'Gender equality is a concern for all': An interview with Professor Rachel Lofthouse
Professor Rachel Lofthouse
Rachel joined the University as Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education in July after being Senior Lecturer in Education and Co-Director of the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching at Newcastle University.
Speaking about the biggest obstacles for gender equality in the workplace, she said: “I think one of the greatest challenges are individuals who either knowingly or subconsciously weaken the rights of women to play their full part; for example, there is research evidence that students often rate female lecturers below their male counterparts. Some colleagues and line managers fail to recognise that women often play vital roles in departments (mediating, developing ideas, contributing without seeking instant plaudits, supporting students, doing the leg work) which is not formally recognised in the academic promotion panels. I have also experienced senior colleagues who are patronising or who belittle female colleagues’ work in public, and, even more worryingly, in private.
“I believe that gender equality is a concern for all as no one in society actually benefits when women are discriminated against. However, at present I feel like there is no such thing as gender equality – discrimination is endemic.”
Speaking about her research and how it intersects with gender, she continued: “My research relates to teacher development and learning and the system that surrounds this. Teaching roles and promotion in schools and educational power and leadership are often very gendered. My work in part is about enabling and empowering teachers and other educators regardless of their gender or other characteristics and as such may support the balancing out of these professional and institutionalised patterns.”
Rachel spent 10 years working as a secondary school teacher before taking up a role as secondary PGCE tutor at Newcastle University. At Newcastle she spent eight years as course leader for a range of part-time masters programmes as well as providing significant input to module and programme design and development.
Rachel has spent many years as an active researcher in areas related to her practice and to teacher learning. She gained her PhD by publication 15 years into her academic post. She has also been a doctoral supervisor and co-director of a research centre as well as two years spent as Head of Education in a multi-disciplinary school before joining Leeds Beckett.
What do you do in a given day?
I multitask. I teach, I assess, I plan and conduct research, I form networks of like-minded people. I discuss dilemmas with colleagues. I use Twitter to engage with others and I write.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The opportunity to think, create, research, collaborate, produce and teach. I know that is not a single best thing – but that is what makes the job great on the good days.
Why does your research matter?
Because it is about teachers, how they develop and learn, and how they can be supported to sustain their commitment to the profession despite the vagaries of toxic government policies. Because it is concerned with practice at both an individual level as well as institutional and cultural levels. Because if teachers cannot thrive, our children and young people experience an education which neglects their needs.
What do you know now, that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
That it’s a long road, and that when you enter some higher education settings and disciplinary communities from a professional background rather than a traditional academic one you will often be seen as second best.
What’s the best investment you have ever made - financial, emotional, educational?
To adopt three siblings from a very troubled background. This part of my life has been a very difficult journey – much more so than I would have anticipated, but I hope that our parenting and all the ‘investment’ that took has given our now adult children more options than they would have had and know that it gave them a safe and secure childhood. It also was the biggest learning journey my life so far.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
David Leat; my ex-university PGCE tutor who then became a colleague. His approach to education and research is always underpinned with a moral imperative and a need to challenge the status quo, while remaining committed to being the source of valuable ideas, tools and resources that could be readily adopted and further developed by professionals. He was concerned about impact at all scales, long before the REF made it essential. He worked with academics, practitioners and policy makers without any edge – and although he became a professor he never promoted his own academic progression above the quality of the working relationships he forged at work and beyond.
About Rachel’s research
Rachel’s research is focused on professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice. Rachel has a particular interest in how teachers learn through approaches such as coaching, lesson study, professional enquiry and inter-professional practice.
Rachel’s ongoing research tackles the transformation of professional learning through partnerships of scholarship and practice development. She is currently researching student teachers’ conceptions of learning to teach, with colleagues from Birmingham and Cardiff Metropolitan Universities, and has an ongoing research-practice partnership with speech and language therapists developing coaching approaches to working with teachers.
She has published in peer-reviewed journals on the subjects of coaching and mentoring, the innovative use of video to support practice development, practitioner enquiry and professional learning. She also writes regularly for professional publications and websites and is the Chairperson of the CPD Forum of UCET, The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, and a member of the editorial team of the British Education Research Association’s blog.
About Athena SWAN
In May 2017 Leeds Beckett was awarded the Athena SWAN Bronze charter from the Equality Challenge Unit.
The Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 by the Equality Challenge Unit and is awarded to organisations for their commitment to, and progress on, gender equality. The Charter initially set out to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. This was extended in 2015 to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and for those working in professional and support roles.
Five of our Schools, Clinical & Applied Sciences, Cultural Studies & Humanities, Social Sciences, Events, Tourism & Hospitality Management and Leeds Law School are all working towards a Bronze Athena SWAN submission.
For more information about Leeds Beckett’s commitment to gender equality, please visit the Athena SWAN page.
For more information about the Athena SWAN charter, visit the Equality Challenge Unit website.