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How to be an ally for women: supporting women returning from paternal leave


by Lulu Oragano @LuluOragano

Senior Leader: Welcome back, I’ve put your timetable on your desk.

Me: Oh thanks. Oh, but I’m teaching Citizenship?

Senior Leader: Yeah, you’re brilliant, you can teach anything.

Meant as compliment, very few teachers deliberately want a woman returning from having a baby to feel unwelcome, undervalued or side-lined in anyway, but it may happen without realising.


Schools are busy. The logistics and the day to day are full on, we know this. Every day is different, some days that one free period, in which you had  planned to start your marking, or re-write that scheme of learning, gets sabotaged by the parent who wants an instant reply to an email or because you realise you need to photocopy that trip letter 300 times. Plans and schedules change constantly.

Yet, a school has 8 weeks to prepare for a woman returning from her MAT leave and some colleagues I know have not felt the school has prepared for their return.

Being lucky enough to work for many superb women and men, and seeing some women ‘live through’ their return to work, I’ve been lucky enough and confident enough to navigate the returns from both my MAT leaves, but many others haven’t and don’t know how to begin to ask for what support they need or the confidence to ask. But should they need to ask- what’s the offer at your school?

 Should we call her? Will she take a full a year? Will she want to be part-time? She’ll probably want a second child.  These are amongst a few statements we’ve all heard over the years, and why do they even matter?

 How to be a #HEFORSHE ally

Have a package of support in place and a transition period tailored for her needs. Make this the ‘norm,’ in your school.  Let women see when they have a child, if they choose to, how they will be treated. People will want to work hard in such a culture. 

In my first maternity leave I signed off the day I departed and took a year off.  On the second, I worked throughout and took six months. Every woman is different and the ‘packages’ should be led by her. Ultimately they should make her feel valued and not let her career stop progressing just because she’s been off a while. This may include being part-time, but equally it may not.

What might your package of support include?

  • Can she teach Citizenship as a Music specialist? Possibly- but how does she feel about that and how will the school support her?
  • Does she want to teach the day she arrives back? Or would it be supportive to offer a week or two to settle in? See some lessons? We all know the ‘I’ve forgot to teach syndrome’ after our six weeks holiday- how do you think she feels after a year?
  • Does she want to start late or finish early or be part-time? Don’t frown and yes the timetable can work around this and it certainly shouldn’t be a hindrance.
  • What skills and leadership capabilities does she have that have been missing in your school whilst she was off? Tell her this and she’ll likely never want to leave.

Crucially, ask her how she is and tell her it’s great to see her back.



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Saturday, 01 October 2022

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