Developing the next generation of female heads

Jan. 12, 2018
Kate Chhatwal

Dr Kate Chhatwal

Co-founder of Leading Women’s Alliance and Executive Director of Southwark Teaching Schools Alliance

In recent years the Leading Women’s Alliance, WomenEd and Ambition School Leadership have been encouraging and empowering more women to take up headship.

So when the DfE asked prospective National Professional Qualification (NPQ) providers if they planned to offer NPQ programmes tailored to the needs of any particular group, we jumped at the chance to collaborate on a women-only NPQH for aspiring and serving headteachers.

The first cohort begins training in March and the deadline to apply is 28 January.

Why women only? We think of it in terms of the need, the power, and the potential.

The need for affirmative action is evident in the chronic under-representation of women in headship when compared to the teaching population as a whole. The gap is particularly stark in secondary, where 2016 workforce data shows that 39% of heads are women, compared to 63% of teachers – figures that have changed very little since the first census in 2010.

Proportion of female heads

The power of women-only leadership programmes has been demonstrated by the popularity and success of those run by teaching schools, MATs and others utilising the DfE’s Leadership Equality and Diversity Fund.

In Southwark, for example, our 2016/17 programme for aspiring female headteachers saw almost 25% of the cohort secure their first substantive headship and many more secure promotions or take on responsibilities that moved them closer to headship. Apart from a session on balancing work and family commitments, topics covered were the same as you would find on many leadership programmes.

Yet the women-only cohort, alongside female facilitators and presenters, significantly changed the tone – and sometimes content – of the conversation. Participants felt safe and inspired to ask the questions and share the knowledge to deepen their learning and make them stronger leaders.

We expect the same to be true on our women-only NPQH. It will cover the same material as the Ambition School Leadership Headship Programme, which is designed to meet and go beyond the requirements of the NPQH qualification.

However, it will be led and undertaken by the diverse female role models aspiring women leaders consistently tell us they need, with emphasis shifted to focus on those issues that matter most to the women in the room.

Talking to women at Saturday’s Diverse Educators conference, hosted at Aureus School, there is obviously demand and enthusiasm for such a programme. Aspiring female heads want a space where they can explore how to build and leverage networks in the many areas of the country where headteacher meetings feel like boys’ clubs. And they want to see and hear from leaders whose values and practices more closely resemble their own.

"Why women only? We think of it in terms of the need, the power, and the potential."

While the demand is there, we know we need to find the key to unlock it. We spoke to engaging, successful senior leaders on Saturday who still didn’t feel confident to put themselves forward for development and promotion. And we heard concerns about making the case to headteachers and governors before applying for the programme.

We hope that over time networks like WomenEd and the Leading Women’s Alliance, and programmes like those arising from the Leadership Equality and Diversity Fund, will equip aspiring female heads with the confidence and tools to do this for themselves. In the meantime, we know that a ‘tap on the shoulder’ from someone they respect (and a few nudges to ensure they follow through) can be all that is needed.

Our ‘call to action’ therefore is rather simple. If you’re an aspiring female headteacher, quiet that inner imposter (who fosters self-doubt in us all) and get your application in by 28 January. If you know an aspiring female headteacher, nudge them, nag them, nurture them to apply. It doesn’t matter whether you’re their boss, peer or more junior colleague, evidence shows that your recognition and encouragement of their potential could make all the difference.

And the bigger potential? Every child in every school being led by a talented headteacher, committed to securing incredible student outcomes and building better communities, and equipped with the knowledge and skills to do so.


The deadline for the women-only NPQH programme is 28 January. If you are interested in joining the programme, please register your interest via the ‘Contact Us’ page on our website.

The programme is delivered by Ambition School Leadership in partnership with the Leading Women’s Alliance and WomenEd.


This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.


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