My Journey as a Part-time Senior Leader

Harroop Sandhu portrait

Written by Harroop Sandhu

Harroop Sandhu is a senior school leader and professional coach, with 17 years of experience driving successful strategies and improving outcomes in various educational areas. Most recently she has led her school to successfully achieve the Send Inclusion Award, as well as spear-heading the organisation's DEI strategy. Her approach is to ensure that DEI work is integrated within the strategic aims of the organisation leveraging existing leadership tools.

Three years ago, the notion of transitioning to part-time work was nowhere on my horizon.

Life took an unexpected turn when one of my children fell ill, prompting a pause on my career to refocus on what matters the most. Amid navigating my child’s health needs, I found myself in survival mode. Emerging from this challenging period, I returned to part-time work after a two-month gap, encountering initial hurdles. However, as I gradually found my rhythm, an unforeseen preference for this new way of working emerged.

Within this experience, I’ve uncovered valuable insights.

Myth #1: Working Part-Time Means Less Effectiveness.

Contrary to common belief, working part-time doesn’t hinder efficiency; it can actually enhance it. The gift of more reflective time has nurtured my creativity and innovation.

Success in this arrangement hinges on disciplined time management; I remind myself I’m paid for three days of work, not squeezing five into three.

Liberating myself from guilt and the need to prove myself has been a pivotal realisation.


  • Effective time allocation is key.
  • Balancing work, family, commitments, and especially self-care all demand careful planning and allocation. Don’t put yourself last or squeeze it in.
  • Silencing self-criticism about perceived weaknesses is part of the journey toward self-compassion.

Myth #2: Part-Time Work Signals Lack of Ambition.

Embracing part-time work has deepened my commitment to personal growth.

While some argue full-time dedication accelerates progress, I’ve found fulfilment in having the mental space for development and time to pursue other interests, aligned with my sense of purpose. I have found that I have more time for coaching and other professional development, which in turn benefits my employer and as well as myself. 

This flexibility has also inspired others, resulting in increased requests for flexible arrangements—an indicator of impactful leadership.


  • Celebrate your achievements and acknowledge your aspirations.
  • When you silence doubts, your strength and dreams amplify.
  • Before constraining yourself, seek input from others to broaden your perspective.

Myth #3: Missing out on Connection and Opportunities.

Initially, the challenge of navigating communication arose from a fear of missing out due to absence. However, I’ve learned that communication quality outweighs quantity.

Utilising strategies like follow-up emails and regular check-ins helps maintain involvement.

Open conversations marked by transparency with superiors foster mutual understanding.

Addressing unique experiences benefits not only you but also those around you.


  • Express your needs openly with your line manager.
  • Ensure your scheduled time with your line manager remains intact and isn’t cancelled.
  • Propose suggestions and solutions, but don’t shoulder the burden alone.

Myth #4: Flexibility Equates to Unreliability.

Unreliability often arises from overcommitment or lack of planning. Overcoming guilt and the desire to overcompensate, by embracing strategic time management and open communication was enlightening. Prioritisation, clear communication, and collaborative solutions with my line manager helped navigate this. As well as, balancing tasks and seeking help as needed cultivating a win-win situation.


  • Consider what you might need to say no to when saying yes to additional tasks.
  • Involve your line manager in this process. It could involve acquiring more resources, creating space, or delegating tasks.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek compensation for work beyond your designated hours.
  • Effective leaders recognise their boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no.

I believe that Flexible working is a solution for not only working parents, but for people that are looking to explore personal growth or navigate other areas of life outside of their work. This autonomy can lead to greater job satisfaction and happier employees who are likely to be more creative, innovative and productive. 

Teach First and diversity in the teaching workforce

Jenny Griffiths portrait

Written by Jenny Griffiths

Jenny is Teach First’s Research and Knowledge Manager. She is an expert in research related to teacher development and educational inequality, with a particular interest in understanding teacher retention. Prior to working at Teach First, Jenny achieved a BA (Hons) and MPhil from the University of Cambridge, and an MSc from Birkbeck, University of London. She taught History and Sociology and was a Head of Department in London schools for nearly a decade.

The proportion of postgraduate trainees reporting their ethnic group as belonging to an ethnic minority, has increased from 14% in 2015/16 to 22% in 2022/23 (UK Government, 2023). This is similar to the diversity of the working age population (21.8%) (UK Government, 2023). However, research by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows that 60% of schools in England have no teachers from ethnic backgrounds other than white, and pupils – 35.7% of whom are from a minority ethnic background – are less likely to encounter teachers from black, mixed or other ethnic backgrounds (NFER, 2022). In fact, a significant number of the pupils in of schools will have no experience of a Black teacher throughout their time in school (Tereshchenko, Mills & Bradbury, 2020). We believe that this lack of representation, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects, may make it harder for young Black pupils to engage with these subjects and pursue related careers.  

Over the past 20 years Teach First have screened approximately 120,000 applications and assessed over 50,000 candidates for a place on our training programme. We are committed to increasing diversity in the teaching workforce and we’ve learnt a lot about how to root out bias in our application and assessment process, but we are committed to continuing to learn and improve. 

As part of that work, along with Ambition Institute, we supported the NFER to carry out research looking at racial equality in the teacher workforce. This research showed that the most significant ethnic disparities are seen at the early stages of teacher’s careers, starting with ethnic minority people being over-represented among teaching applicants, but having a lower acceptance rate compared to other groups. We are pleased that Teach First are the only ITT provider where an ethnic minority group, those of mixed ethnicity backgrounds, has the highest acceptance rates. We also have less disparity in acceptance rates between ethnic groups than other providers, but we are continuing to work to reduce this gap still further (NFER, 2022). 

Our recruitment strategy is designed to identify potential and reduce the risk of bias in our decisions, first by removing personal details in applications. The most significant change however was the introduction of contextual recruitment at the application stage. This allows us to take greater account of the different backgrounds of applicants in order to attempt to offset the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage. Applicants complete a short survey about the type of school they attended, whether they were eligible for free school meals, socioeconomic background and any significant disruption such as time in care, refugee status, or being a young carer. Whilst applicants must demonstrate clear evidence of our competencies, this screening helps us to understand where grades that are lower than our traditional entry level requirements are not necessarily reflective of potential. This approach has led to a 15% increase in offers to join the training programme overall and Black, Asian and Ethnic minority representation increase from 12% in 2017, to 18% in 2018 (after the introduction of contextual recruitment), and to 22% in 2019 with changes to our selection day processes. 

This improvement notwithstanding, we know there remain particular challenges in attracting Black and other underrepresented groups into teaching, especially in STEM subjects. To address this we are working in partnership with Mission 44 to recruit and train Black STEM teachers to work in schools serving disadvantaged communities in England. Our initial research specifically looked at how to attract more STEM graduates from Black and mixed Black ethnic backgrounds into the teaching profession. Motivation to enter teaching varies individually, but also differs between social groups. A discrete choice experiment enabled us to test elements of our programme where we felt changes might have the biggest impact on recruitment. 

What we found was that Black and mixed Black STEM graduates saw salary as being of high importance. We also found that location mattered: respondents indicated a clear preference for a guaranteed placement in London or within 60 minutes of their home address. Perhaps more interesting in terms of understanding changing work and lifestyle priorities, was the interest in lifestyle benefits, such as restaurant or gym discounts, as being likely to motivate more graduates to apply. Focus groups elaborated on some of these responses, indicating the importance of financial and societal pressures in decision making. In teaching where starting salaries are perceived to be relatively low, the importance of career progression was clear. Another finding central to our understanding and future work, was the concern of Black graduates about the level of diversity and inclusion in the schools where they would be working. There was a wariness of being in a school with an exclusively White teaching workforce, and despite clear desire to be a positive role model, these concerns posed a perceived risk to their wellbeing which needs to be addressed if we want to address ethnic inequalities in the teacher workforce in a sustainable manner. 

You can download our report on this work to read the findings from the research in full and the recommendations proposed. 

Despite some gains, we know that disparity remains and we remain committed to reviewing, re-evaluating and improving our practices to support diversity and inclusion in our education system, for teachers, schools and pupils. 


Top Interview Tips for Neurodivergent Educators

Lance Craving portrait

Written by Lance Craving

Freelance Content Producer and Researcher

Interviewing for a job can be stressful for any educator, but neurodivergent candidates tend to face additional challenges that can make the process particularly tough. For example, people on the autism spectrum might face sensory issues if the interview environment is overwhelming. Those with dyslexia may struggle if asked to complete reading and writing-based tasks during an interview. 

Providing that you prepare for an interview carefully, there’s no reason why you can’t put your best self forward and have a successful experience as a neurodivergent candidate. Here are three tips to help you prepare for your next interview. 

1. Consider disclosing your neurodivergent status in advance

It isn’t essential to disclose your neurodivergent status to a potential employer, but it can be incredibly helpful to do so if you require accommodations for the interview. It might also help you to feel more relaxed and confident in the interview if you don’t feel compelled to hide the fact that you’re neurodivergent. Many people worry that disclosing before an interview could lead to discrimination, but the Equality Act protects you against this. Employers are obliged to consider making reasonable adjustments for interviews when candidates request them, and they cannot discriminate against jobseekers with disabilities. 

2. Use the STAR technique to give concise, meaningful answers

If you worry that you may talk too much or too little during an interview, or that you’ll lose track of the questions and fall off topic, the STAR technique could be useful. It helps you to structure answers to behavioural or competency-based questions to give concise examples of your experience and the results you’ve achieved. STAR stands for situation, task, action, results. You describe the context of your example, the task or challenge you had to resolve, the action you took to achieve the goal, and the outcome of your action. The STAR technique is a great way to answer questions like:

  • Describe a time you resolved a conflict at work.
  • Have you ever had to deal with a student safeguarding issue?
  • What would you do if you noticed a colleague made an error? 

3. Prepare questions of your own

Interviews go both ways. Employers want to find out if a candidate is the right fit for the job, and candidates want to find out if the job and workplace suits them. Most interviewers give candidates an opportunity to ask questions about the role and the working environment. This is a great opportunity for you to learn more about the job and determine whether the workplace seems supportive of neurodivergent employees. If you have a few questions prepared, this can help you to come across as confident and show that you’re already imagining how you would fit into the role.

Confidence is key to interview success

Unemployment amongst neurodivergent people is as high as 30 to 40%. If we’re to reduce these rates, it’s vital that neurodivergent people approach interviews and jobs with confidence. Doing so will help you to assert your additional accommodations to ensure your interview is as accessible and comfortable as possible. It will also help you to highlight the great strengths your neurodiversity brings that make you such a valuable educator and the right candidate for the job.

Inclusive Hiring

Andrew McGeehan portrait

Written by Andrew McGeehan

Andrew (he/him) is a trainer/consultant based in Singapore that loves talking about anything DEIJ related and/or cats!

Hiring and recruitment processes need to be reviewed and updated with a lens towards affirmative and inclusive hiring. This is not something that will happen naturally – organisations need to take concrete steps to make it happen. Read on for some tips from Trident


  • Organisational Assessment/Analysis – one key component of inclusive and affirmative hiring is that an organisation needs to know what it is looking for. An assessment that highlights current staff demographics can help to identify gaps. This is usually done with an interest in specific identities, such as gender, nationality, race/ethnicity, and age. However, it is important to start looking at other variables as well, such as years of experience, seniority in the organisation, educational background, and salary. It’s possible to find that there is diverse array of experiences and identities in more junior staff, but that senior staff is still overrepresented by straight able-bodied men of majority racial identity. That overrepresentation could be due to those folks utilising their own networks when hiring at all levels, which usually yields people of similar mindset and identity. 

The assessment will allow you to ask questions such as “why aren’t we getting applicants from neurodiverse people for senior roles?” “why are all of our out LGBTQ staff not getting promoted beyond middle management?” “how can we appeal to the broadest range of candidates with each vacancy we have?” 

  • Job Descriptions – it’s time to take a good hard look at the way that positions are communicated to potential candidates. Research has demonstrated that certain words in JDs may encourage/discourage folks of different identities from applying. The inclusion of a non-discrimination statement may encourage folks from underrepresented identities to apply. Including information about insurance coverage, employee networks, commitments to inclusive workspaces, and flexible/hybrid working also encourage people with a variety of experiences and backgrounds to become interested. The exclusion of these items will leave people asking themselves whether or not the job is for them. 

For instance, candidates who are part of the LGBTQ community would want to know upfront whether insurance policies extended to same-gender unmarried partners. Providing this information ahead of time would encourage members of this community to see themselves in that particular role; while omitting it (or not having same-gender partner benefits) would discourage this community. 

  • Diversifying networks for referral – If the same networks are utilised repeatedly when searching for candidates, the same candidate profile will keep showing up. Ask around to identify what kinds of new networks haven’t been tapped into. Many industries have outside organisations dedicated to supporting folks of underrepresented identities. Google is a good friend here! Search for “women in STEM organisation” “LGBTQ bankers network” “people with disabilities in Education” or whatever is relevant for your organisation. Many of these orgs have job boards on their websites and that is a great way to diversify the candidates that will apply. 

Simply relying on current employee networks and/or 1-2 major networks in the industry will not diversify the hiring pool. Think outside the box and post the job listing in as many locations as is feasible in order to get the greatest variety of applicants. 

Once a vacancy is open and accepting candidates:

  • Resume/CV vetting & review – Unconscious bias in the review process is an undeniable reality that needs to be addressed. Study after study in various industries has revealed that just seeing someone’s name will alter perceptions of their hirability, competence, and experience. Unsurprisingly, women, racial/ethnic minorities, and folks who mention being LGBTQ or having disabilities in their resumes/CVs are viewed less favourably than those who don’t. Shielding first reviewers from names (and possibly educational background- there is also bias towards institutions/former workplaces with name recognition) can reduce the chances of unconscious bias playing a role in vetting candidates. Bias can also be reduced if each resume is vetted by 2 folks or candidates are grouped in a variety of ways. 

For the greatest variety in an applicant pool, vetting should be done using a holistic rubric and approach. Simply creating a checklist for years of experience, educational level attained, and previous responsibilities again ensures that the pool will remain similar to staff that are already employed at the organisation. It’s important to consider broad categories as well as transferable skills. This doesn’t mean to interview every candidate, but there are many great candidates that are cut out due to rigid checklists and criteria that often cater to majority experiences. 

  • Interview questions & process – The interview process will tell candidates a lot about the kind of organisation they may be entering. Interview teams should meet prior to any interview. Standard questions (perhaps with some room for deviation towards the end of interview) are a must. I have been part of interview processes where each interview felt completely different; this makes it extremely difficult to compare candidates to one another. A good fusion could be having 30 minutes of standard questions and 30 minutes of candidate-specific questions. 

Questions should focus on the candidates’ skills and competencies, as well as getting to know who they are (within reason). It’s important to vet questions for anything that may feel non-inclusive or use non-inclusive language. For instance, asking candidates if they are married, have kids, want to have kids, have been divorced, etc should be strictly no-gos. This is not only intrusive to the candidate, but also can feel non-inclusive for LGBTQ folks; asking about children is often only asked towards women and can set the tone that the workplace is not parent-friendly. 

There are many ways to make interviews more inclusive and welcoming. One suggestion I will always give is to provide candidates questions in a written format. I’ve had interviews where I walked in the door and was given the list of questions. This allowed me to follow along, review the question if I didn’t hear it well or got confused, and pace myself with responses. It is also more inclusive for those who may have difficulties with hearing or are visual learners. Depending on the organisation, giving candidates options to have written questions in a different language may be relevant too. 

  • Interview panels – The makeup of an interview panel will impact the way that the candidate views the organisation. Walking into an interview and seeing people who all seem to have the same identity/background will make candidates feel less confident and it will be difficult for them to see themselves in the organisation. This doesn’t mean every panel needs to have every identity represented; but a variety of perspectives will also help ensure that unconscious bias isn’t creeping into decision making and treatment of the candidates. 

Panels made up of folks with similar background/ identities will respond more strongly to candidates that also share those identities. Including folks at various levels of the hierarchy, different genders, different backgrounds, and different communication styles will create situations in which the candidates will get a more well-rounded experience and be seen from various perspectives. Unconscious bias is also something that is easier to notice in others, so a mixed-identity/background panel will also be able to monitor itself for this. 

Post interview process: 

  • Decision-making panels – Similar to interview panels, decisions-makers should also represent a range of identities, roles, backgrounds, and experience levels. This again helps to ensure that decisions aren’t made based on a group with a very similar outlook or set of perspectives. When making a final decision, it can be helpful to review current staff demographics and make-up on that particular team. This can help identify gaps in identity, skill set, type of experience, or any other benefit that the new hire can bring to the team. In general, having multiple staff be part of final decision-making is a good idea- leaving it up to the full discretion of one person allows for bias, stereotypes, and personal connections to distort the process. 
  • Follow up – Inclusive and affirmative hiring can also include follow-up conversations, such as providing detailed and specific feedback to candidates who were not selected. For candidates who are selected, sharing immediately about the opportunities they will have in the organisation, such as same-sex partner benefits, access to employee networks, a mentoring program for women, parental leave packages, and whatever else the organisation offers can be a strong way to demonstrate the commitment to inclusion and help folks to feel connected to the organisation right away. 
  • Mindset – Throughout all the above ideas, keeping an open and inclusive mindset is key. Inclusion may feel difficult at first, because many folks are not used to thinking in this way- try not to be deterred! The benefits far outweigh the potential challenges. Remember that the intention is to find the candidates who intersect as highly qualified for the role and for whatever contributions they can further bring to the team. This additional contribution may be in the form of their identity, their unique skillset, experience in another industry, or any other number of things. 

To connect this back to my opening example, I felt that candidates 1 and 2 had further contributions in terms of being able to connect with a specific demographic of student that needed it. As there were already many other staff & faculty with candidate 3’s demographics, the need wasn’t as strong there. For me, that meant the additional push factor to higher them wasn’t present in the same way that it was for the first two candidates. 

To sum up, inclusive hiring doesn’t just happen. It needs to be thought about intentionally and thoroughly. There are many ways to ensure that JDs, resume vetting, interview processes and follow ups are done in ways that are affirming and welcoming to all candidates, regardless of identity. This will help to ensure that most wide-ranging candidate pool is included in searches, which will yield more diverse teams; this in turn will bring more creativity, experiences, and connection to the organisation as a whole and help it to thrive. 

Whistle-blowers are damn nuisances aren’t they?

Sonia Elmer-Soman portrait

Written by Sonia Elmer-Soman

Sonia Elmer-Soman has a background in both law and education. She is a qualified law lecturer and has many years’ experience working as a legal practitioner in two prestigious law firms in the City and now within a reputable law firm local to her home town in Essex. She is also a qualified primary school teacher and is a guest writer for professional journals.

– The Pitfalls of Whistleblowing in UK Schools

Official figures from the Standards and Testing Agency revealed that 793 maladministration investigations were carried out in 2018 – a rise of more than 50% in two years according to the Independent. 

Data compiled and analysed from the Teaching Regulation Agency, shows us that sexually motivated and other inappropriate conduct was the reason for a third of teaching bans between 2013 and 2018. 

The charity, Protect, say that between 2020 and 2022 they received the highest number of calls about wrongdoing in the education sector than any other profession. In the majority of cases concerns will have been raised by well- intentioned individuals or, as legislation has it, – Whistle-blowers.

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing occurs when an employee raises a concern about an alleged wrongdoing, including corrupt, illegal or unethical behaviours in a public or private sector organisation. The disclosure must be in the public interest and not for private gain. 

Emma Knights, the Chief Executive of the National Governance Association, writes ‘Arguably the need to speak out is important in the education sector, which deals with young and vulnerable people , people to whom there is an overriding duty of care’. 

What are the pitfalls faced by whistle-blowers?

In reality, many whistle-blowers say they face micro-aggressions, spurious claims of misconduct, gas-lighting and compromised or lost career opportunities.

Writing for Protect, Louise O’Neill explains how ‘gas-lighting’ involves the whistle-blower being told  ‘they have not quite understood the situation’, that what they witnessed is ‘part of a bigger picture’  and that it is they who have ‘failed to fit in’. 

O’Neill cites psychologist Doctor Jennifer Freyd (https/ when explaining the concept of ‘DARVO’ – Deny, Accuse, Reverse, Victim and Offender. So now the whistle-blower will hear comments as ‘You are intimidating and harassing me’ and ‘Your messages are harassing and hurtful to me’.

Discrimination following whistle-blowing does not end when the whistle-blower leaves the school gates. ‘Work and life intertwine in teaching’, ‘with threads running into and over other threads’.

Whistle-blowers may never have come across the term and it is not a particularly helpful one. They may not know that a school has a whistle-blowing policy and there are strict guidelines to follow. 

There is no legal aid available for whistle-blowers and legal advice can be expensive. Furthermore, what falls within the arena of a protected disclosure can be confusing.

The All Party Parliamentary Group believes that legislation is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. They are seeking a revised definition of whistle-blowing to include ‘any harmful violation of integrity and ethics’, even when not criminal or illegal. 


Without access to legal advice before, during and after whistle-blowing, it is likely that a whistle-blower will find themselves having to evidence concerns, mend reputational damage and deal with resulting treatment, causing them to mis-step in the process or face detriment even when they have followed due process.

For instance, a professional couple were forced out of their jobs from a school in the south of England for exposing ‘systematic exam malpractice’. Rianna Croxford. ‘Whistleblowers: We spoke out and lost our jobs’. (15th July 2019) BBC News. (

It is a failing in the system that claims of unfavourable treatment following whistleblowing are commonly dealt with under an internal grievance policy. This means that the organisation whom concerns have been raised against, is then in charge of determining the outcome. 

In one case, a SEN teacher lost her job when a panel found she had stood on a pupil’s foot while he screamed, pushed a pupil down when he tried to get up and shouted and screamed at children. However, the teaching assistant who raised concern was ostracised and ultimately dismissed from her position. 

Laura Fatah, Policy Officer of Protect writes “The problem of accessing justice when you’ve lost your job, have no lawyer, and are facing a strong armed employer is sadly all too familiar’. 

Croxford reports only 3% of the 1,369 employment tribunal cases brought in connection with test maladministration between 2017 and 2018 were successful according to Government figures. A report by the University of Greenwich found that when examining employment tribunal outcomes between 2015-2018, women who whistle-blow are less likely to be represented or succeed.

What are the challenges and benefits of whistle-blowing for leadership? 

School leaders perform a delicate balancing act in protecting all stakeholders including the rights of individual(s) whom claims are made against. 

Dealing with concerns effectively can demonstrate an appetite for improvement, minimise the risk of more serious breaches, enhance structural practices, increase productivity, retain vital skills and encourage the best applicants. 

Failing to listen and investigate concerns can result in reputational damage and time lost in defending claims and resulting legal proceedings.

Perhaps the worst injustice, however, is to the very people to whom there is an overriding duty of care and for whom the vast majority of staff work tirelessly to educate and safeguard – the children. Every child Matters. Every school day matters. Every year group matters.

Let’s Fix It.

Protect is seeking to reform the law so that whistle-blowers have access to greater legal support and guidance, while Baroness Kramer’s Bill introducing an Office of the Whistle-blower is working its way through the House of Lords. Schools which are geared up to deal with concerns effectively, will already be ahead of the curve whatever future changes in law and practice may follow.

How can leadership teams engage effectively with whistle-blowers?

  1. Look and interpret facts and patterns. Have concerns been raised before?
  2. Containing a situation is not the same as dealing with it. 
  3. Do not make the whistle-blower do your job. Whistle-blowers are witnesses/messengers, not investigators.
  4. Maintain confidentiality
  5. Avoid impromptu, unrepresented meetings. 
  6. Avoid polarising individuals, as this serves only to distract from the original concern.
  7. Create a safe environment in which stakeholders can voluntarily disclose mistakes/breaches.
  8. Roll out training on your School’s whistle-blowing policy.
  9. Embed a culture of honesty. 
  10. Imagine potential harm if an individual turned the other cheek to something they knew to be wrong, because they have seen how a previous whistle-blower was treated.
  11. Consider whether it is appropriate to have staff and Governors as eg, Facebook “Friends”, who have access to and are commenting on every aspect of your personal life. 
  12. Look around your School. Who sits on your leadership team and at the table of the Board of Governors? Is diversity reflected anywhere? Lack of such can lead to conformity of thought and exclusion in dealing with concerns.

What can whistle-blowers do to mitigate loss?

  1. Consult with a Solicitor, the CAB, ACAS or speak with Protect or WhistleblowerUK before you raise the concern and harness that support going forward.
  2. Read the whistle-blowing policy before raising a concern.
  3. Be clear what and why you are raising a concern.
  4. Ensure meetings are scheduled, recorded and you are represented. 
  5. Be realistic. Potentially harmful cultures are rarely remedied by one person/small group particularly if lower down in the hierarchy.
  6. Avoid Colluding with other colleagues/witnesses. Others may speak up or they may not. Be prepared to go it alone.
  7. Be patient. Potentially harmful cultures will take time to unpick if found to be present.
  8. Do not sign any document (eg, NDA) without getting legal advice.
  9. Check in with your mental wellbeing. The institution will stand long after you have gone. If there isn’t the vision for change, you alone are not responsible for it.

‘Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching’ (C.S. Lewis)

Against the backdrop of a system that is largely autonomous and results driven, structures and procedures can become ethical quagmires and a perfect storm for conflict. 

Protect asks us to hold each-other to account courageously. Indeed, there is a moral imperative to do so.

‘School leaders can find themselves in uncomfortable positions’, but by working together ‘the best leaders will use the experience as a catalyst for change’. 

Maximising Connection During Maternity Leave

Liz Cartledge portrait

Written by Liz Cartledge

Senior Vice Principal at a large Secondary School in Sheffield. Leader of Inclusion, Behaviour and Designated Safeguarding Lead. Liz is the mother to twin girls and returned from maternity leave in September 2020.

As a leader, the constant care of students and staff is arguably the most important and biggest responsibility in the long list of daily tasks. Getting the balance right and knowing what to do in each unique case can be hard. 

It is true that we learn through our mistakes, however, sometimes it is helpful to be able to reach for some real-life guidance. Sometimes the hardest of experiences can make us the strongest. I personally experienced a lonely and isolating maternity leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in 2020 and thus feel I can offer some useful insights and support to schools who want to ensure their staff on maternity leave are cared for. 

Since returning to work, I have often been asked to support other newly pregnant staff and on occasion those off with long-term absence. I feel empowered to help staff and one key reason I cite for this is because I feel confident sharing my own personal struggles and vulnerabilities, which I encountered on the journey to motherhood. Through Nourished Collective who featured a series called Mother, Sister, Daughter, Woman  (Copy of This is How We Look (, I shared my story which has helped me to break the silence that can exist around this issue. This has helped me personally and professionally to become a stronger leader.

The key is to build a school where staff feel valued, heard, and listened to.  Sharing my story has given me the drive to know I can provide others with the space and empathy they need. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, if we, as leaders, are open about our emotions it can mean we are relatable to others; so I urge you to be vulnerable and see the benefits from it.  

Recently, I have been considering the support we provide our staff with whilst on maternity leave. During my maternity leave I experienced reduced support, no baby groups and limited access to a GP. Maternity leave can be incredibly lonely and isolating. Connection is therefore key, and schools can provide this. 

Within any school there is an abundance of knowledge and talent. Schools can offer emotional sanctuary and security.  New parents/carers should be encouraged to share photos and updates regularly with a key member of staff. Furthermore, if you have a few members of the team off at once, could a group (perhaps via WhatsApp or equivalent) be set-up pulling all together? 

I am often asked to be the key person identified to talk to new or soon to be new parents/carers. Currently, I am in regular contact with new Mums on maternity leave to provide them with a close connection with school. This helps us keep in touch and is a lifeline on some days for those Mums. I know this having cared for twin babies during a pandemic!

Do you offer this 1:1 support for those on maternity leave? Do staff have the chance to have 1:1 chats with a named ‘go to’ person on SLT?  Could this help morale and well-being at your school if you make these subtle changes? 

What kind and frequency of contact do you have with those on maternity leave? They are, after all, still employed by the school doing what is arguably the most important job of their lives. We owe it to them. 

Remember, as leaders we can make a huge difference. Simple acts of kindness go a long way, sending cards or flowers can help bridge the gap that can grow when on leave. Creating a sense of family first is vital for staff retention. 

Occasionally, without bridging this gap, we can risk staff being anxious to return or not returning at all.  

Another key step to helping staff on maternity leave is to give them knowledge. By making them aware of the policy, for example what KIT (Keeping in Touch) days is a great start. It should not just exist in a policy given to staff to read. This could become part of pre-recorded videos shared with staff or information passed on in a 1:1 meeting before they leave. The impact of doing this is that it helps staff to be empowered and feel supported at this important time. 

When staff do return, make sure they have the chance to meet a key person they feel comfortable with and that well-being chats are regularly put in. A review meeting 6 months or sooner after returning is a must to help the member of staff feel supported and to be able to reflect on how they are coping with work alongside parenthood. 

Remember, it takes time for the member of staff to adjust to work. Schools move at a fast pace, and we must be patient. Small steps are acceptable. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are returning and don’t expect too much if you have someone returning, at first- be flexible! Personally, it took me 12+ months to be myself again at work. Letting staff know this is great for their self-confidence and self-esteem which can be very low with sleep deprivation!

Celebrating the return of staff from maternity leave is important to share with all staff in briefings, in newsletters with parents/carers and with governors. It helps everyone see the member of staff returning as a new person which I feel is supportive and celebratory of their achievement/s! 

The more we share, the greater the understanding will be for all and the greater the potential for empathy can begin. 

The Need for Equity in Education for Those Trying to Conceive

Caroline Biddle portrait

Written by Caroline Biddle

Consultant, fertility coach and fertility advocate. Founder of Fertility Issues in Teaching.

The journey to parenthood isn’t always straightforward, with assisted conception being a route for many couples and individuals. 

1 in 6 people in the UK are infertile, and in the last 10 years there has been an increase in women in same sex relationships looking to assisted conception for support to grow their families, as well a significant rise in those deciding to head down the route of fertility treatment to become a solo parent.

Female employees need time out of work to access fertility treatment

Male infertility accounts for 50% of infertility, nevertheless it’s women who require the time out of work to attend clinic appointments for scans and surgery.

The Teachers’ Fertility Treatment Survey is the first ever survey of its kind, gathering data from female teachers (including those who have left education) that have accessed assisted conception in the past 10 years. Data collected from the survey will provide an accurate insight of what is happening in schools in England and Wales as we unearth:

  • How career progression of these women has been affected
  • The percentage of schools that have fertility policies in place 
  • The impact of the support and the lack of support on female staff accessing assisted conception
  • The wellbeing of staff members receiving fertility treatment 

Employees can be surprised to learn that assisted conception in most school HR policies is referred to as ‘elective treatment’, meaning they find themselves compared with someone who wishes to have a breast enhancement during term time. 

Categorising fertility treatment as elective is outdated. 

The word ‘elective’ implies that fertility treatment is a lifestyle choice. This is discriminative terminology towards those with the disease of infertility and also to those in same sex relationships and who need assisted conception to have a biological child, or women who require treatment to become a solo parent for reasons such as having no partner, or having recently come out of a long term relationship.

Why we need assisted conception policies in the workplace

We need assisted conception policies in every workplace. In schools this policy will ensure that all teachers who are trying to conceive, no matter what their circumstance, are included, protected and supported. 

Thousands of teachers are leaving the teaching profession every year, due to burn out or a change in personal circumstance. Some of these teachers leave education due to a dip in ambition following a lack of support following fertility treatment.

How to make policy inclusive and equitable for all employees

When writing your fertility workplace policy consider the following to avoid discrimination:

  • Use non-gender specific language
  • Allow partners (or those supporting someone who has no partner) to attend all fertility appointments. 
  • Be cautious not to discriminate against relationship status
  • Be mindful of the sexual orientation of colleagues when writing a workplace fertility policy
  • Be inclusive of the ages of those opting into assisted conception
  • Avoid putting a limit on time off per cycle, everyone will need a different amount of time dependent on their personal circumstances—no two fertility journeys are the same

Life beyond the policy

A workplace fertility policy is a great starting point for schools wishing to be supportive of their staff who’re trying to conceive. There is however still work to be done from here.

To find out about the work Fertility Issues in Teaching offer, you can get in touch through the website, where you’ll also find helpful blog posts and information around free upcoming webinars.

HR’s Role in Encouraging Diversity

Paul Holcroft portrait

Written by Paul Holcroft

Paul Holcroft is the Managing Director at Croner.

Despite the UK being known for championing cultural and social diversity, it’s not always present in the business world.

HR departments and managers alike are legally bound to protect their employees from inequality and injustice. Yet more than a third (36%) of UK employees have experienced workplace discrimination and harassment.

Businesses should aim to promote a working environment that’s fair, diverse, and inclusive. Which increases both employee morale and business reputation.

Learn why diversity and inclusion is important, laws for applying equality, and how HR departments can help encourage workplace diversity.

What is workplace diversity?

Workplace diversity is about understanding and accepting employees from different backgrounds and values. It’s so much more than ticking ‘diversity boxes’. 

HR departments must ensure their hiring procedures and policies don’t discourage people from applying due to potential prejudice or discrimination. 

Having a workplace that promotes equality and diversity helps develop a culture of inclusion. Where all mindsets and talents can work cohesively with one other. 

Why is diversity in the workplace important? 

HR departments must legally comply with equality laws which protect their staff from ill-treatment. The principles of diversity and equality come under the nine protected characteristics, outlined in the Equality Act (2010). These are protections for:

  • Age, disability, gender, marital status, pregnancy, race, religion, gender reassignment, and sexual orientation.

Hiring from a diverse pool allows employers to tap into an array of skills, backgrounds, and experiences. Individual thinking and creative exploration can accelerate economic advancement and business success. 

What are the laws on workplace diversity?

Under equality and diversity laws, employers are obligated to protect their employees from workplace discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. These laws include:

  • The Equality Act (2010).
  • The Human Rights Act (1998).

There’s more to it than simple legal obligation. Without tackling inequality and prejudice, employees will feel unmotivated and unvalued. They could decide on quitting their jobs, or even raising discrimination claims to employment tribunals. 

Either of them can lead to costly impacts on your business. You could face negative effects to your business reputation. Not to mention coughing up legal fees for compensation payment and court attendance. 

How HR can encourage workplace diversity

In recent times, socio-economic values have helped grow a level playing-field for people from all walks of life. We arguably haven’t reached the optimum point yet; however, we’ve come a long way historically. 

HR departments are efficiently positioned for introducing diversity to the workplace. Through training programs and HR advice for employers, building a diverse workforce is achievable within any type of company. 

Here are a few steps businesses can take to encourage workplace diversity and inclusion:

Widen the talent pool boundaries 

It falls on the HR department, in any business, to deal with onboarding and hiring. Looking for candidates with suitable skills and talents is normally done through recruitment pools. 

But if these pools only have one type of worker, you’re denying your business so many accolades. It’s for your own benefit to utilise the recruitment process entirely.

Hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds can improve overall business balance. But be weary not to only employ them for the wrong reasons. It’s futile to look like an inclusive business aesthetically. Be sure to hire diverse candidates for fair and just reasons.

Encourage diversity on all work levels

Employing one diverse employee doesn’t mean your business stands as inclusive. A fake front like this will always crumble in the end, leading to impacts to your brand-name and productivity.

Rather than pretending, set targets of reaching employee satisfaction on all levels. And we mean all levels; not just in lower-position jobs, but as mentors and leaders.

Establish a fully-fledged pledge for diversity through equal opportunities in promotions, positions, and training. 

Creating an inclusive environment 

It falls on HR and managers to create a safe and comfortable working environment. But actively building a workplace that champions inclusion and diversity will grow benefits beyond imagination.

A workplace should home an atmosphere where collaboration, respect, and support for all can increase productivity and involvement.

Creating an inclusive environment is a key responsibility for HR departments. Beyond solving allegations and disputes, they need to ensure all staff members feel included and protected. 

Set the precedence for diversifying businesses

On an everyday basis, employees may be at ease with workplace diversity. But it’s always worth providing information, guidance, and policies on encouraging diversity, equality, and inclusion. 

Standing as a company that portrays workplace diversity will set your brand above and beyond others – internally, and on a global scale. 

Establishing diversity, equality, and inclusion within your company will ultimately lead to business success – now, and in the near future. 

Our Pregnancy and Maternity Toolkit for Schools

Emma Sheppard portrait

Written by Emma Sheppard

Emma founded The MTPT Project, the UK's charity for parent teachers, in 2016 when on maternity leave with her first child. She has 12 years experience as an English teacher, Lead Practitioner and ITT Lead, and now runs The MTPT Project full time.

The research, legal practice and variety of experiences surrounding the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity is rich and diverse, but perhaps because it does not (often) include our students in the way other protected characteristics do, resources specific to the education sector are hard to come by.  We do not, for example, talk about diversifying our curriculum to include more stories of pregnancy and motherhood.  We don’t talk about ensuring that our workforce includes pregnant role models for our students.  We don’t organise student voice groups discussing how pregnancy and maternity affect pupils’ day to day school lives.

Provision for pregnancy and maternity as a protected characteristic is almost always in relation to staff members within our schools, nurseries and colleges.  And it’s a fairly important demographic: the majority of teachers are women who may become pregnant at some point; half our workforce are parents to children under the age of 18, and 3.4% of teachers (around 11,500) go on maternity leave each year – that’s an average of two per school.  But isn’t the experience of being a parent and a teacher the remit of our HR managers, rather than colleagues, middle and senior leaders?

Given the large number of parents in our teacher workforce, the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity – and the many years of family life that will follow – is an area about which leaders should be familiar and informed if they are keen to create positive working environments.  As in any other industries, failing to understand and therefore meet the needs of our pregnant and mother team members leads to staff attrition, negative school cultures, and a motherhood penalty in the form of a gender pay gap, gender disparity in school leadership and discriminatory cultures that we present to our students as the reality that they will inherit.

The DiverseEd Pregnancy and Maternity Toolkit is an evolution of the research, resources, networks and articles that supported the establishment of The MTPT Project – the UK’s only charity for parent teachers.  It provides the reports, blogs and contacts that The MTPT Project community return to again and again to inform their work and empower their community.  When you start exploring, you’ll realise what a rabbit hole we have tempted you to fall into: 25 pages of an ASCL Maternity and Adoption Leave guide; ways to support breastfeeding teachers as they return to work; the experience of undergoing fertility treatment as a teacher; the ins and outs of shared parental leave; how to avoid direct and indirect discrimination… At first you may be overwhelmed by what you didn’t know you didn’t know…!

Don’t be put off: start with the needs of the colleagues in your school – whether they be expectant mothers, fathers or non-binary parents, undergoing fertility treatment, returning to work, completing professional development on leave.  Use the DiverseEd toolkit to open up dialogue and get everyone feeling excited about how enjoyable making this next step in your personal and professional lives will be – learning to support, and be empowered, by your pregnant, expectant and parent colleagues.

Want to do more to support your colleagues?  Contact The MTPT Project about our schools’ membership so that the experts can guide you through the relevant documents, and how to implement impactful practice in your school.

Implementing Effective Flexible Working Practices Training for School Leaders

Mandy Coalter portrait

Written by Mandy Coalter

Mandy is the founder of Talent Architects, helping schools be great places to work. She is a published author and was named as one of the Top 10 most influential HR people. She is the former Director of People at United Learning.

Want to better promote inclusive working practices?


Getting more flexible working requests? 


Wondering how to retain talent? 


Want to enhance your ability to advise on new ways of working, how to adapt, as well as promoting staff wellbeing through flexible working practices?


Our sessions could be for you


The road to a flexible and agile workforce is more important now than ever before, especially in schools. Expanding opportunities for flexible working will be particularly important post-pandemic, where remote and hybrid working have become widespread in some sectors. Creating more scope for flexibility is possible in all roles in a school, promoting a better work-life balance, supporting the diversity and inclusion agenda and addressing the recruitment and retention issues in the sector.   Join Timewise, the flexible working experts, and their panellists in a series of webinars, Q&As and drop-in clinics to learn more about what a proactive, whole-school approach is about, starting in October: 


Webinar for Heads: Tuesday 05 October at 10am (90 minutes) 

Register here


Webinar for School Business Professionals/HR: Wednesday 06 October at 10am (90 minutes)



Webinar for Governors & Trustees: Tuesday 12 October at 2pm (60 minutes) 

Register here