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.

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