In her game-changing book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandburg explores the phenomenon of women in all sectors of the workforce ‘leaving before they leave’. Sandburg presents research showing that women choose certain subjects at university; go on to take on certain professional positions, or refuse to apply for promotions or more responsibilities in their twenties and thirties to ensure that their working lives are compatible with their as-of-yet non-existent families. Many women make these – often unconscious – decisions before they even have a partner or know whether they are able to have children, but apparently men do not subject themselves to the same career and family planning.
Research completed by Marianne Coleman in 2002 indicated that only 60% of female heads were also mothers, in comparison to 90% of male head teachers. Following discussions at a recent Teach First ambassador roundtable event focusing on the barriers to headship, The MTPT Project have a suspicion that this tendency to ‘leave before they leave’ is the reason that many female teachers do not pursue school leadership positions. However, there are lots of women out there who not only balance and thrive in headship positions with young families, they also held these roles before and during pregnancy and maternity leave.
There’s nothing like a role model to get you feeling inspired, so over the next few months, we are going to try to source these mother head teachers and find out the practical and attitudinal steps that have allowed them to have their babies, and eat their leadership cakes, too.
Continuing on from Rebecca Cramer and Angela Browne’s fantastic starting interviews, we now hear from Liz Robinson, co-head at Surrey Square Primary in London. Liz became a head teacher at 29 and was in post when she became pregnant with her first child. She returned to work job-sharing with long time colleague, Nicola Noble, who also took her first maternity leave at the same time as Liz. Her daughters are now 4 and 6, and Liz and Nicola have become nationally recognised role models in the world of co-leadership positions.
Liz has committed to sharing her experience of co-headship more widely, but how did she find breaking the leadership mould and continuing to pioneer in this field when job sharing at headship level is not a common scenario?
The staff were almost exclusively positive about the change; as a close head and deputy, the reality was not a huge change, and I think people were pleased for Nicola to have recognition. They were also pleased that it meant we were both staying for the longer term.”