Where are all the women head teachers?

Women will remain under-represented among secondary head teachers till 2040 at the current rate of progress, a major new study suggests.

The analysis by Kay Fuller, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Nottingham, shows some local authority areas lag far behind others when it comes to recruitment of women to headships.

In a paper published in the Management in Education journal, Dr Fuller analyses new national data on secondary headships from 2001 and 2015. She finds that while there has been an increase – from 25 per cent in 2001 to 38 per cent in 2015 – the proportion of women heads is unlikely to match that of classroom teachers for another quarter of a century.  Currently 86 per cent of primary teachers and 64 per cent of secondary teachers are women.

While all women teachers face barriers to promotion – personal, organisational and societal – there are also big differences between local authority areas which are in other respects very similar. For instance in the West Midlands Sandwell has one of the lowest rates of secondary headship among women, with just 16.7 per cent, while Coventry has one of the highest, with 56.5 per cent.

The highest proportions of women secondary heads were in Thurrock and Richmond-Upon Thames, each of which had 70 per cent. The lowest were in Kensington and Chelsea – which had none but only had six secondary schools; and Herefordshire, where there was one woman head in 16 schools (12.5%).

While women may be held back by disproportionate responsibility for childcare and domestic arrangements, she finds, it is likely direct and indirect discrimination during the selection process is also responsible.

This is a matter of social justice; of enabling women to negotiate complex and interacting factors that create barriers to their career advancement.  Women’s careers are interrupted and disrupted disproportionately to men’s,” Dr Fuller says.

“Nor are women teachers’ voices proportionately represented at senior levels in secondary schools. Girls and boys need to see women influencing decision-making and leading schools equally with men in this important stage of their personal development and learning. There may also be historical factors that mean some local authorities have engaged more than others in the past with anti-sexist and anti-racist work in education.”

School governing bodies, academy trust boards and current head teachers should set targets to ensure they are complying with their duties under the 2010 Equality Act,  which requires them to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity, she says.


Region Percentage of women in secondary headships, 2015
South East England and South London 44.5
South Central England and North West London 39.1
East of England and North East London 38.6
Lancashire and West Yorkshire 36.9
East Midlands and Humber 36.4
South West England (including Scilly) 35.8
West Midlands 34.7
North of England 33.6


London boroughs 42.9
Greater Manchester 37.1
Merseyside 33.7
South Yorkshire 47.1
Tyne and Wear 37.7
West Midlands 41.5
West Yorkshire 42.7


The full report ‘Women secondary headteachers in England – where are they now?’ by Kay Fuller can be read here. 

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