West Midlands Regional Leader: Kay Fuller

Leadership Biography:

Name: Kay Fuller

Phase: Higher Education


Associate Professor of Educational Leadership: Cluster convener for the MA Educational Leadership and Management programme; Co-convenor of the BELMAS Gender and Leadership Research Interest Group; Member of the world-wide network Women Leading Education

Sector: State

Region: East Midlands

Years Served in Education: 27

Leadership Journey:

I held leadership roles as a child in organisations such as the Brownies and the Girl Guides. I also wonder whether ringing the bells from the age of seven mattered psychologically. Ringing the lightest bell meant I always ‘led’. I was elected Chair of the 6th Form in 1979. My first career was in retail management. Then I switched to education to become 2ic English after two years of teaching and Head of English at a large mixed urban comprehensive school in Birmingham after four years of teaching. I went on to take a senior teacher role (now AHTs) and a deputy headship. By then I was studying for an EdD in Leaders and Leadership in Education. My focus was on gender and secondary school headship. In 2007 I moved into HE as an initial teacher educator and to continue my research in gender and educational leadership.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

I have worked with amazing women who were my school teachers and women who are my colleagues in Higher Education. I have renewed contact with my Year 4 teacher Jackie Cahill (now Rudman) but also remember the influence of Mally Farr and Annie Couget as A level teachers. As a secondary school teacher I never saw gender inequalities in my career progression because the south-west area network of secondary schools (SWAN) in Birmingham were led largely by women. I was genuinely surprised when I started my EdD to find this was not the case across the country. In Higher Education, I have been inspired by Prof Helen Gunter, Prof Christine Skelton and Prof Pat Thomson.

Twitter Handle: @KayFuller48


#WomenEd Unconference Feminist leadership I      

#WomenEd Unconference Feminist leadership II  

Leadership Reflections:

Why do we need WomenEd?

We need #WomenEd because there continues to be a gender gap in securing senior posts particularly in secondary and higher education. In primary education there are many more women leading schools but men are still disproportionately represented in headship and they reach headship more quickly. So there is a need to raise consciousness for women and men about these issues. If we do not tackle inequalities (gender, race, sexuality, disability) in schools we will never change societal stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory practices. A network serves both expressive and instrumental purposes. So #WomenEd enables women to say what they think and provides useful links to people who can provide support, advice and opportunities for professional development.

Why do you volunteer to contribute to the WomenEd community?

There is no point carrying out the research and not sharing it! I am a feminist and am therefore committed to working actively for social justice and against social injustices in the form of racism, sexism and homophobia. That extends to take a feminist perspective on school leadership that would find ways to work with whole school communities to educate young people to find their place in the world and to contribute to wider society for the benefit of all.

How to do you nurture leadership talent in others?

I support women and men all over the world by teaching about educational leadership and management. It is a real joy to engage in dialogic teaching and learning that means I learn new things about education systems and practices every day.

How do you advocate equality and diversity in your school?

I am a member of the Unconscious Bias working group at the University of Nottingham. I have organised a #WomenEd International Women’s Day lunch with eight speakers at the University of Nottingham for 2017 that I hope will establish an annual event.

What myths would you like to debunk about female leaders?

The most important myth to debunk is that biological sex determines our behaviours and specifically our leadership. Men are capable of pro-feminist leadership and women are capable of masculinist leadership. There is no universal womanhood that is always good; nor a universal manhood that is always bad. We need to get rid of the binaries in our thinking about sex and gender so that children grow up to become what and who they want to be. It is society that imposes barriers on women not their sex.

What barriers have you had to overcome in your leadership/ career/role?

I have had very few barriers to overcome. I was educated when higher education was free! So I came from a manual working class background but my parents were educationally aspirational. It was only later that I realised some of my difficulties in a previous career in retail management were attributable to sex and gender discrimination. I have experienced sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the school workplace. Sometimes it is a real shock to realise that some men really do not seem to hear what you just said in a meeting. It happened to me as recently as 2017.

Leadership Advice:

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man (sic)

(Polonius to Laertes, Hamlet I iii 78-81)

I think someone wrote this in a card possibly when I left home to go to university. It has enabled me to work in organisations in ways that align with my values. I have struggled many times to reconcile what I think is right in education with policies and practices with which I do not agree. Being true to myself means I have spoken up, tried to ‘walk the talk’ and have walked away from organisations and careers when necessary.

Leadership Inspiration:

Making Our Way Through the World by Margaret Archer.

I was inspired by a PhD thesis and thinking about different sorts of reflexivity and the potential for agency when structural inequalities are so powerful.

Leadership Mantra:

“To thine own self be true”


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