Press release

Plan to make teaching a more flexible long-term career for women

New initiative to support female teachers returning to the classroom after a career break and increase the number of female headteachers.


Ahead of International Women’s Day, Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan today (6 March 2016) announced a new national programme to support female teachers returning to the classroom after a career break and ensure more is done to celebrate the talent and potential of female teachers at all stages of their career.

The Education Secretary also wants to see more women reaching the top of the profession and drive up the number of female headteachers. Women are currently under-represented in top school leadership roles, particularly at secondary school, where 37% of headteachers are female, compared to 63% who are male.

Getting more women into senior positions across all professions is also crucial to the government’s drive to close the gender pay gap and ensure leadership better reflects the diversity of the workforce.

The new programme will include the launch of a new dedicated website to make it easier for women to search for teaching roles which offer part-time or flexible hours - and to match them with schools that have suitable positions available, offering a win-win for both sides. The site will also help women identify potential job-share partners - other women in a similar position who want to find a flexible solution to help manage their responsibilities inside and outside the workplace.

Schools will also be offered guidance on how they can offer flexible working opportunities to encourage them to think about how teaching roles, including more senior positions, can be designed for part-time, job sharing or flexible working.

Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said:

Too many women still feel unable to return to work after having a child, and too many parents feel they lack the support to juggle the demands of having a family and their career.

I want to ensure there are no limits to what women can achieve so we make the most of the exceptional talent we have in the teaching profession. That’s why we’re announcing a package of support to help get women back into the classroom - such as better access to job shares and flexible working, alongside coaching and mentoring for anyone returning to work or wanting to move into a leadership position.

Emma Stewart, joint CEO, Timewise, said:

Our research highlights that very few employers are open to considering flexible or part-time working at the point of hire. This is causing a significant bottleneck for the millions of people - particularly women - who need flexibility in their next role.

Timewise is delighted to support this new initiative which will enable schools to attract the best possible talent by supporting them to open up roles to part time, job share or flexible hours, and help female teachers to progress their careers within the education sector whilst having the flexibility they need to fit work with their family commitments.

Ben Black, Director, My Family Care, said:

This is a fantastic idea and one that is sorely needed. There is huge potential to help get teachers who have left the profession, many of whom will be mothers, back into schools and doing what they do best - educating our children.

The best employers understood a long time ago that more flexible work patterns were a win for everyone. In that context, it’s great to see the DfE leading the agenda rather than following it.

The launch of this new national programme, specifically targeted at female returners to the profession, follows concerns that too many women can find it difficult to return to teaching after a career break, particularly to start a family. Currently, just 1 in 4 female teachers work part time, compared with nearly half of women in the workforce nationally. This is a crippling waste of talent which is why the government wants to do more to help all parents - mums and dads - balance caring responsibilities with work.

Women returning after a career break will be offered personal coaching and mentoring support to help them share personal experiences and challenges, as well as focusing on longer-term career ambitions. These will sit alongside tailored training packages to refresh professional knowledge and skills across areas, including pedagogy, subject content and behaviour management, helping returners refresh their teaching skills.

To help get more women into senior leadership positions in schools, Nicky Morgan is also calling on exceptional leaders across the teaching profession to sign a pledge offering their time and expertise to coaching at least one woman to develop their career. The aim is to see at least 1,000 coaching relationships in place next year, establishing a pipeline of promising female talent for the school leadership roles of the future.

Echoing the invaluable professional networks which are already commonplace in the private sector, Nicky Morgan today also announced the launch of a new ‘Women in Education’ network to further help women realise the full extent of their career ambitions within education. The network will include 50 equality and diversity champions to deliver trailblazing and innovative ways to get more women and under-represented BME groups into school leadership roles. These networks will offer vital support, including forums for women to discuss how they have overcome specific professional challenges.

Jan Shadick, Executive Principle of Lambeth Academy in London, said:

There are unique challenges which face women as they take on more and more leadership responsibility. These challenges are deep and complex and work in ways which many are oblivious to.

We all have a responsibility, men and women alike, to firstly be aware and acknowledge that these challenges exist and secondly be committed to do something about them at every level. That means thinking differently. By providing a women’s network, we give women a voice that many perceive (real or otherwise) that they do not have; it gives them support to draw upon - letting them know that it is ok to ‘sit at the table’, and, if there is no one like them sitting there at the moment, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place - and it keeps the agenda of ensuring we get the very best leaders at the forefront of what we do.

Gemma Hobbs, Director of Teaching School, St Peter’s Catholic School, West Midlands, said:

I know I’m not alone in dealing with this, where there never seem to be enough hours in the day. This is where a women’s network could play a key part - in offering support and empowerment to women on a more formal level and in helping each and every one of us to realise that we are not unique in the challenges and struggles that we face. In short, a women’s network would provide a much-needed forum for females to share, support, advise, collaborate, celebrate and inspire.

Notes to editors

  • The offer of training and personalised coaching for female teachers wishing to return to the profession will be available from autumn 2016.
  • This new support will build on the lessons from the department’s current Return to Teaching pilot.
  • Alongside these new policies, in summer 2016 the Department for Education plans to hold a ‘women in education’ symposium with educational leaders. This will open a conversation on how government can work with the sector to make further progress with women’s opportunities in education.
  • In relation to flexible working:
    • the UK has one of the most diverse ranges of working arrangements in Europe and is rated in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 to 2015 Global Competitiveness Report as fifth in the world for an efficient, flexible labour market. The new right to request flexible working has doubled the number of employees who are able to make a request to over 20 million
    • the government is funding the Timewise Women Returners Scheme, a pilot aimed at encouraging private-sector companies to look at how jobs are designed, particularly senior roles, for part-time working, job sharing or flexible working

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Published 6 March 2016