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Education is Far from Immune in Discriminating Against Women

Females face penalties across all sorts of professions, and unfortunately education is not immune – so it’s time to stand up and be counted, says Keziah Featherstone...

  • Education is Far from Immune in Discriminating Against Women

Sitting in the staffroom, you’ll notice that you’re hardly alone. The vast majority of primary teachers are women but there is a really good chance that your headteacher is male.

If it makes you feel any better, the ratio is far worse in secondary schools. Shockingly, when children look at their role models at school, they see women as the workers and men as the leaders. How can that be right given we’re one fifth of the way through the 21st century?

It’s easy not to notice your male counterparts shooting up the ladder ahead of you.

Sitting in a pub with my fellow PGCE students and tutors, I remember hearing a male primary trainee being told, “You’re a bloke in primary, you’ll be a head in five years,” and everyone laughed.

But the prediction came true – and he was pretty rubbish, too.

The statistics are shocking and they’re hard to believe. You’d never imagine that education has the third worst industry gender pay gap in the country, would you?

Or that women headteachers in primary schools earn £1,600 less per year than their male counterparts?

That while 57% of men in education would consider negotiating their initial salary offer, only 7% of women would?

It’s enough to make your blood boil.

Women face many penalties across all sorts of workforces; it’s such a pity that education is not immune.

We are more likely to take parental leave, to request part-time or flexible working. Research has shown we’re frequently lacking in the confidence to apply for promotions or, if knocked back, apply for the next one.

Is it any surprise that one in every four teachers leaving the classroom in recent years is a woman in her 30s? Frankly, the gender imbalance in education is fuelling the retention and recruitment crisis.

You may be one of the many women told that they’re not suitable for an SLT position because you’re part time. Or you may be told that you have to relinquish a TLR when returning from maternity leave. Maybe your boss sees you as a nice, nurturing type of leader, rather than someone who gets stuff done.

And of course, who wants to be in a job interview and be asked what your contraceptive plans are? Yes, that still happens. It would never happen to a man. Indeed, research also suggests that men with children earn more than those without. We face a motherhood penalty, men a fatherhood bonus.

So I really want you to know about WomenEd. It’s an organisation completely dedicated to changing this imbalance. Founded over a very civil afternoon tea a few years ago by a few women fed up with the way things were, it is now an international movement that has reached out to thousands across all sorts of educators.

Like you, all involved in the WomenEd steering group work in education full time. I’m a secondary headteacher, and a mum, and unbelievably my relationship is intact. I’m not unusual or special and, to be honest, I never even considered myself as having leadership potential when I started (a very long long time ago).

You’ll find us on Twitter as @WomenEd and using the hashtag #WomenEd, building a supportive community of women, and men, all aligned to making education more equitable.

We always work with all men in education – our He for She advocates. We’re on Facebook, we have a website, we email newsletters to you, signpost WomenEd-friendly jobs, run countless local, national and international face-to-face events, free coaching and have now even a published a book.

Join us.


Keziah is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers Roundtable and head of Q3 Academy Tipton. She has co-edited the book 10% Braver, (£16.99, Sage). Follow her on Twitter at @keziah70.

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