Why are we still denying part time and flexible working to those in leadership roles?

Maz Foucher portrait

Written by Maz Foucher

Maz is Regional Representative for the MTPT Project in Devon and a former Assistant Headteacher and KS2 lead, based in Devon. Having juggled full time teaching, school leadership and parenting, she has a great understanding of the challenges faced by those with a young family. After moving on from school-based roles, Maz studied for an MA in Education Leadership specifically researching teacher retention, and now works in education publishing.

While researching teacher wellbeing and retention, I have often come across the suggestion that working part time or flexibly aids both the wellbeing and retention of staff. However, I have also found that this is still not an option available to many of those working at a leadership level, so let’s look at the facts.

24% of employees in the UK work part time and these are primarily women (ONS, 2022). This is echoed within the teaching profession, also at 24% (School Workforce Census, 2022). However, while the education profession is predominantly female, fewer women work part time in education (29% – School Workforce Census, 2022) compared to the overall UK labour market (36% – ONS, 2022). Additionally, when compared to different age ranges and genders, it is most likely that those working part time are women between the ages of 30 – 39 (ONS, 2022) This coincides with the age where many women start a family, and this is also the demographic most likely to leave teaching entirely (DfE, 2022). 

If we look more closely at the 24% of teachers working part time, when this is broken down by role we can see that: 

  • 26% of class teachers work part time
  • 11% of deputy heads work part time
  • 6% of headteachers work part time.  

 (School Workforce Census, 2022).

It is clear from these statistics that, of the women in education who are working part time, the vast majority of these are not doing so at a senior leadership level. This could mean that they have decided for themselves that leadership is incompatible with part time working and parenthood. However, these statistics could also indicate that these women are not being encouraged, supported or allowed to work in senior leader roles part time. Indeed, despite ongoing headlines about the benefits of flexible and part time work, there are many schools and trusts who persist with a policy of no flex/part time at leadership level. 

It could be said that it is preferable for leaders to work full time. The need for leaders to be present to deal with staffing, behaviour and safeguarding issues is a very real and relevant argument. From my own experience, I know that when headteachers and senior leaders are not present, it can lead to additional pressures on those within middle leadership roles. In a profession where 78% of school staff are experiencing stress (Teacher Wellbeing Index, 2023), it could be argued that exposing staff to additional pressures that they are not paid/contracted to handle is counterproductive. 

Additionally, employers are within their rights to deny flexi and part-time working requests if they can prove that these will hinder business outcomes. In the case of education, I have heard arguments that part time leadership can impact on the smooth running of the school, its pupil outcomes, Ofsted ratings and pupil numbers, especially if parents consider leadership to be inconsistent and therefore chaotic. 

However, there are also many positives to having leaders work flexibly or part time. And given that women, particularly those in the 30-39 bracket, are most likely to request this sort of contract, the all-too-common policy of no flex/part time options at a leadership level could also be seen to be seriously disadvantaging aspirational women in education, forcing them to choose between their family and their career. Is not uncommon to see female education leaders step back from these roles, leave teaching entirely or indeed find themselves demoted, when family commitments require them to reduce their hours at work. 

The first question this raises is how valued these women feel within the workplace when their experience and expertise is suddenly overlooked once they become a mother and are no longer available for full time hours. I’ve heard this described as ‘Your skills are only valued if you’re there full time.’  I know many who suddenly feel like their level of competence or their commitment to their school is in question, made to feel like a burden on their workplace, that they are workshy or lazy if they can’t work in the same way that they could before motherhood. This additional pressure could be a catalyst for why these women often end up leaving education entirely.  While there are many inspirational female teacher-parents who are forging the way forwards in leadership roles, it is clear from the data that very few mothers are finding that the workload, the pressure, their school’s policies and their own family set-up are allowing them to do this full time.

With all this in mind, if we also consider the persistently huge gender pay in education – the third worst across all sectors at 20.4% (BBC, 2023) – alongside the knowledge that women who are mothers are the demographic who are most likely to ask for part time work, we can begin to see how the policies which do not allow part time and flexi working at a leadership level are in fact indirectly discriminatory towards women. When we know that it is illegal to discriminate against the protected characteristics of sex and maternity/pregnancy (Equality Act, 2010), it begs the question as to how long it will be before cases of this nature end up in court? 

Personally, I have often said that the teaching profession is full of intelligent and creative people who should be open and willing to rethink how we organise the workforce. Retention is always a better and cheaper option in the long run than recruiting and retraining new staff. In a teacher retention crisis, where we desperately need our experienced teachers to remain in the workforce to support and mentor the new teachers we require, we must celebrate and share examples of where flexible or part time working at a leadership level is proving to be a successful strategy for retention. There are many schools and trusts out there who are able to retain aspirational women at all levels of the profession when they become mothers by supporting them to work PT or flexibly. Imagine a world in which a mother returns to the profession with the conviction that they are still a very valued and an integral part of the workforce, even if they can only commit to part time work? Isn’t this better than losing them from the profession entirely? 

Attainment, Wellbeing and Recruitment

Miriam Hussain portrait

Written by Miriam Hussain

Miriam Hussain is a Director and Teacher of English within a Trust in the West Midlands. She has held a range of roles within education such as: Assistant Headteacher and Chair of Governors. She is also a Curriculum Associate and Ambassador for Teach First. Miriam is a Regional Lead for Litdrive, a charity and Subject Association for English teachers. She is also studying a Masters at the University of Oxford. Her twitter is @MiriamHussain_

The recent report from Sutton Trust (linked below) on the 19th of October 2023 stated that the attainment gap between disadvantage pupils and their peers had widened. This was massively concerning not only to me but a number of other school leaders across the country. The gap is now at its highest level since 2011, removing any progress made in the last decade. A gut-wrenching statistic. There are a lot of reasons for this, you only need to log on to Twitter (X) and see the quote tweets and replies to see people responding and citing the following: the government, economic and political inequality, social care and poverty.  When I read the report however the first thing that cropped up into mind was recruitment. Having spent my career in working in schools in severe low socioeconomic deprivation but also disadvantage it made me think about the immense challenges for our young people today. The long list of barriers to social mobility for thousands of students alongside how would the best teachers be attracted to schools in these pressure cooker environments.

The Guardian in 2023 stated that almost a third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have since left the profession. This coupled with the growing attainment gap is a disaster. The article (linked below) went on to state that 13% of teachers in England that qualified in 2019 then resigned within two years resulting in 3000 teachers leaving the profession. They cited being overworked, stressed and not feeling value as the reasons. Ultimately, why work in education if you can get the same amount of money elsewhere or more, for less stress and work. How can we make teaching more attractive so that future talent doesn’t leave or quit. Ultimately, it will be these teachers who close the attainment gap so what do leaders within schools need to do to provide the conditions for teachers to stay;

  1. A wellbeing policy. Kat Howard in her blog (linked below) on Workload Perception states that wellbeing policies should be an explicit obligation to recognise the importance of taking care of staff. It is not a pizza party or copious amounts of high sugar foods on an evening where staff are expected to work late but instead a series of initiatives which support staff and elevate pressures throughout the year such as; giving time back to staff in the form of PPA at home, Golden tickets for staff where they can have a day for themselves via a raffle or specific initiatives through the year eg parents evenings, inviting people into meetings that only need to be there rather than everyone, having an email embargo of when emails can and can’t be sent. These are all important and need to be considered. Alongside, this its also having transparent conversations to support members of staff with flexible working with an ever-changing work force in addition to growing childcare commitments. These different viewpoints of work are critical. What I really enjoyed about Kat’s blog is that first and foremost having a wellbeing policy is ensuring that wellbeing is a reoccurring agenda item rather than a tick box activity. It forces the dialogue and critical conversations to change the face of education. It is providing policy led support for all stakeholders in education. 
  2. Improve retention of staff via CPD. Leaders of schools need to be intentional with the CPD offer within their school or trust. How is the Professional Development meeting staff needs but more importantly developing them? What NPQs are staff being offered alongside leadership pathways within the trust or school? What does the next set of Middle or Senior Leadership look and feel like? Ultimately what is the offer you are giving to have the very best teachers working with your schools and trust to address the attainment gap?
  3. Schools have to offer a safe environment with a clear behaviour policy. If we want high calibre staff to teach in deprived areas leaders need to ensure that their staff are safe, SLT are visible and clear routines are being implemented. It is critical to ensure no learning time is lost as well as providing the right conditions within classrooms to address educational disadvantage. From my own experience an effective behaviour policy is the bedrock of any school. Students within these communities need consistent practices more than anything else. Clear procedures, habits and processes supports staff moral massively. The behaviour policy needs to be established and revisited daily.
  4. A good example of getting it right with a plethora of examples and research is of course Joe Kirby’s blog (linked below); Hornets, Slugs, Bees and Butterflies: not to do lists and the workload relief revolution. Critically it asks and answers how school leaders can support teachers and staff within education. There are many layers within the blog that I could delve into but what stood out to me was the Hornet section – High Effort, Low – impact initiatives within schools. Several Trusts implement these strategies on a daily basis, Pupil Progress meetings, Pointless Paperwork, Seating plans with data. They take a lot of time and within those high-pressure environments very little is done with that information afterwards it’s merely meeting a deadline. In the reality of school life, they are ineffective and unproductive. We then have slugs, copying out learning objectives, flight paths and big ideas with no detail. Instead, school cultures should be focused on the high impact strategies some of them described in the Kirby’s blog as; quizzes, booklets and sharing resources. Just because something has always been done does not mean that is how it always needs to me. With the recruitment crisis we are in we need to be thinking how we make schools flourishing institutions with systems that allow staff to do so. 

I do believe these are within our control as leaders we need to be able to provide the right conditions and systems for our teachers, staff and individuals. Kat ends her blog with stating that in order to ‘improve conditions for all staff if time is taken’. Time being used to listen to what each stakeholder has to say and then making the necessary changes to have a positive and purposeful impact. Conversations should be seen as the framework that drives not only attainment, wellbeing and recruitment forward but all facets of school procedures. As Joe Kirby put it, less time on the Slugs and Hornets and more time on the Butterflies. Let’s stop wasting time in education.


Hornets, Slugs, Bees and Butterflies: not-to-do lists and the workload relief revolution | Joe Kirby (joe-kirby.com) 


Sutton Trust comment on Key Stage 4 performance data – Sutton Trust 

Workload | Perception – Kat Howard (wordpress.com) 

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. 



Lindsay Patience portrait

Written by Lindsay Patience

Lindsay Patience is the co-founder of Flexible Teacher Talent. She is a Teach First Ambassador, a School Leader and a mother.

Opportunities are usually so exciting and positive, but they can also be a cause of frustration and worry.

Sometimes when an opportunity comes along we ask ourselves: Can I do this? Should I do this? Is this the right thing for me at this time? Are the risks too great? Is this what I want?

I’m usually very much of the mindset that opportunities should be grasped with both hands, we should be 10% braver as #WomenEd say. I think it’s important to take opportunities when they arise to develop myself, to show others it can be done, to make progress, to drive change. Sometimes I feel privileged to have access to opportunities and sometimes I feel I’ve worked really hard to get to them, sometimes I have both of these feelings concurrently. I feel a certain sense of duty to embrace opportunities for myself, for others women, for my children. To show that I can do it, they can do it, we can do it.

I’ve recently been faced with a situation where I have a huge professional opportunity, it is everything I could have hoped for, almost unbelievably so. But it has come at a really bad time for me. I’ve just had my third child, a much hoped for and loved rainbow baby after a sad loss the year before. How I work in the next year or two may need to be substantially different and I’m just not sure I have the capacity to take on the new opportunity that I’ve worked hard to secure. What a waste! What frustrating timing! If it was all just six months or a year later! But it isn’t – it’s now.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that saying no to opportunities can be brave too. It can show others healthy boundary setting and set a good example as a role model. I’m prioritising different things at the moment. It wasn’t the right time but I can make an impact in other ways, there are other paths that I can take later on when I’m ready, when the timing is better. It feels hard to make that decision, it seems both selfish and self destructive in a very confusing way.

I think we often say no to opportunities because of imposter syndrome or to comply with gender norms or because the system prevents us from making genuine choices. Because of this there is a guilt and a fear of saying no to opportunities. We must push ourselves, feel grateful for the opportunity, be a role model and a trail blazer. But sometimes the best thing for you, your personal choice in your unique set of circumstances is to say no to the opportunity. Not to grasp it but to let it pass, maybe delay it, maybe give it up forever. Sometimes that is the best thing to do and the right thing to do. But this can feel wasteful, ungrateful, shrouded in guilt and potential regret. It can lead to resentment and anger where the decision is forced by circumstances. There’s also an undercurrent here of unfairness – I’m in this position because I’m a mother, are fathers facing these same missed opportunities? That pressure and guilt I feel about the opportunity, is that largely because of my position as a woman and a mother? As with so many things, when intersectionality is considered there is likely even more pressure to “be what you can’t see”, to take the opportunities because they may not come again, to want to get the rewards you’ve worked so hard for.

Sometimes it’s ok to let an opportunity pass. They say when one door closes, another one opens – even if you are the one to close the door yourself this is still the case. I will have to be brave enough to trust that there will be other opportunities at the right time for me.

But what do we need to change so that people can truly make choices about opportunities that present themselves? Greater flexibility in how we work? Greater flexibility on timing for starting jobs/projects? Better childcare options? Changes to societal norms and pressure? More opportunities for those with protected characteristics? If we want the best people for the job then we need to think differently about the opportunities people have and how to support them in taking them.

How Well Do You Know Your Governance Professionals?

The Key logo

Written by The Key

The Key is the leading provider of whole-school support for schools and trusts.

On International Women’s Day (8 March) 2023, GovernorHub, part of The Key Group, released a research report delving into the salaries and working patterns of 1,298 governance professionals working in schools and trusts. 

It sheds light on the often-hidden roles of governance professionals, who this research reveals are indeed predominantly female, and explores how their salaries fare against those in comparable roles in other sectors. 

See the key findings of the report below, and some recommended actions to help overcome pay disparities to support the recruitment and retention of talent in these important roles.

Key findings

The survey of 1,055 clerks, 100 governance co-ordinators and 143 governance leads found that:

  • Around 90% of governance professional roles in schools and trusts are filled by women, making this one of the most female-dominated careers in the education sector and beyond
  • The majority (85%) of clerks surveyed reported working part time – for governance co-ordinators it’s 49%, and for governance leads it’s 37% – which is far higher than the government’s national employment data at 23% of working-age people working part time in 2021
  • Almost a third (30%) of all female governance professionals surveyed reported having taken a career break due to caring responsibilities, compared to 4% of male respondents
  • Clerking roles in schools and trusts appear to have the largest salary discrepancies, with a median salary of £25,000 pro-rata, which is substantially lower than the median salary for equivalent roles in the local government (£33,782), public services (£33,636), and not-for-profit (£31,620) sectors
  • Over half (54%) of clerks surveyed reported feeling ‘underpaid’ or ‘extremely underpaid’; comments from some respondents suggest this is often caused by needing to work more hours than are allocated to each task or meeting 
  • A lack of visibility and understanding of clerking roles, combined with their increasing complexity, might be contributing to the stagnation of pay felt by many clerks surveyed

A quote from one part time clerk respondent illustrates a lack of awareness, in some cases, of this role:

“Having worked for 10 years with the school, I had to ask for my salary to be reviewed a couple of years ago and the rate was upped. I checked my letter of appointment and it said my salary would be reviewed every year – I pointed this out, but it isn’t reviewed every year. I think my role falls through the cracks. As a part time employee, I don’t know if I am missing out on any other work benefits, pension etc., and whether I’m entitled to equipment to help me to do my job.”


To help improve working conditions for governance professionals and, in doing so, help recruit and retain valuable talent for the sector:

  • Employers – should use annual appraisal meetings as an opportunity to review and benchmark pay, and follow government guidance on reducing your organisation’s gender pay gap 
  • Self-employed individuals – should negotiate hourly rates in line with benchmarked salaries, as well as hours assigned to each task
  • Everyone working in governance professional roles – should set and share a working-time schedule to help improve work/life balance, and join a union, to help give them a voice and professional advice


GovernorHub’s research report gives governance professionals in schools and trusts the evidence to show what they’re worth, and to look to align their pay with equivalent roles in other sectors. 

The report recommends that employers and individuals take action to overcome the pay disparities, and ensure that governance professionals are recognised and rewarded appropriately. 

By taking these actions, the education sector can strengthen its workforce of governance professionals who play such a vital role in supporting our schools and trusts. Championing these key roles will only serve to support the best possible educational outcomes for our children and young people. 

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. 

Leaders Like Us

Emily Norman portrait

Written by Emily Norman

Emily Norman is the Head of Curriculum and Inclusion for the Church of England’s Education Office. She was formerly a headteacher in central London, an RE consultant and SIAMS inspector.

Our plan to improve representation in school leadership – Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership

“I really do think that it’s critical that teaching is an inclusive profession. Schools and their leadership teams should reflect their communities and their pupils and I’m absolutely determined to see improvements. I think we need inspiring teachers to represent and motivate pupils from all walks of life.” 

Nadhim Zahawi, previous Secretary of State for Education (9.10.21)

This autumn, the Church of England’s Education Office is embarking upon an ambitious project to radically increase the representation of school leaders from UKME backgrounds over the next five years. It is called ‘Leaders Like Us’.

Currently, there are less than 400 headteachers in English schools from UKME backgrounds although there are close to 3 million students. That is a ratio of 1 headteacher to over 7,000 UKME students (data from Professor Paul Miller, Institute for Equity). The effect of this is that the children and young people in our education system are not seeing themselves reflected in the leadership of their schools. This affects their ability to view themselves as future teachers or school leaders, and decisions about the curriculum they study, pedagogical approaches applied in the classroom, how their behaviour and wellbeing are supported and/or managed are all made by teachers and leaders without their lived experience. 

Research tells us that the impact of teacher and school leader representation on students is significant; their attainment and likelihood of progressing to tertiary education is exponentially higher. Their exclusion and suspension rates decrease. Their future aspirations are higher because ‘if you can see it, you can be it’. (A phrase used, for example to describe the impact Nichelle Nichols’ NASA campaign had on Dr Mae Jemison – the first black female astronaut in space).

And why is this so urgent and necessary? 

Data released this summer about school exclusions shows that pupils from a Gypsy and Roma background (18 in every 10,000), followed by those from mixed white and black Caribbean backgrounds (12 in every 10,000) had the highest rates of exclusion in the country. This is much higher than the rates of their White British peers (5 in every 10,00). Permanent exclusions and suspensions in England, Academic Year 2020/21 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

Attainment in this country also shows similar patterns, with White British students attaining at national average in primary SATs tests (65%) and GCSE Progress 8 (50%) while black Caribbean and mixed white/ black Caribbean students achieving below average (56% and 59% respectively for SATs and 44% for Progress 8). https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/ 

Knowing the significant impact that representation amongst teachers and school leaders can have, we have a moral imperative to secure significant increases that result in the 1/3 of pupils who come from UKME backgrounds seeing themselves reflected in the classroom.

Is this only about improving outcomes for pupils?

The Church of England’s vision for schools – a vision for human flourishing and ‘life in all its fullness’ – is absolutely for the pupils in our education sector. Each and every one of them. But it is also a vision for flourishing staff and adults. Our UKME teachers and leaders should have every possible opportunity to progress, achieve and thrive in our schools. 

Data, however, shows that teachers from UKME backgrounds are much less likely to progress to senior positions within their schools than their white peers, becoming increasingly under-represented the further up the ladder you go. The recent NFER report highlighted these issues, showing that rather than improving over the last few years (given all the DEI initiatives taking place), there has in fact been a decline in representation: Racial equality in the teacher workforce – NFER

We must do all we can to nurture the ambition and confidence of our UKME teachers, whilst intentionally removing the barriers and obstacles in their way, so that they can develop into leadership roles that enable them to flourish. We must proactively create school cultures which enable progression, the ability to excel and shine and be seen, places of true belonging. That goes far beyond mission statements, slogans and DEI action plans; it is about living and breathing diversity and inclusion – rooted in the core belief that we belong together and until everyone is flourishing, no one truly does.

Furthermore, research shows us what we probably already know – that diverse teams drive up effectiveness, creativity and innovation within their organisations (see Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter (hbr.org)), which can only be good for the education sector. Our pupils need to be taught by diverse teams. Our schools need to be led by diverse teams. Our society needs to be transformed by diverse teams.

So what can we do about it?

We know we have to address this issue with vigour and urgency. Our ‘Leaders Like Us’ programme seeks to double the existing number of headteachers from UKME backgrounds over the next five years. It utilises the research around what we know works in the recruitment, progression and retention of UKME school leaders (from e.g. Miller 2020), as well as our extensive networks of schools (the Church of England represents 22% of the sector nationally and up to a third when combined with the Catholic sector, with whom we now deliver the NPQs) from which we aim to recruit both participants and mentors to host and support those participants. 

This isn’t to say it is just a church school programme for church school people! Like with all our programmes and networks, ‘Leaders Like Us’ is open to anyone who would like to learn and develop within a values-led environment which is built upon Christian foundations and is utterly committed to serving the common good. 

The programme has four strands: access to accredited training (such as an NPQ or the excellent Aspiring Heads programme), shadowing an experienced headteacher in another context, mentoring to support progression and networking together as a cohort of leaders. It has been devised by successful UKME headteachers, drawing upon their own experience to devise a programme which is grounded in research.

Professor Paul Miller wrote in 2019: Doing race equality in schools is serious business that requires courage and the moral use of power that extends beyond sympathising to taking actions.’

‘Leaders Like Us’ is our call to action for schools, dioceses and trusts all round the country to sponsor an applicant, talent-spot a future leader, apply to become a host and mentor and to commit to long-term culture change. To have the courage to go beyond sympathy and actually take action!

Leaders Like Us’ launches in January 2023. Applications are open now, and the deadline is 11th November 2022. www.cefel.org.uk/leaderslikeus/

More Than Ticking a Box

Tak-Sang Li portrait

Written by Tak-Sang Li

An English teacher of twenty years and counting - most recently as a Head of English, and now an Assistant Head. Also a doctoral candidate on the EdD programme at UCL Institute of Education.

When I first became an English teacher in London almost twenty years ago, my father – who, along with my mother, had emigrated to the UK from Hong Kong in the late 1960s / early 1970s – found it amusing that I, the son of a Chinese immigrant, would be teaching English to predominantly native speakers of English. I paid little heed to this at the time, as my father is known for his off-the-cuff remarks, and, in some respects, I believe it was his idiosyncratic way of expressing paternal pride in the fact that I had secured a job upon graduation. Whilst my father found the notion of a Chinese English teacher amusing, I have been fortunate enough to have worked in schools where my ethnicity has not been an issue. I can only recall a couple of instances where I have felt otherwise. I have a vivid memory of a parent eyeing me up and down during a parents’ evening, as their son walked them over to the table I was seated at, and remarking in a rather sneering tone, “That’s your English teacher?” (I am fairly certain that this comment was directed to the fact that I’m Chinese rather than anything else about me – as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am otherwise quite inconspicuous.) At another point in my career, when I was one of two Chinese male teachers in the school I was teaching at, I had begun to lose count of the number of times that pupils (and, occasionally, some colleagues) would mistake me for him. That grated – with no offence intended to my colleague – though I realise that it was likely to be an innocent mistake on their part.

Aside from this, as aforementioned, I have been fortunate to have been appointed and accepted as “part of the furniture” at the schools I’ve taught at over the years. You might argue that this can be partly attributable to the fact that I’ve been based in schools in London and the South-East during my career to date, where the pupil bodies are especially diverse in terms of ethnicity. To a lesser extent, and anecdotally, I would argue it has been less well reflected in the staffrooms of which I have been a member: I have always had colleagues of differing ethnic backgrounds, but they have been few and far between, and that remains the case even after two decades of teaching. The number of times where I have attended courses or examiners’ meetings, as a Head of English, and been the only person, or one of only a few people, from a BAME background, have been innumerable. Importantly, I say this not as a metaphorical stick with which to beat schools: in my experience, I believe – genuinely – that I’ve taught in schools which appoint the best people for the job irrespective of race and ethnicity, or any other defining characteristic for that matter, and long may this continue.  

I’m equally aware, however, that this may not be the experience of colleagues in the teaching profession elsewhere in the UK – something that has been increasingly documented, as is the relatively low proportion of senior leaders in schools from ethnic minorities. It is something that I’m increasingly aware of as I step up this autumn, from being a Head of English to an Assistant Head post, with a responsibility for teaching and learning. Much has been said and written over the last few years about the increasing need to diversify the curriculum to reflect the diversity of those we teach. In my own subject, English, it has been heartening to see the inroads that have been made in featuring texts on the curriculum reflective of and authored by those from diverse backgrounds – crucially, I believe, texts that can sit alongside those from the UK’s rich literary “canon” and heritage (I write this as an English teacher who is especially fond of “dead white men” – in particular, I have a passion for all things Chaucerian). Yet, as a teacher and now senior leader from an ethnic minority, I do believe yet more needs to be done in school recruitment to (a) encourage people from BAME backgrounds to enter the teaching profession, and (b) to encourage colleagues from such backgrounds to have the confidence to apply for positions of responsibility in schools. For me, this is much more than simply ticking a diversity box. We owe it to our pupils to see that equality of opportunity is open to all in the teaching profession, as much as any other profession that they are interested in exploring in their respective futures.