Motherhood and career progression towards secondary school headship in England and Wales: A life history study

Facey, Simone (2023). Motherhood and career progression towards secondary school headship in England and Wales: A life history study. EdD thesis The Open University.



Over the past thirty years, growing societal debates about gender, equality and school improvement have generated increasing research interest in the areas of female secondary school leadership, career progression and motherhood; and how these factors relate to teacher recruitment, retention and wellbeing. Although there are some studies in these separate areas, there is limited focus on how these elements combine. This research aims to address this gap by exploring the experiences and perceptions of middle and senior leaders who are aspiring towards secondary school headship and are also mothers of young children.

A life history approach was used to frame the research design. Seven teachers, who are mothers and currently employed in England or Wales, participated in the study. The data were generated through three rounds of semi-structured Skype interviews conducted across the 2018-2019 school year. The interview process was structured and enriched by including the participants’ timelines, photo-journals and significant personal artefacts.

Structuration theory’s duality of structure and the feminist concept of intersectionality were used to build the conceptual framework for this research and underpin a thematic analysis approach. The research findings provide a nuanced and in-depth understanding of the very close interaction between the participants’ personal and professional lives and how they negotiate the challenges experienced from these two dimensions to shape their agency and career decisions. This understanding also includes how the participants perceived a variety of experiences impacting their career progression, such as discrimination during pregnancy and maternity leave and on job interviews, relational leadership interactions with their line managers and headteachers, and unexpected opportunities for continued professional development and reflection while on maternity leave. The findings also emphasise the important role that the structures and cultures of the British secondary school system play in enabling and constraining the career progression of school leaders who are mothers.

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