary heads were earning the average for all heads in England and Wales in 2002.

Ms Hovey, who compiled the data for a research project, found none of the LEAs gave systematic advice to governors about determining heads' and deputies' pay, nor on gender pay equity, and none had carried out equal pay audits and reviews. Yet all felt they were equal pay employers. One official said equality of opportunity was built into the system because pay ranges for heads relate to the size of their schools.

But several LEAs subdivide these statutory ranges into smaller ranges - particularly in respect of smaller schools. As women heads tend to be concentrated in smaller schools, this could be interpreted as a form of indirect discrimination. LEAs were also advising governors against using their statutory discretion to offer additional pay points.

Ms Hovey said more work was needed to establish whether men are earning more because they have been in service longer, or because women are concentrated in smaller schools.

But she said figures for England and Wales show women are consistently paid less than men in similar-sized schools. And women may find it harder to be promoted to larger schools.

"In amalgamations, I'm not aware of any questioning of whether the skills of the male junior school head are transferable to the infant school. But I am aware of more than one case where the relevance of the skills coming from the infant female head were questioned," she said.

Colin Thomas, director of Governors Wales, was cautious about the findings.

"Governing bodies work out careful criteria, particularly for headships.

And much performance review of pay relates to whether there is evidence that they have met the targets previously agreed with governors."

But Kate Bennett, director of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Wales, said women were being short-changed. "LEAs should carry out pay reviews to identify inequalities and close pay gaps."

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