The face of school leaders is changing, with new figures showing a huge surge in the number of women Read More

The archetypal “demon” headmaster, complete with cane, gown and mortar board, is etched in the memory of pupils the world over.

But the familiar face of school leaders is changing, with new figures showing a huge surge in the number of women applying for the top jobs.

Women now make up almost a third of Wales’ secondary headteachers and a profession traditionally dominated by men is becoming far more competitive.

Statistics released by classroom watchdog the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) have revealed a doubling of female school leaders in just eight years.

In 2004, the GTCW Annual Statistics Digest showed just 16.5% of secondary heads in Wales were women – compared to the current 31.7% level.

Last year’s rise was the biggest to date and took the total number of female secondary heads in Wales to 70.

And the upward trend looks set to continue with increasing female interest in the National Professional Qualification in Headship (NPQH).

Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, welcomed the changing position.

He said: “Over the last decade, the gender balance at middle leadership positions in secondary schools has changed significantly and thus the more equitable gender balance in senior leadership, as revealed by the GTCW data, was to be expected.

“In the early 1990s, virtually all middle leadership positions were occupied by men but that has changed significantly and any barriers which existed at that stage are gone.”

Helen O’Sullivan is headteacher at Tonypandy Community College in Rhondda Cynon Taf, where the proportion of female school leaders is nearer 50:50.

She said women had become more aspirational and the role of headteacher had changed in ways that has made the job more attractive to female teachers.

“The role of head has changed and is much more diverse than it used to be,” she said.

“Many years ago, the role of head was very different and they were far more removed. Today, successful leaders need to be more visible, have a higher profile and have stronger people skills. These are skills that many women naturally have.

“In my experience, female candidates for headship are presenting themselves with stronger skill sets than in the past. They will have done a number of different roles within the school and have undertaken extensive professional development.

“Working with a team of staff gives you the opportunity to have a real impact and change people’s lives. But regardless of gender, the role of headteacher is very demanding so both male and female heads need the full support of their families in order to do the job effectively.”

Eithne Hughes, headteacher at Ysgol Bryn Elian in Conwy, said: “I believe women teachers are now more confident about seeking headship positions and that is helping remove the glass ceiling which women will more readily aim to break through.

“It’s important that we achieve gender balance among head-teachers so that education benefits from what both men and women bring to leadership.”

Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, said the statistics were “encouraging” but added that although women continue to dominate the teaching profession in Wales, more must be done at the highest level.

“There are probably a variety of causes for the change, but more family-friendly policies, greater awareness of the need for gender balance and the crumbling of any sort of ‘old boy’s network’ seem to be having an effect,” he said.

“However, we should not be complacent. It is still not acceptable that, while around two thirds of the workforce in secondary schools are women, just under one third of heads are female.”

Katy Chamberlain, chief executive of Chwarae Teg, which promotes the role of women in the Welsh workforce, said: “This is very good news which shows that investing in the right type of professional development gives women the skills to achieve their full potential.

“I hope the trend towards greater gender balance in secondary school leadership continues to accelerate. Not only does it provide valuable role models for other female teachers, it also encourages female students to aspire to senior positions in whatever career they choose.”

The publication of data by the GTCW coincides with the deadline this month for public sector bodies in Wales to publish their Strategic Equality Plans, designed to ensure equality across the Welsh workforce.
(walesonline.co.uk)

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