Let me state, right at the start, what I am not saying in this post. I am not saying that all governors are aware of unconscious bias and take steps to mitigate this when appointing heads. What I AM saying is that the perceived lack of female heads is a very complex matter and cannot be explained by simply saying governors serving on panels are biased. Unconscious bias on part of governors may be part of the problem but only a very small part, if at all.
Below are some questions I would like you to think about.
1. Looking at number of women serving in schools in 2014
At primary level there were 72.3% heads 86.9% teachers
At secondary level there were 37.1% heads 63.9% teachers
Does the fact that there are fewer female heads in secondary schools mean that the governors serving on head recruitment panels in these schools are subject to greater unconscious bias than those at primary level?
2. Looking at the number of female teachers in both sectors we see there are more female teachers in primary schools than in secondary schools. Governors are usually only involved in appointing SLT members and heads and recruitment of teachers is usually done by heads. So,
a) Are both primary and secondary female heads unconsciously biased against men and hence there aren’t that many male teachers? Also, is this unconscious bias more pronounced at primary level than secondary?
b) Do female heads at secondary level appoint fewer female teachers than their colleagues in primary schools because of the same unconscious bias?
I can probably guess what your answers to the above questions would be. Now, two more questions.
3. How would a newly appointed head feel when they are told that they were appointed because the panel unconsciously favoured them? Now imagine that head is a woman because if we say that panels may suffer from unconscious bias then it follows that some female heads would also have been appointed by such panels. Are we in danger of undermining the confidence of newly appointed heads? Women already suffer from impostor syndrome more than men. How would they react to this?
4. People say that the image of leaders is male and governors often appoint heads in their own image. The NGA survey carried out last term showed that 57% of governors are women so recruitment panels should include women. How do we square this with the assumption that governors appoint in their own image?
Now, like I said at the start, I do realise that some governors may be unconsciously biased but we need valid, reliable evidence that this is the case. So, as governors we would like well designed research into the whole issue of headships which will yield solid, reliable data. If research points to unconscious bias at play we can work with governing bodies to see what can be done about it. We also need to be aware of the fact that there are probably other factors behind women not going for/getting headships as well. Research will help us work out what other factors are. Research will also, hopefully, throw some light on why black men are least likely to be appointed as heads. Research into all of these issues is important for prospective candidates as well as for governors. We are volunteers. We put a lot of effort and time into governance as well as money (governors can claim for expenses but very rarely do). We are committed to providing the best conditions to ensure our students fulfil their potential and one of these conditions is providing the school with strong leadership. It is in our students’, our school’s and staff’s and indeed our own interest that we appoint the best candidate to head our school. As governors we are trained to, indeed it is our job, to deal with, analyse and question hard, solid data. It’s only when we have this data that we will be able to move forward and have schools where heads represent our diverse society. Till we get this data, all we are dealing with is conjecture and generalisations which, on one hand blames governors (which may be undeserved) and on the other hand helps no one, least of all the prospective candidates.
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