Girls’ schools launch new leadership scheme to develop women head teachers

Girls’ schools launch new leadership scheme to develop women head teachers

5 July 2017

State and independent girls’ schools are working together to encourage more women into the top jobs in schools.

The Girls’ Schools Association (‘GSA’) and the Association of State Girls’ Schools (‘ASGS’) have launched an innovative new mentoring scheme to encourage women teachers to learn the characteristics and skills required for senior leadership in schools.

Women are under-represented at head teacher level, yet make up the majority of the workforce in schools. 74% of teachers are women, but just 62% are in the top jobs. Future Leaders have suggested that there could be as many as 1,700 female leaders ‘missing’ from England’s schools. There is a crisis reported in the numbers of head teachers in our schools, with a shortage of up to 19,000 senior leaders predicted by 2022.

The mentoring scheme is free to women teaching at schools in the Girls’ Schools Association and the Association of State Girls’ Schools. They will begin working to develop leadership potential with high-performing mentors from the worlds of business, the justice system, public service and the Army, attracted and co-ordinated by Bright Field Consulting.

The scheme will offer opportunities to develop the skills needed for senior leadership roles. As more schools become academies, head teachers increasingly need to add business and finance management skills to their portfolio.

The scheme will offer practical operational and emotional support, coaching and mentoring and the opportunity to network. Women can join the scheme at any point in their career, whether the next leadership step for them might be running a school project or running a department.

Mentors have been chosen from non-education spheres so they can share wide ranging key leadership expertise and skills. They include Sandhurst’s first female Lieutenant Colonel, Lucy Giles, ‘Defence Woman of the Year 2016’; Sir John Cridland, Chairman, Transport for the North and former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI); Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association; and Cathy McCullough, a leading criminal and civil barrister.

Independent and state school teachers will work together in the scheme, with each GSA participant paired with an ASGS counterpart, so they can share experiences outside their current school context. As well as meeting separately with their mentor, each pair will work together on a local community project, paving the way for further independent-state school partnerships.

Each participant will first undergo personal profiling. This will enable Bright Field Consulting to match mentees with the most appropriate mentor, creating positive relationships for maximum effectiveness. They will then meet regularly for two years.

Charlotte Avery, President of the GSA and Headmistress of St Mary’s School, Cambridge, said:

“School leadership is key to improving school performance and enhancing children’s life chances. It is important we all consider the ways in which we can help fellow women in the profession progress to become senior leaders – and to work with our state sector colleagues alike so that everyone can benefit.

“Some highly capable women can be reticent about putting themselves forward for leadership roles, either because they lack self-confidence or because they worry about how to balance home life with the physical and emotional demands of leadership. This programme enables more women to step into a wide range of school leadership positions and, eventually, headships.”

Sharon Cromie, Joint President of the ASGS and Executive Head Teacher of the Wycombe High School Academies Trust, said:

“We know it is difficult to find leaders in schools and the evidence shows women are under-represented in the most senior roles. If we want to ensure the future of young people, it seems obvious that we should be encouraging more women from the talent pool already within our schools to apply for the top jobs.

“This excellent scheme gives women the time to explore the barriers and fears which they might hold about leadership and the difficulties of maintaining balance in their lives. I understand why women don’t apply; it takes determination to push through the challenges in education today. If we can support women better, it will encourage them to take the next step to senior leadership.”

Bright Field Consulting founder, Ian Wigston, said:

The most effective leaders know they need coaching or mentoring to stay ahead of the game. Good mentoring can make all the difference to performance. Being a leader can feel fraught with pitfalls – how to inspire a team, how to maintain good relationships, how to tackle a difficult issue or conversation.

“The GSA and ASGS asked us if we could develop a programme, using our network of leading mentors, that addresses some women’s reluctance to aspire to the top jobs. We’ve had a wonderful response to our request for mentoring support from a diverse and talented range of business and public-sector leaders.”


Lt Col Lucy Giles, New College Commander, RMAS (Sandhurst) and Defence Woman of the Year 2016 is in charge of the training and leadership development for the first integrated (male and female) platoons to start at Sandhurst. She is the first female to be appointed to a command leadership role at Sandhurst. Following operational tours in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and East Timor, she has commanded units of 150 male soldiers. She has been involved with management and leadership training in the Army for many years and is now looking forward to using her experience to support women in schools. She said:

“You have to lead yourself first, before you can lead other people. Coaching can be really insightful in helping understand yourself and in becoming more self-aware. I want to open these women’s eyes, help them unlock their talents and strengths and link that to the skills they can acquire. It is all about confidence and self-belief. I am delighted to be supporting this mentoring initiative, using my experience of life as an officer in the British Army and as a mum.”

Sir John Cridland, Chairman, Transport for the North, said:

“I’m delighted to be supporting this innovative and important programme. It is vital we encourage and nurture talent to ensure our young people get the very best leadership during their time at school. Bringing the state and independent sectors together in this way will give the participants a unique opportunity to flex their leadership skills for the benefit of their students and their local community.”


Dr Louise Shaw, Deputy Head, Thornton College, Milton Keynes. Louise was appointed as Deputy Head (whole school) at this non-selective, all through girls’ independent Catholic day and boarding school, following her role as Director of Teaching and Learning at an independent school in Chelmsford. She also teaches History and this September will be teaching sixth formers.

“I am the sort of person who does not assume I have the innate skills at the next level, but am keen to learn them. I like the idea that the mentors are from other walks of life – I think it will bring a whole fresh perspective to the leadership challenges I face.

“Becoming deputy head involves leading in a way I have not had to do before; the role involves looking after not only the children we teach, but also managing relationships with parents, governors, staff, including boarding, and outside agencies. I also am aware I need to develop further my skills in areas such as finance, business and marketing, skills that as an educationalist, I have not had to use much before. This mentoring scheme will really help me learn and develop.”

Suzanne Lewis-Dale, Head of Faculty for Art and Technology, Sacred Heart High School, Newcastle.
Suzanne has managed a team of twelve as Faculty Head of Art and Technology for two years at this successful academy. She also teaches Art and Ceramics to girls in Years 9 to 13 and has two children.

It didn’t dawn on me that leadership could be a career possibility for me until my role as Faculty Head. This has involved managing a team of twelve, some of whose subjects lie outside my own area. It has been a challenge at a time of great educational change getting to grips with new specifications in subjects beyond my training and also understanding how to best fit courses to support the students.

“Now I am keen to set actions to support my long-term goal to join a senior leadership team. I am also excited at the idea of starting a community project with my mentee partner.”

Interested teachers should contact

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