New book: Transforming the role of women leaders in state and independent schools

Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia / 22 June 2021

“Leadership can be a lonely pursuit even in the most settled of times.  This excellent book, written with authenticity, wisdom and insight, is an inspirational read that is destined to make a real difference.” Richard Gerver award-winning speaker and best-selling author

The Magic in the Space Between, a new book by Ian Wigston, with Hilary Wigston, documents the development of a unique mentoring programme created in response to the inequitable lack of female leaders in state and independent schools. Ian brought together a team of experienced leaders from business, the public sector and the military to support and empower nearly a hundred women to explore their potential for school leadership. Without a shared educational background, the mentees had to find effective ways to communicate, consider their role from new perspectives and learn new approaches, objectively reflecting on leadership style and reaffirming and developing leadership skills.

The book charts their journey and explores the mentoring process, comparing the roles of mentoring and coaching, the positive use of psychometric assessment and the benefits of using mentors from outside the field of education. It examines how mentoring, in tandem with a variety of innovative, collaborative projects undertaken by the women, provided a platform for each of them to develop a range of skills which saw more than a quarter achieve promotion within two years.

Ian is co-founder of Bright Field Consulting who currently run the Global Mentoring Network for Aspiring Leaders, in partnership with the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, the Girls’ Schools Association in the UK, the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools in North America. The Network builds upon a proven mentorship model developed in the UK. Almost 100 women and men have taken part in the program since 2017, 40 per cent of whom have achieved the leadership promotions they desired as a result of their participation.

Ian provides insights into his new book in his Q&A below.

What motivated you to develop this programme for women in leadership?

There was a challenge from both independent and state schools that the pipeline for future women leaders in girls’ schools was not strong enough to meet the demands of headship vacancies. Women would rule themselves out of applying when less well qualified men would be applying. There were other programmes which addressed headship (Principalship) but none which were addressing leadership. The decision to use non-educationists as mentors followed from this.

Why did you choose to focus on schools?

When we first started, schools were not skilled at choosing outside consultants — previously most of this work had been done by local authorities (prior to schools receiving more autonomy) and the education consulting available was not of a high standard. We took the view that the students’ futures were too important for anything less than the best, whether we were working with young people or their school leaders. The first programme we undertook was pro bono.

What inspired you to write the book?

Firstly, the Department for Education was impressed by the impact of the programme and asked us to document it. Secondly the huge variety of issues we encountered, (including racism and gender equality), and the stories being told by the participants were so powerful that we thought they deserved a broader audience.

Purchase the book here