Our new blog

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By Keziah Featherstone  @keziah70

All in the #WomenEd community mourn the passing of Staffrm. It can be argued that #WomenEd started because of Staffrm and because the power of blogging has been enjoyed by so many – we have created our own new space. If you wish to contribute, please look at our contact page.

We have just held our third Unconference and our first in the north (ish). It was our best ever – positive, dynamic and life changing. Thank you to all those that attended, all those that joined in via Twitter and especially our Sheffield Hallam hosts.

I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky…


Kerry Jordan-Daus      @kerryjordandaus

On Friday 19th January 2018 Kylie Minogue released her new single and Jacinda Adern announced she was pregnant. This these two seemingly unconnected news items got me thinking. Kylie talking about her career on the Chris Evans breakfast show – how lucky she’s been. Jacinda Ardern  also talking about being lucky.

 Kylie once sang, I should be so lucky, lucky …… Jacinda used these words, because her partner is going to look after their baby so she can continue her career as Prime Minister of New Zealand, “I am so lucky” she said!

 https://cdn.lkmco.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/The-Talent-Challenge.pdf This report gave a set of recommendations to address our recruitment and retention in the Teaching Profession. Funnily enough, luck is not one of the recommendations.

Can we really build a workforce on luck? I am talking about the many women who aren’t “lucky enough” to be able to return to work after pregnancy because of no childcare options, no flexibility, no reasonable adjustment. The report does talk about tapping into talent pools. I want to talk about strategy not luck, about tapping into pools of talent. This was the focus of three separate conversations I had last week.

 Last week I found myself stating the obvious, well obvious to me. You have this superb Head of Department who is going on maternity leave. She wants to return on a part time contract. You’d be silly or “worse” not to put in place the arrangements to enable this to happen I think!

 But, I heard, “this very hard to timetable?” Harder still to timetable with no one? Will this Head of Department be “so lucky” that her Headteacher embraces flexibility and recognises the career trajectory of women who choose to have children needs to be managed carefully to retain this talent.

 Last week I found myself stating the obvious, well obvious to me. In setting up a new nursery, by choosing to make it 0-4, 52 week’s a year provision, we are maximising opportunities for women to have high quality childcare and continue their careers.

 Problematically, the financial modelling, it was suggested, would make higher returns by having 2-4 years provision, term time only. Will the Headteacher factor into the financial modelling the huge cost of loosing women because there isn’t any high quality childcare and thus they have to leave their job? “Luckily” they saw that by having such provision on site could be a real pull for recruiting and retention of both existing and future staff.

 Last week I found myself stating the obvious, well obvious to me. The pattern of meetings for the Senior Leadership in the school make it virtually impossible for those with childcare responsibilities to be members of SLT. Now I wasn’t lucky, my partner worked in London and couldn’t share nursery drop off or pickups. I was “lucky”, my Headteacher agreed to move timings of SLT to enable me to attend and get to nursery before it closed! In the context of a “reducing workload” debate we need to ask how many of our meetings are really necessary but also how can we ensure that our meetings accommodate other commitments, ie collecting children from nursery? We also need to challenge workplace structures, cultures and behaviours which view such adjustments as questioning our commitment, capacity or capabilities, or being lucky.

 My point here is should we have a Recruitment and Retention Strategy built upon luck? I find myself stating the obvious, well the obvious to me. Recognition of the needs of parents, mostly women/mothers, but not exclusively, fathers/ dads too, will enable us to tap into a pool of talent. For every reason, this is critically important but as we stare a significant teacher recruitment crisis in the face. Maybe we will see flexible working embedded as part of a Staffing Strategy built on the obvious rather than luck. Flexible working isn’t a “added extra” but an essential, that I don’t have to be superwoman, juggling meetings and multi tasking, to ensure my career and my kids don’t suffer. I should be so lucky ….

 Kerry Jordan-Daus      @kerryjordandaus       WomenEd Kent Regional Lead

 Join us on 10th March 2018 at our Kent Lead Meet to discuss more. 




My Shero by Keziah Featherstone

Toni Morrison

by Keziah Featherstone      @Keziah70

They shoot the white girl first.

This is the opening sentence of Toni Morrison’s 1997 novel Paradise which starts and ends with a massacre. Even as a stand alone sentence it is pretty perfect; every word dripping with possibilities, the tense ambiguous, the denouement seemingly supplied. I have made these six words last two or three A Level Literature lessons; I return to them for personal comfort.

I am a Literature snob. I cannot just read any old thing. For me reading for pleasure is an almost holy event and I refuse to fill up these precious moments with junk. I’ve actually become quite risk adverse over the years – terrified I may invest my time reading a new author that disappoints. I am incredibly sceptical of recommendations.

But Toni Morrison is one of my sheroes because, without exception, every word she writes is perfect. When I read her books I feel elevated, transported, calm. She presents lives I cannot otherwise imagine and she does not flinch from telling the hardest stories, never compromises with language or purpose, nothing is even vaguely dumbed down. Many a night she has been a friend of mind.



My Shero by Cecilia Payton


by Cecilia Payton    @payton_cecilia

Any ‘Trads’ reading this need to turn away now. Miss Mottram, teacher of Year 5 at Westgate School Lincoln 1987-88 was the ultimate Prog and my ultimate Shero. Like many of us writing these blogs there are lots of people we could potentially choose from, which is great. It’s wonderful that there are a number of women who have touched our lives in myriad ways. For me, special mention needs to go out to Miss Riley who counselled me through my parent’s separation in Year 7 or Sylvia Plath whose poetry got me through that painful adolescent angst or Jacqueline Du Pre- whose gut wrenching recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto pushed me to persevere with practising the cello instead of giving up while other teen interests took hold instead. But there’s a reason why childhood is referred to as ‘formative’ and that is because sponge like we soak up the experiences we have (whether positive or negative) and they shape and mould us into the people we later become.

For those of you who read Roald Dahl’s Matilda as a child you will recall the wondrous Miss Honey who not only nurtures Matilda’s incredible talents but cares deeply about her welfare.  Minus the telekinesis (!) Miss Mottram was a bit like that for me. Everything she taught resonated, engaged and inspired me on a level I have never before or since experienced in my education. We painted our emotional responses to pieces of classical music, cried as a class as we read Goodnight Mr Tom and used drama to deepen our understanding of WWII. She succeeded in getting us to write empathetically from the perspective of the protagonist and made us aware of the horrors of war, poverty and family dynamics in a manner that we could comfortably process. She let me sit in the classroom reading in Winter while the rest of the class skated across the icy playground and on the last day in summer she let me sit at her feet while she read the final story of the year and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

Whatever we think are the best methods and environments for effective learning to take place is a debate over which I myself am divided and I fall into neither camp easily. However, whatever it was I needed during that specific period of my schooling she was able to deliver. Can I honestly remember everything she taught me? No. But the ‘emotional’ memory of that time is still incredibly strong 30 years later. Nobody would refute the fact that first and foremost we want children to learn knowledge and acquire skills. But if my pupils can also look back in years to come and reconnect with a ‘feeling’ like I can then I believe my work is done.

My Shero by Nerys Blower


by Nerys Blower     @NeBlower

My Shero is the one student I will never forget even when I eventually retire from  this profession. Memories of this student have helped me stay in teaching when I’ve been close to quitting and why my heart will always lie in pastoral care roles.

Sophie (not her real name) was a student in my care in the early stages of my career about 15 years ago. I had recently been promoted to Head of Year 9. Sophie was a lovely student – polite, well behaved and outgoing. That started to change halfway through the year and she became insolent, disruptive and constantly challenged authority. Her parents were extremely worried, as were we as a school but she would not talk to anyone.

She was sent to my office one day – I popped out for 5 mins and when I came back she was fast asleep. On awakening after being left to sleep for an hour, the walls she had built suddenly crumbled. She said that she couldn’t take it anymore and she then went on to divulge the most horrendous account of sexual abuse by her pimp of an older boyfriend.

Her courage and bravery throughout the abuse, disclosure and ordeal of a resulting trial (she wasn’t allowed any counselling until after the verdict) made a huge impression on me as a woman, teacher and future parent – this experience informs my practice, beliefs and moral purpose in these roles on a daily basis.
I don’t know what happened to Sophie after leaving school but I do know that the person she was before the abuse slowly started to return and it was clear to see the strong woman she would become.

I have taught other girls and young women in similar situations to Sophie since then, and sadly will probably continue to do so. It can be bloody hard; at often the most inconvenient of times they need 100% tolerance and 100% of your attention but we stick with them because of their courage and bravery, and because we know that sometimes schools are the only positive sources of support they have.
Here’s to the many young Sheroes we know.

My Shero, Karen(squared)



I’ve thought long and hard about this one; as a female scientist there are many “sheros” I could talk about who inspired me in my love of science. There are many “sheros” in teaching I could talk about. But as I looked at the date today I realised there is only one true “shero” I wanted to write about.

I met this wonderful woman in 1987 second year at university. We didn’t move in the same circles, she was far too clever for her to notice me. She came with a raft of top flight ‘O levels’ and ‘A levels’. She sat kinda almost at the front but not quite. She worked so hard, didn’t really go out much, was VERY quiet… not like me at all. She had a steady, by this time live in boyfriend. But I had noticed her. I’d admire her ability to always turn up…

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Teachers’ Moral Purpose will get us through

Tim Ennion     @TimEnnion


discussion on a face-to-face day about moral purpose.  I found myself reflecting deeply about the things that really matter to me professionally.  One of these motivators centres on striving for equality.  Inequality is at the root of so many of the global challenges we face today.  It’s a crazy situation that allows some people to play on super-yachts while so many struggle to feed themselves; it’s maddening that the richest in society contribute so little to the tax pot, while so many work all hours and barely make ends meet.  After all, as Professor Danny Dorling points out, getting rich is largely about luck, and it’s time the wealthy accepted this.


I love reading Danny Dorling’s thoughts on inequality – Danny is professor of human geography at Oxford University and I would strongly recommend him as someone to follow on Twitter.

The manifestations of inequality are one of our biggest challenges in schools.  We know that children from poor backgrounds make less progress (for example, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39091044) but, something that has been less apparent to me until recently, is the inequality that prevails across the wider community in many schools.

When Vivienne Porritt came over to Dorchester in December to help us launch our new @DTSA2016 #DASP Women Leaders network, she presented the following figures on the school workforce:

38% of workforce is male

64% of headteachers are male

62% of workforce is female

38% of headteachers are female

(Data for secondary schools)

 If headships reflected the workforce, there would be 1,739 more women heads.

The numbers reveal a block in the pipeline of progress through the layers of school leadership.  Why is it that so few female secondary teachers make it to headship?  Are women opting out to do other things, or is there a lack of support and encouragement or, are the stories true on social media that women are being actively discriminated against?  It doesn’t take long to find numerous online reports of women teachers wishing to return part time from maternity leave only to told they can’t continue in their TLR role (often as a subject leader).  There seems to be an intractable mindset in schools that leadership roles and flexible working must be mutually exclusive.  I’m not sure why this thinking has lingered so long in education; we must have slipped decades behind comparable professions in creating flexible employment solutions.  If schools fail to drag themselves into the 21st Century we risk a continuing and serious talent haemorrhage at a time when we can least afford it.  I’m reassured that my own school offers me various examples of what, in this context, might be described as visionary leadership but in reality is simply common sense – women leaders at all levels, full time and part time, whose talents have been recognised, and who are fully encouraged and supported by a culture of positivity and trust.


As public sector employees it’s all too tempting sometimes to assume that things are better in the private sector – more money fuelling innovation, better conditions and next Century thinking.  My wife works for PwC, one of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms and, in our experience, they are excellent employers.  Their message is very much about work-life balance, family time and flexible employment.  They have flashy leisure facilities in their offices like gymnasiums and pools, and the walls are furnished with glossy posters of smiling employees (I assume) sitting in lush, sun-drenched parks with laptops and happy children frolicking.  Surely, such a guilt-free professional utopia must boast equality in all areas?  I have always assumed that they could show us schools a thing or two about how it should be done.  So, following Vivienne’s talk, I thought I’d look up PwC’s gender balance statistics, just to be dazzled at what these major, global, forward thinking, HR-consultants can achieve.  At manager grade, there is almost perfect balance – 1728 female to 1790 male employees.  But, just as happens in schools, with progression through the leadership levels a gap develops that becomes ever wider.  Senior manager – 1489 female:1837 male; Director – 426:931; Partner – 167:722.  This imbalance result in a gender pay gap at PwC of nearly 14%.

This all leads me to think that there is no silver bullet to address this issue of gender imbalance, and that we are challenged by cultural behaviour that requires a significant, conscious realignment of thinking.  Because until this happens we will persist in a society lacking equality, suffering hugely from wasted talent and dominated by leaders who are unrepresentative of those they are leading.  What’s so encouraging to me is that school leaders have the power to change all this.  Education is blessed with some wonderful people who have a strong moral purpose to make things better for everyone.  I think that if headteachers and senior staff were fully aware of these issues then they’d want to strive for change because actually teachers are thoroughly decent human beings.  This is why supporting women leaders is a core priority of my Teaching School Alliance – I know we can make big gains.  But, at the outset, we must make school leaders aware of the problem and then, together, have the confidence to challenge thinking to give the change we need.



My Shero by Fiona McSorley

Vera Brittain


by Fiona McSorley   @Fifimc60

Many years ago on an SLT weekend my Head Master at the time compared me to Margaret Thatcher (and himself to Winston Churchill). No offence to Thatcherites and her legacy but I was mightily offended. Being strong in character and often the only challenging voice in a dominantly male SLT, had led and a to a label I did not recognise.

Who then was my role model, who did I aim to model my behaviours, ethics and ambitions on? It did not take me long to think of Vera Brittain whose Biography ‘A Testament of Youth’ I had read in my 20s and had moved me to wonder at how she managed to come through such a male dominated society and make such a difference through her actions. She argued her case for an education and refused to be the standard view of a young lady that stayed at home and sewed.  She gained a place at Oxford and despite her middle class comfortable existence she volunteered as a VAD nurse in the First World War. Amongst all that carnage she cared for soldiers as best she could. She stepped outside her comfort zone and did what she thought was the moral and right thing to do in difficult times.

Vera lost so many people in the War, her brother, fiancée and friends. This left a lasting impression upon her and her move into public speaking and the pacifism movement was inspired by a determination to prevent such a war ever happening again. Standing up for what she believed in was very difficult as not everyone could understand what she had seen and to some pacifism was a betrayal of patriotism.  Yet she did speak out.

We are lucky to be able to read about Vera’s experiences through her books and poetry. But for me here is a lady who lived her life through a clear moral code to contribute to society and help others. My Shero.