Suffragette100: Headteacher sought inspiration from father’s old teacher

Sharon Marshall, principal at Ilfracombe Academy.
Sharon Marshall, principal at Ilfracombe Academy.

In the next in our series to celebrate 100 years since women won the right to vote, we spoke to Ilfracombe Academy headteacher Sharon Marshall.

Sharon Marshall’s whole career has revolved around teaching – from studying a PGCE in History and PE to working her way up through Ilfracombe Academy. 
Now headteacher, she talks about how many opportunities there are out there for women in 2018...

Who and/or what was your inspiration to enter into your chosen career?

My dad grew up in care in an orphanage in the Lake District and I can remember being taken at an early age to meet his old headteacher, a Mr Slee, in Keswick.

My father always spoke about the respect he had for Mr Slee and his concern for the education of the ‘Orphanage Boys’.

His impact on the children in his school is something I have given a lot of thought to over the years. Every child, whatever their background, needs to be given the very best opportunity to excel in school.

What challenges have you faced both professionally and personally?

I think for all working mums and dads, managing family life and work is really challenging. I don’t know if I have always got the balance right but it is something that I have given a lot of thought to.

Professionally for everyone who works in schools, not just headteachers, the challenge is constant changes without adequate funding.

I think the teachers I work with do an amazing job keeping up with the pace of change while remaining positive and enthusiastic with the students.

Do you think there are still challenges due to gender?

I have not felt that in my own role, and haven’t ever felt that as a teacher. I think it is vitally important, however, to continue to impress upon girls, and boys, as there are challenges and obstacles in life for everyone, that their potential is amazing and they should not rule out any career path they are interested in.

Are there as many opportunities for women as men, and has this changed since you first entered into your profession?

In my profession I have always felt that the opportunities have been open to men and women equally.

Is there a gender pay gap?

No not in schools. School salary scales apply equally to male and female employees.

What advice would you give your younger self in terms of career, life, etc?

I think I would advise myself not to spend so much time worrying. It is a complete waste of time and energy and achieves nothing.

I have got a lot better at not worrying as I have got older and at separating out things which I do not have direct control over and things which I can influence. In terms of my career I would not do anything differently; I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed all my roles.

Do you use your right to vote, and why/why not?

Yes absolutely and we talk to students about exercising this right too.

Universal suffrage has been hard won through the centuries and it’s important to recognise that, and exercise your democratic rights.

What’s the best thing about being a woman in 2018?

The fact that there are so many opportunities for women now compared to previous centuries and decades, and the fact that areas where there is still discrimination or harassment are being identified and challenged. A cultural shift in this respect will benefit everyone.

Have you ever faced discrimination/harassment in the workplace/outside of work because of your gender?

No, I have been very fortunate in this respect as I know it is a concern for many women in the workplace.

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