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Gender and Leadership in Education

Women Achieving Against the Odds

Kay Fuller and Judith Harford

The under-representation of women in leadership positions in educational settings is a widely acknowledged, complex phenomenon that seems to persist, despite the fact that teaching as a profession is dominated by women. Over recent decades, scholars have investigated the factors contributing towards this under-representation, with a particular focus on the personal, organisational and social/cultural levels.

This volume has been compiled in honour of Marianne Coleman, Emeritus Reader in Educational Leadership and Management at the Institute of Education, University College London. She is widely regarded as one of the most significant scholars globally in the field of gender and educational leadership, forging the research agenda and mentoring some of the scholars who contribute essays here. Amongst the key questions the book asks are: Why does society continue to accept male leaders as the norm? What barriers do women who seek leadership positions face? What supports do women require in order to encourage them to pursue leadership positions? How do women working in leadership positions conceive of their role as leaders? How might women’s educational leadership be best supported at an institutional level?

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Joan Smith - Motherhood and Women Teachers’ Career Decisions: A Constant Battle


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Motherhood and Women Teachers’ Career Decisions: A Constant Battle

Motherhood has been and continues to be identified as a major factor influencing women teachers’ and headteachers’ life and career choices (see for example, Coleman 2002; Bradbury and Gunter 2006; Smith 2011a and 2011b). It is particularly striking that, despite societal and legal changes, an enduring constant is the unquestioned and unspoken assumption that women will take primary responsibility for childcare.

Drawing on life history interviews with female teachers and headteachers (principals) working in UK secondary schools, this chapter considers how the women perceived that motherhood had framed their career decisions. Whilst many women had chosen teaching as a career because it was perceived to be compatible with family life, combining the two caused conflicts, practical difficulties and guilt for many. Support for women coping with the double load emerges as patchy, and where it exists, it can reinforce the notion that childcare is women’s concern rather than men’s. The chapter closes by considering how shifts in thinking are needed at national, institutional and domestic levels if we are to achieve gender equity in public, private and workplace domains.

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