Laura Guihen

2016 AFPGR Participant


Deciding Which Way to Turn: The Career Histories and Professional Aspirations of Women Deputy Headteachers

About Laura

Laura Guihen is a research student working towards completion of her doctoral degree in the School of Education. She is supervised by Dr Joan Smith and Dr Alison Fox. Before embarking upon her PhD, Laura worked as a secondary school English teacher in the West Midlands.

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About My Research

School workforce data both in England and across the globe paints a worrying picture. Despite the numerical domination of women in the teaching profession, women continue to be under-represented at the secondary headteacher level. This sends stereotypical messages to young people about our society and the opportunities it affords men and women to lead.

My research is concerned with gender and leadership in secondary education. Specifically, I am interested in the ways in which women deputy headteachers, as potential aspirants to headship, perceive the secondary headteacher role. Do they aspire towards headship? What factors are constraining or discouraging them? What enabling influences are motivating them to climb the next rung of the career ladder?

In order to explore women deputies’ occupational aspirations and illuminate the individual stories behind the statistics, I conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with twelve participants. All of the women who took part in this study worked in LA maintained or secondary academy schools in England at the time of interview. Participants were invited to talk at length about their career journeys to date, their present day lives as a deputy headteachers as well as their envisaged future selves. Data analysis was guided by the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).

What did I find? 

  • The women had encountered numerous constraining influences throughout their careers. These included caring responsibilities to children and other dependent relatives such as aging parents, excessive workloads, rapid educational change and rigid accountability measures.
  • The women also highlighted several factors that had motivated to pursue educational leadership. These included supportive headteachers, learning opportunities such as Future Leaders and the NPQH as well as their educational values and desire to work towards a more just society.
  • The women in my sample had perceived and negotiated the constraining and motivating forces they had encountered throughout their careers very differently. This suggests that deputies are far from a homogeneous group with the same priorities, motivations and career goals. They are individuals, and I argue that they require more bespoke strategies that support and address their individual career needs and aspirations.
  • Eight of the women I interviewed aspired towards headship, three were uncertain and one had decided not to pursue promotion. The aspirants in the sample saw the position as an opportunity to have a positive influence on young people’s life chances, their schools and the communities in which they are situated. It was notable, however, that both aspirants and non-aspirants perceived headship to be a risky career move. They tended to feel that headship was more precarious than deputy headship, especially in a rapidly changing educational culture. They described the position as posing a threat to their occupational stability and reputation.
  • Participants perceived the decision as to whether or not to aspire towards and apply for secondary headship as having enormous consequences, both personally and professionally. They reported that the decision required a great degree of reflection and strategising. I argue that deputies would benefit from being given more time and space away from their ‘greedy’ everyday roles and responsibilities to make careful, considered decisions about their professional futures.


Preseneter_Laura Guihen
Laura discussing her research at the 2016 Festival of Postgraduate Research

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