Arya ready for women to conquer education’s Game of Thrones?
The biggest television event of this summer (setting to one side the unlikely rise of Love Island) has been the return of the wonderful Game of Thrones. In among the endless reviews, blogs and general geekery have been more than a few commentaries about how almost all the key leadership roles in this epic drama (if you’ve not watched, you’re missing out) are now filled by “powerful women”. It is indeed striking that over the blockbuster’s seven series, most of the leading men have fallen foul of hideously bloodthirsty deaths – to be replaced by their more effective, pragmatic and (occasionally) honourable sisters, wives, mothers or daughters. (Even the sex scenes are lauded as feminist – but I’ll leave you to Google that.)
In its way – and with considerably less gore and Sky razzmatazz – the world of education has been going through a parallel gender revolution. It may have seemed little more than a political footnote, but the parachuting in of Sarah Olney as Lib Dem education spokesperson right in the middle of the general election meant that 2017 was the first time ever that the top education job in all three parties was held by a woman.
Schools debates in the Commons now involve Justine Greening against Labour’s Angela Rayner and the newly appointed Lib Dem Layla Moran. (Olney’s rise and fall at the hands of Zac Goldsmith was worthy of a
GOT sub-plot in itself.) Contrast this with the 2015 election, when education’s political landscape was still dominated by the shadow of Michael Gove (although Nicky Morgan was in the Department for Education),
David Laws was fronting the Lib Dems’ education team and Tristram Hunt represented Labour.
In 2017, the top job at Ofsted was vacated by Sir Michael Wilshaw and handed to the more diplomatic Amanda Spielman. We can go further. Ofqual’s new chief is Sally Collier. In education research, the biggest academic role – director of the Institute of Education – is now occupied by Becky Francis, while the new(ish) Education Policy Institute is driven forward by Natalie Perera. The boss of the new Chartered College of Teaching is Dame Alison Peacock. Indeed, the normal occupant of this column is education’s very own fiery Khaleesi.
The National Education Union – to be formed out of a merger of the NUT and
ATL teaching unions – will have a female joint general secretary in Mary Bousted, and the NASUWT teaching union is, of course led by the indefatigable Chris Keates. Only the headteacher associations, namely the NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders, remain as bastions of male leadership – both elevated new general secretaries this spring, replacing men with more menfolk. Their independent sector counterpart, the HMC general secretary, remains reliably a “he”.
Despite this, it’s worth a reminder that while the occupants of many of education’s top jobs are now women, the most important role of all is still disproportionately occupied by men – the role of headteacher.
The pay gap between men and women in teaching remains, too. Female teachers working in secondary schools earn, on average, 6.4 per cent less than their male colleagues. The BBC has taken much flak over its salary differential and responded by making it a corporate priority that it will have been ended by 2020: it should not be too much for the schools sector’s female bosses to try to do the same.
Such reform should be carried along by goodwill, and should not need the kind of bloodletting that marks every advance in Got’s wonderfully imagined world. And if you don’t hinder this advice, be warned: the dwindling group of remaining male leads in HBO’S fantasy epic is dominated by eunuchs…