Lies, Damned Lies and #WomenED Statistics Part 1

February 2, 2016

People seem aware that I don’t like fallacious arguments. Bad logic winds me up. But that’s not what really gets my goat. If you want to annoy me, get statistics wrong. It’s like the sound of nails scratching a blackboard. And in recent months one movement on education social media has gone all out to get the stats wrong: #WomenED. The organisation is mainly concerned with helping women into leadership positions in education. However, the problem with this aim is that women are already in leadership positions in education. A few months back I took the mickey out of this in a post called What have women ever been allowed to do in the education system? pointing out all the roles in education in which women outnumber men, from headteachers, to secretary of state. Although I haven’t got hold of the data, I have been told by reliable people since then that I could have added school governors and school business managers to the list. So having been set up to deal with a problem that may not exist, those involved in #WomenED have set about the task of either denying or reinterpreting the stats.

Let me start with denial. The following are all from blogs reacting to #WomenED. Please remember that according to the 2014 workforce survey. in state schools 66% of heads and 68% of deputy and assistant heads are women.

We should be shaping the educational agenda and bringing people along with us so that they see that a more representative educational leadership brings about better outcomes for all.

From https://jenjaynewilson.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/what-womened-means-to-me/

But… educational leadership would be more representative of society if there were fewer women.

Some of our collective goals:… * To achieve equal representation in all areas of education and advance equality for all.

From http://staffrm.io/@misswilsey/AN4r60WyFA

But… equal representation would mean fewer women.

The group’s vision is that headteacher and senior leadership positions should reflect their school’s student and staff bodies.


But… leadership teams would, on average, need fewer women to represent the gender balance of their student body.

But so too does male heavy decision makers in the Department of Education and other influential educational bodies.

From http://staffrm.io/@jules/JAxo3a66PG

But… the secretary of state is a woman. The senior civil servants in the DfE are 48% women, (although that’s 44% for top management posts) which is hardly overwhelmingly male. The main teaching unions and Ofqual are lead by women.

But now I need to take the next step to headship.  And to do that I need to find the feminist Governing Body that is prepared to defy the statistics.

From https://inspiringtchers.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/maternity-works-womened/

But… the statistics show that 66% of appointments are women.

At WomenEd, we’re committed to being the change we want to see so that educational leadership can be more equal and representative of the profession’s diversity.

From https://jenjaynewilson.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/leadership-developement-it-starts-earlier-than-you-think/

But… leadership is already more diverse than the profession in terms of gender, and increasing the number of women would make it even less diverse.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating a reduction in the number of women in educational leadership. I don’t think women are being forced into educational work at gunpoint, or even due to financial insecurity (young women now earn more than young men), so I’m not offended at the profession being female dominated. I’m merely pointing out that educational leadership is already overwhelmingly female and the inevitable result of any attempt to make school leadership more diverse, more representative of society or more equal would be a reduction, not an increase, in the number of women in school leadership.

What usually happens when you point this out to #WomenED partisans (after they thank you profusely for correcting their error) is that some statistics are cherry picked to prove that there is, nevertheless, a shortage of women in school leadership. I will discuss these next time.


  1. Fact is that just as white middle class men have held onto power in certain occupations, so have white middle class women. They just don’t want to face the reality that they are closing shop by acting as victims. They want proportionality not equality and that means fewer men, fewer ethnic minorities (except the token ones on their side already) and fewer candidates from working class backgrounds. Same shit, different group of people.

  2. “And to do that I need to find the feminist Governing Body that is prepared to defy the statistics.”

    I refer the honourable gentleman to his own tweet from yesterday:

    “@judeenright @JenJayneWilson @JulesDaulby It’s 37% and if this was about secondary only I wouldn’t mind so much.”

    (I was at the Oxford Union Debating competition with my students today, hence the formality!)

    My blog is about experience in secondary. Surprised and disappointed that far from “not minding so much” you quoted my blog as an example of misunderstanding the statistics, when it is focused on my experience applying for secondary headship. The figure you cite of 66% female Heads to refute the points made in my blog is incorrect. It is just 36.4% female Heads in my sector. (2014 numbers via Future Leaders).

    • I’ll discuss in the next post why subdividing schools by sector in order to find discrepancies can be misleading.

      In this case, however, I stand by the claim that “I need to find the feminist Governing Body that is prepared to defy the statistics” is misleading when what is actually needed is a governing body willing to do what governing bodies do *most* of the time, even if it is less common, but hardly rare, in the secondary sector.

      Moreover, I don’t think you can cry foul over me referring to all schools rather than secondaries in my analysis of your claim, given that 2 sentences later you justify your claim by comparing the proportion of men going on to headship *in primaries* to the proportion of women going on to become heads in secondaries. It seems that using data from outside secondaries is only surprising and disappointing when used to challenge your claim, not when used to support it.

      Incidentally, I think that your statistic comparing men in primary to women in secondary is the most highly misleading one in the whole debate. Given that there are roughly 5 times as many primary heads as secondary, then, of course, the chance of becoming a primary head is massively greater than the chance of becoming a secondary head, regardless of gender.

      • I agree that the comparison of men in primary with women in secondary is comparing apples with oranges, and so undermined the argument. The blog does clarify that it is one 109 women vs one in 38 men in secondary, something that you do not mention or quote. And as you know, via Twitter I tweeted extensively the full figures, comparing M and F proportions in both sectors.

        Your response continues to ignore my (better) point about there being only 36.4% of secondary heads who are female, which is where I am truly campaigning.

        You agreed in many tweets that there is a case to argue for at least 50%. Ergo – there is this case to argue in secondary, and I will continue to argue it. Direct experience from Headteacher interviews (for example, experiences tweeted by Stuart Lock) supports the figures.

        • Far from ignoring the possibility of finding statistics that contradict the big picture, I mention it in the last paragraph and say I’ll discuss it next time, which I did.

  3. […] Teaching in British schools « Lies, Damned Lies and #WomenED Statistics Part 1 […]

  4. […] something that isn’t true is treated as a personal attack. When I write posts like this, this or this, it gets treated as a personal attack on whoever is saying something not true (even in the […]

  5. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  6. Hi Andrew,

    Where did you get 48% senior civil servants from? When I looked there were 25 men and 18 women?

    Also the photo board in the DFE waiting room of the seniority structure has 13:3 ratio of men to women.
    This is what I refered to when I wrote ‘male heavy decision makers in the DFE’ – just thought you’d like to know as you like to be factually accurate.

  7. […] partly because the statistics show women are very well represented in the sector, partly because claims made by those supporting #WomenED are often contradicted by the statistics, and partly because the statistics are open to more […]

  8. […] a dissection of the misuse of statistics in this area, read Andrew Old here, here and here. In spite of the flagrant misuse of facts, the narrative that these statistics help […]

  9. […] have used to support their cause. He has written a series of blogs explaining his point of view here, here and here. This has, in turn, provoked a number of supporting blogs, one of the most recent […]

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