Tracey Leese portrait

Written by Tracey Leese

Tracey Leese is an assistant headteacher, literacy specialist, parent governor and advocate for women in leadership. Tracey lives in Staffordshire with her two sons and fellow-teacher husband.

I am well aware that the land of gendered identities is an area in which attitudes and assumptions are rapidly changing… and that we are collectively beginning to see gender as more of a spectrum than a fixed binary position. But in our continued efforts to renegotiate our shared understanding of what constitutes gender or identity we can’t assume that female teachers are no longer subject to prejudice. 

Women are not underrepresented in teaching – in fact it’s a female-centric profession, but we are underrepresented at every single level of educational leadership – most prevalently at Secondary Headship level. In comparison to some other protected characteristics the issue of gender seems so straight forward. I can see why some people might feel that it’s time to put the issue of gender to the bottom of the priority list.

Similarly, it’s easy to underestimate the myriad reasons why women still earn and lead less in what is supposed to be a truly equal and ethical profession. The motherhood penalty, work/ life balance and women’s desire to work flexibly are all seemingly widely-held reasons for this. Together with my brother Christopher, I recently co-authored Teach Like a Queen: Lessons in Leadership from Great Contemporary Women as an attempt to contribute to the ongoing conversation around diversity within school leadership. Throughout our research for the book we interviewed countless power women and were surprised when recurring themes of self-doubt, imposter syndrome and fear of disapproval emerged. In some instances, these female leaders cited seemingly “small” issues such as wishing to attend their child’s school nativity as reasons why leadership seems unattractive to women. 

So, whilst we need to look at who is shaping policy and practice in education, we also need to be bold enough to imagine a future where more schools are ran by women and paid the same as their male counterparts. According to data from NAHT’s Closing the Gender Gap published December 2021, by the age of 60 male headteachers earn £17,334 more than female headteachers. 

Our book was inspired (and supported by) the work of #WomenEd who are relentless in their work towards inspiring, empowering and supporting more women into leadership posts, the data tells us that in spite of the brilliant work already underway, that there is still so much work to do. So we absolutely cannot assume that the issue of gender is anywhere near resolved nor that the profession is as equitable as we’d hope. 

We are all charged with addressing injustice in education – as leaders, as teachers and as stakeholders.  The disproportionate representation of women in leadership and the gender pay gap absolutely amounts to injustice. Our students deserve to attend schools which are led by visionary and diverse leaders. So if a world without gender inequality is an unrealistic destination, I am just happy to be part of the journey. 

Teach Like a Queen is out 30th May and published by Routledge: