ERG SES G 14, Professional Development and Education
The proposed presentation reports on the first phase of a PhD project exploring the ways in which female deputy headteachers make sense of and perceive the secondary headteacher role. The project is concerned with deputies’ career aspirations and the motivations behind their professional decision making. The rationale for this study focuses the persistent underrepresentation of women in secondary headship. The most recent school workforce data in England indicates that although women make up over half of all classroom teachers, men continue to be overrepresented in headteacher positions (DfE, 2014). Scholars across the globe have identified similar trends (Drudy, 2008). Numerous academics have explored the underrepresentation of women in educational leadership. The existing body of research encompasses the views of those from Africa (e.g. Naidoo and Perumal, 2014; Chabaya et al., 2009), North America (e.g. Young and McLeod, 2001; Muñoz et al., 2014), Australia (e.g. Lacey, 2004; Neidhart and Carlin, 2003) and the UK (e.g. Coleman, 2007; Fuller, 2009). Researchers have employed both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in order to investigate this phenomenon. Despite the diversity present in this body of research, many of the studies in this area focus on the views and experiences of existing female headteachers. The aspirations of female deputy headteachers rarely feature in this international corpus of work. This is a significant gap. As potential aspirants to headship, these women have the potential to offer an alternative perspective on the persistent underrepresentation of women in secondary headship.
The research questions guiding this research into the career histories and professional aspirations are as follows:
- How do female deputy headteachers make sense of their career histories?
- How do female deputy headteachers perceive secondary headship?
- How do female deputy headteachers envisage their future professional selves?
A feminist poststructuralist theoretical framework underpins this study. My PhD project is concerned with female deputy headteachers’ imagined future selves, the ways in which their experiences and perceptions have influenced their professional aspirations. An appropriate theoretical framework for this project is one that recognises the differences between individuals, the fluidity of their experiences in the social world as well as the flux of individual subjectivities over time. Consequently, I have turned to feminist poststructuralism. Taking inspiration from Munro’s (1998) study of women teachers’ narratives, I draw on “poststructural notions of subjectivity as non-unitary, of power/ knowledge as circulatory and of gender as a complex social construction” in my work (p. 29).
Poststructuralist ideas suggest that our identities are subject to multiple reinterpretations. According to Weedon (1997), feminist poststructuralists have sought to “deconstruct the hegemonic assumption that we are whole and coherent subjects with a unified sense of identity” (p. 174). Our identities and subjectivities, gendered or otherwise, are said to be heterogeneous and contradictory works ‘in progress.’ Consequently, “we simultaneously occupy numerous subject positions and identities” at any one time (Ford, 2006, p. 80). Exploring poststructural feminism in the study of Education, St Pierre (2000) states the “subject is considered a construction and identity is presumed to be created in the ongoing effects of relations and in response to society’s codes” and conventions (p. 503). Our subjectivities are therefore believed to be socially constructed and historically variable. Poststructuralist theories recognise the significant role that social and organisational contexts play inshaping subjectivities and determining the variety of subject positions available to us (Ford, 2006, p. 79). Through this lens, female deputies’ subjectivities are not only multiple, but highly dependent and bound by the school, educational climate and society she finds herself within.
Department for Education (2014) National Statistics First Release: School Workforce in England (Revised). Online. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education/series/statistics-school-workforce (accessed 30/10/14). Drudy, S. (2008) ‘Gender Balance/ Gender Bias: The Teaching Profession and the Impact of Feminisation’, Gender and Education, 20 (4), pp. 309 – 323. Coleman, M. (2007) ‘Gender and Educational Leadership in England: a Comparison of Secondary Headteachers’ View Over Time’, School Leadership and Management, 27 (4), pp. 383 – 399. Fuller, K. (2009) Women Secondary Head Teachers: Alive and Well in Birmingham at the Beginning of the Twenty- First Century, Management in Education, 23 (1), pp. 19 – 31. Goodson, I. and Sikes, P. (2001) Life History Research in Educational Settings: Learning from Lives. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press. Lacey, K. (2004) Women in Teaching: Factors that Impact on their Leadership Aspirations. IARTV Seminar Series #131. Melbourne: Incorporated Association of Registered Teachers of Victoria Larkin, M. and Thompson, A.R. (2011) ‘Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis in Mental Health and Psychotherapy Research’, in Harper, D. and Thompson, A.R (eds.) Qualitative Research Methods in Mental Health and Psychotherapy: A Guide for Students and Practitioners. London: Wiley – Blackwell, pp. 101 – 116. Muñoz, A., Pankake, A., Murakami Ramalho, E., Mills, S. and Simonsson M. (2014) A Study of Female Central Office Administrators and Their Aspirations to the Superintendency Educational Management Administration & Leadership 42 (2), pp. 1 – 21. Munro, P. (1998) Subject to Fiction: Women Teachers’ Life History Narratives and the Cultural Politics of Resistance. Buckingham: Open University Press Neidhart, H. & Carlin, P. (2003) Pathways, Incentives and Barriers for Women Aspiring to Principalship in Australian Catholic Schools. Paper presented at NZARE/AARE Conference, Auckland, 2003. https://www.flinders.edu.au/ehl/fms/educationalfutures/frrerg/Pathways_incentives_and_barriers_for_women.pdf (accessed 14/06/2014) Smith, J. & Osborn, M (2003) ‘Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis’. In Smith, J.A. (Ed.) Qualitative Psychology: A Practical Guide to Research Methods. London: Sage. pp. 51 – 80. St. Pierre, E. (2000) ‘Poststructural Feminism in Education: An Overview’. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 13 (5), pp. 477 – 515. Weedon, C. (1997) Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Young, M and McLeod, S. (2001) Flukes, Opportunities, and Planned Interventions: Factors Affecting Women's Decisions to become School Administrators. Educational Administration Quarterly, 37 (4), pp. 462-502.
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