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Women’s leadership development and preparation for leadership in the girls’ secondary independent sector in England

By M Bush and Gillian FORRESTER


This chapter provides an account of seven women’s experiences of their development and preparation for leadership in the girls’ secondary independent (private) sector in England. We begin by outlining the diversity of provision that characterizes the secondary education sector in England and then consider independent schools. Independent schools receive no financial support from the central government of the United Kingdom (UK); they are managed and owned by special trusts and affiliations. Historically schools in the independent sector have perennially been applauded for their academic excellence whilst simultaneously condemned for their apparent elitism (Walford, 2003). As such, the historical and current differences and tensions between the state-maintained (government-funded) and independent sectors, including leadership preparation, are highlighted and the extent to which educational reforms and policy changes in the state-maintained sector impact upon the independent sector. Then, having set the historical and political context, the second part of the chapter draws on and discusses the findings from a doctoral study conducted by an independent school leader (Bush, 2017). The research traced the career trajectories of seven women who are headmistresses (equivalent to principals in the USA) in girls’ secondary independent schools in England. This small-scale study provides a specific gendered context for an exploration of women’s experiences of leadership development and preparation in the independent sector. We illustrate how ‘becoming’ a headmistress embraces the experiences of identity formation prior to headship. Then, we discuss how ‘being’ a headmistress contextualises the lived experience of headship within girls’ secondary independent schools. At every stage of these seven women’s careers, key experiences or events illuminate manifestations of leadership through the opportunities and career shifts which have materialized along the way and which have created a leadership template for them. Both positive and negative experiences have defined their understanding and perception of leadership, their preparation for that role and their subsequent development as leaders of girls’ secondary independent schools. Extracts from the data provide pertinent examples to illuminate identity formation and influence how these women now position themselves as headmistresses in girls’ secondary independent schools

Publisher: Information Age Publishing (IAP)
Year: 2019
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