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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 02:34 GMT
Female heads 'at all-time high'
teacher doing paperwork
A survey suggests many women teachers lack confidence in leading
The number of women head teachers in England has grown by 7% over the last five years, figures reveal.

Flexible working has played a major role in helping women reach the top, according to research by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL).

Women were still under-represented, NCSL said, despite 13,800 female heads.

School leaders hope that more women will be encouraged to apply for senior management positions, to help to plug an expected shortfall in heads.

This is expected as the "baby boom" generation of heads reaches retirement age.

The NCSL's Women in Headship study found that 87% of primary school teachers are women but only 67% of heads are women and in secondary schools 57% of teachers are women, but only 36% of heads.

Leading a school is a wonderful opportunity to influence the lives of thousands of young people and women should not miss out
John Dunford, general secretary, ASCL

The survey was carried out by ICM between 16 January and 6 February and involved telephone interviews with 573 female teachers and 517 female head teachers.

Of the female heads taking part, 75% said an increase in flexible working practices had helped make the job more attractive, while 44% said a greater acceptance of childcare responsibilities had made a difference.

However, many female teachers did not have the confidence and self-belief to put themselves forward and were more likely than men to doubt their leadership abilities.

The Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, John Dunford, said: "It is encouraging to see that the proportion of women secondary heads has risen from 31 to 36% 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 all the other characteristics needed for successful headship.

"Women who are not certain whether to apply for headships, or who are lacking in self-belief, should study the high degree of success of female heads and should believe in their ability to do the top job.

"Leading a school is a wonderful opportunity to influence the lives of thousands of young people and women should not miss out."

Mentoring schemes

NCSL runs the Tomorrow's Leaders Today campaign to support women who want to become head teachers and encourage their career plans.

NCSL national succession consultant and former head teacher Maggie Roger said: "As the baby-boomer generation of heads nears retirement, it's crucial that all talented school leaders have the confidence in their capabilities to put themselves forward for the role.

"Self-belief can be an issue for candidates, including women and our advice is that if you believe in yourself, you are more likely to succeed.

"If you want to become a head, you need to self assess, consider what areas you need to develop and look for opportunities to lead in your own school."

The survey found that serving female heads play a crucial role in building the confidence of their junior colleagues.

Nearly all female teachers (99%) agreed that mentoring and advice had accelerated their progression.

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