Schools prioritize male teachers over women in leadership roles

Public schools continue to prioritise male teachers over women in leadership roles


A new study by a Sydney-based independent researcher has found that male teachers continue to be promoted to leadership positions in public schools at a higher rate than female teachers. 

The study, published in the Journal of Gender Studies and headed by independent researcher Kevin McGrath, found that while male teachers make up only 17.3 percent of the public primary school workforce in NSW, they received almost a quarter of all available promotions.

“There’s historically been more men in leadership roles and this has been taken as this glass escalator effect,” McGrath said. “But that’s falling far more rapidly than the representation of men in classroom teaching positions.”

In high schools, male teachers currently make up almost 40 percent of the workforce and received more than 43 percent of promotions. Differences in these promotion rates has shrunk over the last few years however. The proportion of schools with a female principal has increased since the 2000s, from one-third in 1998 to two-thirds.

McGrath told Sydney Morning Herald’s education reporter Jordan Baker that the historical tendency to promote men may be due to the notion that their decision to work with younger students would be less likely to be “perceived negatively” if they were in positions of leadership. 

Positive discrimination might also be at play, since there are less male teachers, and they are therefore noticed more, and promotions are seen as a strategy to keep them within the teaching profession. 

“Where male representation is particularly low, male school staff might be advantaged in gaining promotion because they … are perceived to bring something unique to the workplace,” McGrath explained. “…Or, they are perceived to have the stereotypically masculine characteristics required for managerial work.”

McGrath is an associate member of the Centre for Children’s Learning in a Social World at Macquarie University, and has spent a number of years working as a primary school teacher in Sydney. In 2016, he completed a PhD, and his research focuses on gender and education, disruptive student behaviour, and the student-teacher relationship.

He noted that despite the advantageous promotion rates for male teachers, the number of male principals has “been falling far more rapidly than [male] classroom teachers.” 

The NSW Department of Education’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy is currently working to increase the representation of women in senior roles to over two thirds within the next five years. It has also announced plans to increase the number of men in the primary teaching profession, but has not made that an explicit target. 

A spokesman told SMH the NSW Department of Education is “…on track to meet its ‘Women in Leadership’ target, with 55 per cent of senior leadership roles across the organisation currently held by females.” 

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox