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The Mother of All Pay Gaps


by Emma Sheppard @maternityCPD

Trigger warning: this blog focuses entirely on pregnancy and motherhood, which some readers may wish to avoid.

It was a day of vindication for The MTPT Project when, in November 2021, WomenEd, with ASCL, NAHT and the NGA, published their gender pay gap report. The report provided clear evidence that at all levels, the pay gap in education increases between the ages of 30-39, joining the dots between four other key pieces of data:

  • The average age for first-time mothers in the UK is 30.7 years old (ONS, 2022)
  • Teachers are most likely to become parents in their thirties (Ford, 2022)
  • "Even before they have children, women earn about 10% less than men. But that gap then increases rapidly for many women after they have children. Twenty years after the birth of their first child, a woman's hourly wage will on average be a third lower than the hourly wage of a man with a similar level of education." (IFS, 2018)
  • Women aged 30-39 are the largest demographic to leave teaching every year (Policy Exchange, 2016)
With an increasing number of studies highlighting issues around retention, progression and pay for female teachers in their thirties, it is becoming impossible to deny that there is a motherhood penalty in education.

But in a female-dominated industry, with such a family-friendly holiday entitlement, what is it that creates this motherhood penalty?

Research from The MTPT Project (MTPT, 2021) provides us with reasons that teachers in this age bracket leave the profession, and to the extent to which motherhood influences their decision to quit (spoiler: it influences it a lot), but the reasons why the motherhood penalty builds up to the point where women feel they have no choice but to stop working, is complex and multifaceted.

Finances play a significant role: the IFS tell us that a gender pay gap of about 10% exists across all industries even before children arrive, but WomenEd et al.'s report indicates that it is only at leadership level that a noticeable gap exists in the 25-29 bracket, whereas female classroom teachers under 30 actually slightly out-earn their male counterparts. However, maternity and shared parental leave pay – even with the occupational enhancements that teachers enjoy – drops to £156.66 after four months. Without depending financially on a partner, or significant savings, mothers are left bereft.Childcare fees in the UK are extortionate, a factor that makes mothers most vulnerable to attrition when their children are under 3-years-old and are ineligible for tax-free childcare (MTPT, 2021). After all, if the mother was the lower wage earner initially, it is more likely that she will return to work part time (Harkness et al.) (if at all), to reduce the need for childcare, manage the domestic load (where women still take on the lion's share), and help balance the family outgoings (ONS 2016).

As well as the well-documented pregnancy and maternity discrimination that sees 54,000 women pushed out of their jobs each year (EHRC, 2018), time out of work on maternity leave also has a 'grains of sand' knock-on impact on mother-teachers.Legally, they should be contacted if a vacancy or promotional opportunity is available during their leave, and they cannot be denied training or development opportunities (EHRC, 2014), but not all HR or Line Managers are aware of these two points. Many mothers therefore miss out on professional development to boost their CVs and confidence, networking opportunities, informal conversations with colleagues, and the encouragement to apply for promoted positions whilst they are physically absent from school (MTPT, 2021).

The return-to-work period can also be a time of vulnerability for mothers: when managed effectively, the first year can provide teachers with the gentle rocket-boost they need to weather the storm of sleep deprivation, new routines, change and learning how to balance new demands on their time and emotional capacity. When managed badly, it can be the nail in the coffin of a teacher's career, or career progression (MTPT, 2021). Discrimination rears its ugly head at this point, too, with mothers falling victim to punitive absence policies when taking time off to look after their children; unfair performance management systems that delay their pay progression because of their time on leave, and negative attitudes towards flexible working – to name just a few of the barriers that mothers face!

Luckily, organisations like (you guessed it!) The MTPT Project and WomenEd are working to provide practical support to mothers and challenge the systemic inequities that create the motherhood penalty in education.Our Mother of All Pay Gaps event in March celebrated Mother's Day with ten ways to empower mothers and provide them with impactful allyship as school leaders.

For more information about The MTPT Project and the solutions we shared at our March event, visit www.mtpt.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @maternityCPD


EHRC (2014) Your Rights to Equality at Work: Training, Development, Promotion and Transfer.Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/your_rights_to_equality_at_work_-_training_development_promotion_and_transfer.pdf (accessed 11th May 2022)

EHRC (2018) Pregnancy and maternity discrimination research findings. Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/managing-pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/pregnancy-and-maternity-discrimination-research-findings (accessed 11th May 2022) 

Ford, I. (2022) [Twitter] 21 January 2022, for TeacherTapp. Available at: https://twitter.com/iaincford/status/1484573378350837762?s=20 (accessed 11th May 2022) 

Harkness, S. et al. (2019) Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/840062/Bristol_Final_Report_1610.pdf (accessed 11th May 2022) 

IFS (2018) Mothers suffer big long-term pay penalty from part-time working. Available at: https://ifs.org.uk/publications/10364 (accessed 11th May 2022)

The MTPT Project (2021) Women Aged 30-39: why are they the largest demographic to leave teaching every year? Available at: www.mtpt.org.uk/research (accessed 11th May 2022)

ONS (2016) Women shoulder the responsibility of 'unpaid work'. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/articles/womenshouldertheresponsibilityofunpaidwork/2016-11-10 (accessed 11th May 2022)

ONS (2022) Birth characteristics in England and Wales: 2020.Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/bulletins/birthcharacteristicsinenglandandwales/2020 (accessed 11th May 2022)

Policy Exchange (2016) The Importance of Teachers A collection of essays on teacher recruitment and retention.Available at: https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/the-Importance-of-Teachers.pdf (accessed 11th May 2022)

WomenEd et al. (2021) Closing the Gender Pay Gap in Education: A Leadership Imperative.Available at: https://www.ascl.org.uk/ASCL/media/ASCL/Our%20view/Campaigns/Closing-the-gender-pay-gap-in-Education-a-leadership-imperative.pdf (accessed 11th May 2022)

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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