Workload and women: reflecting on the TES pre-election debate

Jenny Moore

Heading to the TES pre-election debate, I was expecting workload to feature in the speakers’ pitches. Nicky Morgan, Tristram Hunt and David Laws would be speaking to an audience of teachers, so would probably assume this would go down well.

Sure enough, workload came up. David Laws said that for him, two issues stood out from the recent workload challenge as significant drivers of workload: changes from government (and the pace of these changes), and an accountability regime which can lead to teachers being asked to do things for Ofsted rather than for pupils. Similarly, Tristram Hunt made a point about ending “initiative-itis” and trusting teachers to get on with the job. He also spoke of getting rid of bureaucracy around the pupil premium and the administration of tests.

The question which really caught my attention, though, was about increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions in schools. As NAHT Edge’s Louis Coiffait has previously pointed out on Key insights, women are underrepresented at the senior leadership level. And according to Education Datalab they’re paid less, too.

This reminded me of a conversation I’d had with my partner’s mum (a teacher) about her workload and how it could be made more manageable. Her response was that there’s no simple fix to the problem, as “you can’t physically do the work in the time available”.

For example, marking: depending on your school’s policy, you may have to add targets to show pupils how to improve next time, and then there needs to be evidence that pupils have read the feedback and know how to improve. So for 30 books, if you spend seven minutes on each, that’s 210 minutes for one class, or three and a half hours. If you have eight classes this adds up to 28 hours a week, and that’s assuming no books take longer than seven minutes. Teaching is often seen as a family-friendly profession, what with the popular image of teachers leaving at 3 pm and having all those long holidays. But if you’re doing five and a half hours of marking a day, is it really all that good for family life?

My partner’s mum said she’s also noticed a culture shift in recent years, whereby if you come back part-time from maternity leave you can often be perceived as not being committed to the job. Part-time teachers also might not have access to the same level of training and mentoring for developing leadership skills, which would make it harder to move up the ladder.

She also talked about the development of a ‘first in, last out’ culture: if, for example, you have to leave a meeting to pick your children up from school, or aren’t around to take on that extra task because you’re working part-time, it can cause resentment among colleagues. Part of this, she thinks, is because “it’s such a pressurised profession”.

Back at the debate, Nicky Morgan made the point that teaching could learn a lot from other professions through, for example, developing part-time working and “supportive ways of keeping people in the profession”. For me, this was the most practical answer offered on the subject – although I’d hope she had something to say about it, being minister for women and equalities.

It seems to me that teachers’ workload and the proportionate lack of women in senior leadership positions are fairly closely linked. In a world where women are generally still expected to be the primary caregivers for children, five and a half hours of marking a day surely isn’t sustainable for women who are both teachers and parents. And maybe if some of the pressure is taken off all teachers, those who choose to work part-time won’t run the risk of being seen as less committed to the job.

The politicians at the debate all had a lot to say about “driving up standards” (next time I go to an event with politicians, I might make up a buzzword bingo to take along). While I don’t doubt that this is important, what I’d really like to see post-election is a government working to “drive up” the number of women in senior leadership positions.

Comments 5

  1. Janet 16th April 2015

    Do you expect the mums of your pupils to be leading at work too? Expecting us to be on the school run, and communicating via posters in the class room window, suggests you don’t. If you are serious about equality, please think about this, and support it everywhere.

    • Jenny Moore – Researcher 16th April 2015

      Hi Janet. Thanks for your comment. I agree that in all jobs it can be difficult to balance work with being a parent – I wonder whether the recent manifesto proposals to extend childcare provision will help with this to an extent. Let’s hope so.

      In my role at The Key, I’ve spoken to headteachers who communicate with parents via email (and letters where families don’t have access to the internet at home). School websites can also be an excellent tool for keeping parents up-to-date even where working demands make it impossible to be in the playground every day.

      If you’re having difficulties with your school, perhaps you could suggest these more accessible ways of communicating with parents to the headteacher. Getting more women into leadership positions is a challenge in every profession – especially where these women are also parents, and I agree that equality can only be achieved if everyone helps to make it happen.

      You can find out more about The Key here:



  2. Shay Gibbons 17th April 2015

    I must say, there are 2 reasons,in my opinion, why we don’t see more women in senior roles. One reason is that many just simply don’t want to be a senior leader, many of my friends who could easily be senior leaders happily tell me that they don’t want it and never had ‘I have always wanted to be a teacher, not a headteacher and I love being in the classroom.’ Another reason I think lies around CPD, I find that CPD often is specific to teaching and learning or subject specific, but when I was interested in training for leadership I sought training and requested it. I think if more leadership training is naturally provided to teachers they will realise they have the potential to be school leaders (even if they choose not to go that direction).

    • Jenny Moore – Researcher 17th April 2015

      Hi Shay, thanks for your comment.

      I see what you mean about not wanting to move up into more senior roles – if you love teaching you don’t necessarily want to move out of the classroom. This may well be the same for men and women, and in lots of different sectors. Moving up often means moving away from the work you did originally.

      Your point about CPD is also interesting. I think leadership CPD tends to provided when people move into these roles and isn’t used to encourage them to apply for them, so I’ll definitely bear this in mind when researching future articles on this topic, to alert our member schools to the possibility of leadership training before becoming a leader.



  3. Claire Bishop 9th May 2015

    Logically it makes sense to examine middle leadership to understand the lack of women in senior leadership. There is recent research to suggest that as women are more likely to head smaller departments (this is just to subjects being taught by men and women – men are more likely to teach maths and science. I myself am a history teacher, which is one of the smallest departments to head) than their male counterparts, that they are over-looked at interview.

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