The costs of the gender pay gap

Hilary Moriarty looks at the gender pay gap in schools and how it is impacting senior leadership teams

It had to happen: the rhetoric of the business world seeps even further into education and now it reaches the most important people in schools: the pupils. This time, what we are observing is part business-speak – and, indeed, practice – and part gender sensitivity.

As usual, there’s an outlier which is first to spot the trend and pursue its possibilities to become a trend-setter. 

So hands up if you clocked the recent publicity for the Guernsey Grammar School and Sixth Form Centre, and are now considering following suit. Are you contemplating, discussing or even planning a conversion of title, and possibly actual task, for your most senior pupils: Head Boy, Head Girl, Prefects, Monitors? Such titles may soon be things of the past, replaced by whole new badges indicating ‘Senior Leaders’ with a leadership team.

At the Guernsey school, the leadership team idea has gone so far as to drop the ‘Head Boy’ and ‘Head Girl’ nomenclature, and have the new team led by a Chairperson and Vice Chairperson. That actually sounds to me like a Head Boy (or girl) and Deputy Head Boy (or girl), but that may be a quibble. You can see how they arrived at the Chair and Vice idea. After all, schools themselves are likely to have senior leadership teams headed by a Headmaster or Headmistress – you can’t really imagine one for the male staff, one for the female staff.  That would be a nonsense. A Head and a Deputy Head – that’s logical.

So, schools have one team – usually mixed gender and these days sometimes an alarmingly big team since the invention of Assistant Heads to supplement the ranks of Deputy Heads – one boss. In co-ed schools, few will have questioned the practice of having a senior pupil team of boys and girls, probably with scrupulously equal numbers, but with a Head Boy and a Head Girl, effectively therefore two teams.  

In a way, the practice of Head Boy/Head Girl, usually (I think – though I may be wrong) with no implication of one of the posts being ‘higher’ than the other, meant that schools were actually ahead of the curve in gender parity.  Both genders with equal representation, both with a chance of a top job.

“It feels only fair that girls and boys should have equal opportunity for experience of leadership. If schools cannot contrive it, then who can?”

I wonder if the Guernsey Grammar School and Sixth Form Centre has had any flack for the reported outcome of their new system, which, according to the press, has resulted in their appointment of a Chairperson and Vice Chairperson, who are in fact both boys.  Aargh! The Times records that, “Two boys have been elected to the top roles, with three girls also on the team.”

Ah, bless! Or, alternatively, What?! 

I do hope they won’t be the tea-makers or the note-takers at their senior leadership team meetings. It is deeply ironic that what appears to be a move to challenge gender stereotyping should actually result in boys getting both top jobs. It suggests that in a fair contest, with whatever criteria were used in what is described as a ‘comprehensive application process’, boys win. The Headteacher is quoted as saying, ‘You are getting a position not because of your gender but because you are the best person.’

Hmm. The plot thickens. If I have read the slightly confusing news report right, the school ended up with a senior leadership team of seven, of whom only three are girls, and, of course, boys have the two top jobs. Somehow this seems to me to run counter to the way of the new world. Oddly, taking gender out of the equation has ended with no top girl at all, whereas previously the genders had parity of opportunity. The old system produced one girl to lead them all, one boy to lead them all. And I’m sure very few schools would have had a debate about which of the two senior pupils was the more senior, a real or perceived ‘top person’. It seemed that establishing the post of Head Girl was an obvious move in schools which had been for boys only but converted to co-ed, even in the early days of tiny cohorts of girls storming the gates which had been closed to them, sometimes for centuries. The post was evidence that girls matter, their voices should be heard, there is a place at the top table for a girl.

“At the Guernsey school, the leadership team idea has gone so far as to drop the ‘Head Boy’ and ‘Head Girl’ nomenclature, and have the new team led by a Chairperson and Vice Chairperson.” 

There is a logic in having just one top job – one chief executive, one Headteacher, one chair of governors. If women want equality, bring it on. Any job is available to them, they just have to beat the opposition, whoever they may be and of whatever gender. It would be a nonsense to have a Chief Lady Executive and a Chief Gentleman Executive. The battle for equality has opened up more top jobs to women than would have been heard of in my mother’s time. You cannot read a paper without finding articles about the efforts of companies and their member associations to improve gender diversity, particularly at board level, i.e. the level from which chief execs are chosen. So you could say the likelihood of becoming a chief exec – the one and only – is severely limited by the failure of women to get to the level from which they could be selected. As in schools, you need female Heads of Department if any of them are to make the jump to Assistant Headteacher, Deputy Headteacher and Headteacher.

And that brings me to a slight concern in schools. In the business of reporting gender pay gaps as recently required, The Times reports that in education, the average pay gap is 15.6% but it goes on to specify in independent schools, “On average, private boys’ schools have much bigger pay gaps (21%) than girls’ schools (2.2%.) At Eton College… Women’s earnings are 24% lower than men’s,” (Sunday Times, April 8, 2018). The argument usually goes that the reason for the pay gap is that fewer women are in the highest positions, Heads of Department and above, and more women are likely to be working in ancillary roles, which are less well paid. The presumption is that any Head of Department, say, is likely to be paid the rate for the job, which is not gender-specific. The question then is not ‘How much do you pay a Head of Department?’ but ‘How many female Heads of Department do you have?’ And if it’s not very many, why not? And what are you going to do about it? Do the governors have a plan, cunning or otherwise, to address gender diversity at this level?

Meanwhile, back in Guernsey, and even recognising that if women want a level playing field of opportunity, then this is one of the results – no quarter given for being a girl, why would there be? – I am still troubled by a new system which robs a girl – whoever she might be – of a certain opportunity. Obscurely, it feels only fair that girls and boys should have equal opportunity for experience of leadership. If schools cannot contrive it, then who can? If there is a chief post for boys, and a chief post for girls, that’s gender equality.

Like male and female athletes – they get to run in different races.  

Hilary Moriarty is an independent advisor for schools, a former Head and former National Director of the Boarding Schools Association