Only 36 per cent of principals are women, according to a survey of 361 further education colleges carried out by the Women’s Leadership Network (WLN).
Although this shows progress from the 25 per cent reported in the 1990s, a figure that barely rose to 28 per cent by 2006, the percentage of female principals is still much lower than one would expect.
Thalia Marriott, who now coordinates the WLN after retiring as principal of West Thames College, said: "Some progress has been made in the last decade, but the percentage of women holding the top post in colleges still falls far short of what we would expect. Women constitute 63 per cent of the FE and skills workforce, and 60 per cent of the managers in colleges are women, so it is clear that women are still under-represented at the top.
"Our research revealed some startling differences between types of college and regions. While 40 per cent of general FE colleges have female principals, only 26 per cent of sixth-form colleges are led by women. The north-west region has the highest percentage, with female principals at 45 per cent of its 56 colleges. The Yorkshire and Humberside and Greater London regions have 39 and 40 per cent respectively. At the other end of the scale, there are female principals at only 21 per cent of colleges in the east Midlands, and the north-east does not fare much better, with 24 per cent."
Sally Dicketts, WLN chair and principal of Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, said: "Although there are fewer women in the post of principal, they are just as likely to be leading the colleges with the highest income. Forty-one per cent of the principals at colleges receiving more than £23 million a year from the Learning and Skills Council are women. Fifty per cent of the general FE colleges in England judged Outstanding by Ofsted are led by women and 46 per cent of the principals leading the 26 member colleges of the 157 Group are women.
"There is clearly a business case for diversifying leadership in colleges, and our annual conference on 10 June 2009 will look at how we can encourage more women to aim higher in further education."
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