Heading for the top!

THE headship role in Britain s schools has previously been male dominated – but more women are taking on the responsibility. Research by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has shown that female head teacher numbers have grown seven per cent

THE headship role in Britain's schools has previously been male dominated - but more women are taking on the responsibility.

Research by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has shown that female head teacher numbers have grown seven per cent in the last five years.

The Crow spoke to some of the female heads who lead our schools about the increase.

Susan Kennedy, head teacher at Greneway School, Royston, has been teaching for 30 years, and has been a head for eight.

She said: "Becoming a head teacher wasn't a planned route for me. The opportunity was there and I wanted to challenge myself more.

"I was a PE and English teacher and needed to retrain as I chose not to carry on with PE because of injury.

Most Read

"It took me on the pathway and people suggested training to be a head."

The research also showed that 75 per cent of England's heads believed that an increase in flexible working practices has contributed to the increase in women stepping up to the role.

Some 44 per cent said that a greater acceptance of childcare responsibilities had made the job more attractive.

Mrs Kennedy added: "When I was young, women were not expected to have a career.

"There is certainly more flexibility in the role, which may be why more women are going into head teaching now."

Janet Raymond has been head at Meldreth Primary School for four years.

She started teaching in 1972, but took a long break to bring up her family.

She said: "In the 70s it was less flexible.

"Maternity leave was only six weeks, so hardly anyone went back to work, you wouldn't leave a six-week old baby.

"Perhaps the increase in female heads is because there is a greater acceptance of mothers becoming head teachers, and the increase in flexible working practices has made a big difference to the role.

"It is easier to balance family commitments as a head than as a class teacher.

"A class teacher has to be in front of the children 9am-3pm.

"As a head I could catch up on work in the evenings if I had to be at my child's sports day, or if they were sick."

The research by the NCSL showed that 87 per cent of teachers in primary schools were women, and 67 per cent of heads were women.

However, in secondary schools 57 per cent of teachers were women, while only 36 per cent of heads were female.

Mrs Raymond said: "Female teachers are more prominent in primary schools, and that could be why there are more primary female heads than secondary heads.

"There is more of a nurturing role in primary schools, which I think women take to.

"Men in primary schools and training are in the minority, but it is better for the children to have male teachers in the school as well."

Mrs Kennedy said: "I have no idea why more women go into primary education.

"Possibly because men and women perceive that women can't teach the older age range as well."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It is encouraging to see that the proportion of women secondary heads has risen from 31 to 36 per cent in the last two years.

"Women often have excellent emotional intelligence and people skills, which are vitally important qualities in a good head, as well as the other characteristics needed for successful headship."

Jane Murray has been head teacher at Bassingbourn Primary School for two-and-a-half years, and started teaching in 1991.

She said: "The increase of female heads is more of a reflection of the changes in society as a whole.

"Women are more independent now, and there are more opportunities for women to work, as well as more child care opportunities.

"There is a female desire to work in management positions."

According to the NCSL research, 53 per cent of female head teachers see gender discrimination as less of an issue in career progression than it once was.

Mrs Murray said: "I've never felt outdone by male colleagues, maybe because I'm younger, and times have changed.

"I don't feel the pressure of male dominance within the role."

In fact it seems that women now dominate primary education.

Mrs Raymond will be leaving Meldreth Primary School in July, and says all the applicants for her job are female.

Nine out of 10 female heads actively encourage their male and female colleagues to progress their careers.

Mrs Raymond said: "I don't think of my teachers as just male or female - I look at them as individuals.

"I encourage them to progress their careers, and when they are ready, it is a responsibility of a head teacher.

"When I was a young teacher, people actively encouraged me to go into headship - even though it may have taken me 30 years to do it."

Progression should be done at the right time, says Mrs Kennedy.

"I love to see teachers developing, and for those who want to take on the role, I would encourage it.

"It is an excellent job. It can be creative, and you can have an input into how education can develop, which is a wonderful opportunity."

And Mrs Murray agrees.

"It is very healthy to encourage staff to progress. It's not to do with gender, it's their capability.

"It is all down to the best person for the job, male or female.

Phil Revell, chief executive if the National Governors' Association, said: "It is good to see that more women are taking on the head teacher's role.

"Female teachers need to develop their confidence in their ability to tackle the job, where their talents can really make a difference to children, and governors need to be aware of the changes that can be made that will encourage capable applicants or either sex to apply for leadership vacancies."

In the Crow area the number of female heads in primary education is pleasing, but of the four middle and secondary schools in the area, only one has a female head.

Women are still under-represented in school leadership but 81 per cent of female heads believe that more women should step up to the role.

Nationally, there were 12,900 female head teachers in 2001, and 13,800 in 2006, and that number looks set to continue to increase.