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International Women’s Day: Leading the way towards workplace balance

International Women’s Day is here, and we’re celebrating female empowerment by sitting down with Senior Education Lead, Corinne Settle. Over the past five years, she has demonstrated how emulating #BalanceforBetter in both her career and her daily life have led to ultimate success. 

How long have you been a Senior Education Lead for?

I have been a Senior Education Lead at SSAT for five years.

What got you into working with schools in this way? What drives you?

In some ways my relationship with SSAT started as my passion for teaching and learning developed. I was in one of the very early cohorts of the Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme, TEEP, as it started doing some initial development in Hull. I’d just recently moved to Hull and become a head of Science. By getting involved with that programme, I then went on to become a TEEP trainer, I got involved with Lead Practitioner Accreditation and then started training other schools around the country. I got involved in working with SSAT through TEEP. I then got an opportunity to do some training with Professor Dylan Wiliam and all of that eventually naturally led to the most fantastic opportunity to come and work for SSAT full time. It was never my plan to leave teaching. I still to this very day miss working in the classroom with students and other teachers, but the work that I’ve done in the last five years has been so incredible and continues to be that I haven’t found my way back to the classroom yet.

Can you identify one individual or organisation that inspired you in your career choice?

Probably my very earliest person or memory is from when I was 15. I have an unusual background coming into teaching in some ways because I did a degree in Outdoor Education and Science… so not the most common of degrees. But at 15 years old, I wanted to become a kayaking instructor. So, I did my training course, and at the end of that course, absolutely terrified to find out whether I passed or failed, the kayak coach said to me that I “have an incredible talent for making explanations simple and clear”. From that point onwards, I wanted to teach. I’ve basically followed my passion ever since.

In your opinion, how has the scope of women in power changed over the course of your career?

I think from a very personal perspective I was very lucky that my parents brought me up to be incredibly, fiercely independent. I’ve always done exactly what I’ve wanted to do, and I’ve never seen any glass ceilings to what I want to do. I don’t feel like I’ve ever been limited by anything. In terms of the range of roles, what I now see is women becoming much braver… in fact, I’m really excited today, because my copy of the #WomenEd book, 10% Braver, is about to arrive through the door. It’s a wonderful grassroots movement about supporting and inspiring women to step up into leadership roles. I think one of the things that’s really changed is the fact that there is much more support out there, and a growing movement to support women moving in particularly into the higher levels of education, into senior leadership executive roles, etc., where currently there still is an imbalance in terms of gender.

Can you tell me about a particularly challenging time or experience you faced by being a woman in a powerful role?

The challenge that I face is what any woman faces that’s got a full-time job or a full-time career that they’re really passionate about… it’s always a battle to find the balance between work and life. I think that’s a battle that you have to stay focused on… it’s not something that you can just set up and it works because our jobs are ever-changing. I work with the fact that I travel away from home. I’ve made the choice that that means that I sometimes spend time away from my family, but also, I’m always aware that although that can be difficult at times… that actually, my career makes me very happy and therefore makes me a happier person and a happier mum.

Can you identify one (new) particular way in which you and SSAT are now aiming to help schools manage the challenges they are facing at this time?

One of the strengths of SSAT is that we have a really clear moral purpose… really focusing on what is the right thing to do. Not necessarily about the quickest and easiest thing to do, but what is going to be the most effective thing to do. My focus is about how we support schools in terms of Embedding Formative Assessment. This is obviously really close to my heart having worked on the Formative Assessment Project for the last four years, but we want to support schools to implement this as effectively as possible. That involves deep leadership support and offering our expertise to schools to make the programme as successful as possible.

If you could go back to the beginning of your career and tell yourself what you know now, what would that be?

I think the advice that I would give to myself is in fact the #WomenEd movement mantra which is about being 10% braver. I’ve always followed my passion in my career and I’ve always looked and thought, “I can do that better,” and I’ve gone and done it. In one sense, that makes me very brave. But at the same time, I continue to hide my expertise. I don’t shout it from the rooftops, and I should. I think I should be much braver in terms of being really proud of my achievements, and of course, that’s what International Women’s Day is about. It’s about celebrating womens’ achievements, and I don’t think we do that enough. I know I don’t do that enough.

Can you describe an occasion when your advice and collaboration with school leaders and/or teachers has made a big difference to them, and to you?

At this point, I would have to go back again to the Embedding Formative Assessment project. It’s got to be my proudest moment in my career. Having worked with 70 schools over two years, and to achieve a successful outcome, where on a large scale we have shown impact on GCSE results. But also, the relationships that I’ve built with school leaders across the country. Schools are never more powerful than when they’re networking and collaborating together… to be able to facilitate that and to support schools is incredible.

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign is #BalanceforBetter. As an authority figure in this organisation, how do you ensure that balance is achieved in your workplace?

One of the things that SSAT is very good at doing is listening. Whether it’s listening to schools or listening to our colleagues, we work together very strongly as a team. I think interestingly, with the gender balance in SSAT, having a female Chief Executive, two out of the three directors are female, we’re very much leading the way for schools to take that forward. It’s about equality, which is a collective effort.

What qualities or skills do you think a successful woman in power should possess?

I think the skills for anyone in power are the same. Certainly, I don’t view myself as being in power… I find that phrase uncomfortable, really. For me, it’s about how we support colleagues. For me, it’s about how we support and work together as a team. I think that’s the most valuable thing — how we listen, how we reflect on what we’re told, what we hear, and then how we carefully choose to move forward.

What projects/tasks are you working on in relation to your role right now?

Lots of things are happening at the moment… TEEP will always be one of my many passions, so I’m currently looking at developing the TEEP network and supporting a breadth of trainers now across the country, and how I can best support that team. I’m currently working on Project Transformation with CENTURY Tech looking at how artificial intelligence can support formative assessment but can also reduce teacher workload. I’m continuing to work with the Education Endowment Foundation about how we can upscale the Embedding Formative Assessment project, and I’m also working with schools on the Lead Practitioner Accreditation, the Enhancing Teaching Programme as well as working with the British Council on the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning Programme.

What advice would you give to a woman aspiring to enter a position of power herself?

Do it. When you look at a role that’s out there and, for me, I always looked at the job description and it used to terrify me. Then take a deep breath and do it anyway. I think that’s the key… it comes back to being 10% braver.

Corinne Settle
Senior Education Lead

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