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'Why are there disproportionately few female school leaders and why are they paid less than their male colleagues?'

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The system is stacked against women stepping up to school leadership across the education sector

In the current debate on the gender pay gap and women’s access to senior roles, one might be forgiven for thinking that women are pretty well represented in senior leadership roles in the teaching profession. After all, 74 per cent of teachers are female: 80 per cent of school staff overall. And yes, the majority of head teachers and senior leaders are women, but get behind the figures and there’s more to worry about.

Although 74 per cent of all classroom teachers are female, only 66 per cent of head teachers are female. And there’s an even greater difference in secondary schools: women make up 64 per cent of the teaching workforce but only 39 per cent of head teachers.

There are a number of key factors in this. The last Teacher Workload Survey by the Department for Education found that school leaders were working an average of 60 hours a week compared to 54 hours for teachers. Combining this with the caring responsibilities that often fall to women can make school leadership an unattractive proposition. Clearly, we need to work towards a greater acceptance of flexible arrangements for both men and women with caring responsibilities.

We also know the governing bodies and trustees that employ school leaders are often very wary of flexible working arrangements for school leaders. The intransigence on this point can make it difficult for some women to access leadership positions, even though I know of some brilliant headships being delivered, for example, by two women as a job share. Unfortunately, they are notable exceptions for the education sector. The DfE has acknowledged that this is a problem, and it is looking at ways to encourage flexible working in the profession so that we keep and develop some of our most promising teachers to senior leaders.

No requirement 

Another concern is that the interview panels for senior leadership roles are volunteer trustees and school governors, usually with an independent adviser. There is no requirement for any mandatory training for the individuals involved in this – so no opportunity to question and understand concepts like "unconscious bias" or equality of opportunity. The recruitment of some of our most influential public sector professionals relies on untrained volunteers. Yes, many of them have experience from their own work or profession, but that is not always enough to ensure equal treatment of all the candidates. NAHT has been arguing for years that governors and trustees – who are ultimately accountable for the nation’s schools – must receive a minimum level of training to deliver their obligations. The government disagrees.

As for the gender pay gap, women head teachers earn an average of £65,500 while men earn an average of £73,700 – a 13 per cent difference. Those women who do secure a headship role in a secondary school do better than those in primary where the gender pay gap is greater. The average pay for all male leadership teachers across primary state-funded schools including academies is on average £3,900 more than their female counterparts every year (£57,500 vs £53,600).

This gap is largest across primary academies – which have an average pay gap of £5,000 compared to local authority-maintained nursery and primary schools, with an average pay gap of £2,800. One reason for this is that academies are not bound by the pay framework set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document. Many have developed alternative approaches to setting pay that allow greater flexibility for leadership roles. It seems that greater negotiation on pay in academies could be contributing to a bigger gender pay gap.

More equitable outcomes 

The position of this union is clear: we believe that the pay of all staff working in schools and academies should be covered by a national pay and conditions framework. Relying on a clear and transparent framework, rather than individual negotiations, is more likely to result in equitable outcomes for men and women.

Concern about these issues is why #WomenEd was formed as a grassroots movement that connects existing and aspiring leaders in education, gaining members and followers all the time to campaign for a more equitable balance in terms of gender and ethnicity at leadership level across all sectors of education. Clearly, there’s still a lot for all of us to do. 

First published 12 March 2018