The number of women secondary teachers has passed the halfway mark for the first time, rising from 46 per cent in 1990 to 50.7 per cent, according to the latest school census. Two out of every three unpromoted class teachers are women.
The proportion of secondary woman heads is also rising steadily. Out of the 398 heads in post last September, 28 were women, representing 7 per cent of heads compared with 4.6 per cent in 1994 and 3 per cent in 1990.
The progress of women in other promoted posts suggests women are well placed to reach the top in secondary schools. More than half of assistant principal teachers, more than a third of principal teachers, about a third of assistant heads and one in eight deputes are women.
But Angela Finn at Dumbarton Academy, who describes herself as "the first female head of a secondary school with a history of 500 years", warned that the primary sector has to do more. The overwhelming imbalance in primary schools is confirmed by the census which shows that men represent 9.2 per cent of all primary teachers but hold 27.4 per cent of headships.
Ms Finn, speaking at a conference on equal opportunities organised by the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Equal Opportunities Commission, called on women to be given more effective support.
"Before going for promotion, you want to be sure you will make a success of it," she said, "and that does not sit easily with family commitments, particularly when senior management is not a nine to four job."
Ms Finn criticised the performance indicators published by the Inspectorate in How Good is Our School? for failing to include gender issues as one of the evaluative tools. "The ethos of the white, middle-class male is still very prevalent in schools," she said.
The Scottish Office should also collate information on the number of teachers who are disabled or from ethnic backgrounds, she said.
In his speech to the conference, Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, gave an assurance that councils would be expected to give a high priority to monitoring gender issues and discrimination in the classroom and to take action where necessary, particularly to ensure that classroom organisation and teaching methodologies did not set up any barriers.
Ms Reid said monitoring of pupil achievement was the key to keeping a check on the progress of pupils at risk.
Ms Finn called for research into the growing problem of underperformance among boys, which led to high rates of truancy and exclusion. The effect of years of family unemployment on working-class boys' attitudes to education had to be investigated, she said Figures show that 80 per cent of girls but only 73 per cent of boys left school in 1995 with one or more Standard grade passes at 1-3. This compares with 58 per cent of girls and 55 per cent of boys who achieved the equivalent qualifications in 1975.
The Equal Opportunities Commission, which is about to appoint its first education officer in Scotland, says other concerns remain such as the underrepresentation of girls with higher level vocational qualifications, gender stereotyping in subject options in school, the preponderance of women in socially oriented jobs, while men opt for technical occupations, and the disadvantages faced by girls in rural areas.