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Voices in School Leadership: “It is important to recognise the greatness of women.” Charis Wightman, Head Teacher, Durham School Dubai, argues it is time to take equality for boys and girls seriously.

There’s an open secret in schools that nobody likes to talk about.

That secret is this: although between 75% and 80% of teaching staff are female, when it comes to the top leadership positions in education management, it’s still something of an old boys’ club.

While perceptions of female leaders are, thankfully, changing, recent research shows that women in power still have to deal with prejudice and negative stereotypes in several key areas – the glass ceiling (whereby women find it hard to rise above a certain level of seniority) and the glass cliff (whereby women are more frequently elected to lead in precarious situations) being just two examples.

It is worth noting, as a matter of historical record, that the recipients of the prestigious Top Schools Award for Best Principal in the UAE have been … (extraordinarily talented and inspirational) women: Miss Sasha Crabb, Principal of Victory Heights Primary School in 2019-20, and Miss Zara Harrington, Principal of Safa British School in 2021-2022.

This International Women’s Day, we were lucky enough to meet up with the passionate and straight-talking Head Teacher of Durham School Dubai, Charis Wightman. Despite being the Head of a school rooted in such a traditional and historic British sister school namesake, it’s clear that her values are far from those of the past, as she talked to about what it means to be a woman in a position of power in 2023 – and how that carries responsibility for ensuring equality of opportunity, and with it respect and recognition, for boys and girls, young men and young women, in our schools.

Worth noting that Ms Wightman is a published author of “The Girl from Saikea” – the first part of a trilogy of young fiction novels which address, through the lens of a Dystopian future, the capacity of girls to overcome even the most overwhelming odds to make a better world.

In a far-ranging TV interview we covered the A to Z of education and the challenges faced by girls and young women, and their knock on impacts on boys and young men in our schools. Here we capture the video highlights (click below) – and Ms Wightman’s conclusion that, if the world operated more effectively and compassionately through the lens of kindness, a traditionally female quality, one built on the strengths that come from emotional intelligence and sensitivity to others, the opportunities for all our young people would be so much better served.


You can read more about Durham School Dubai in our review of the school here.

Visit the official Durham School Dubai web site here.

Read about other powerful female voices in education here.

© A WhichMedia Group publication. 2023. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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