In 1985, The Swann Report revealed the massive underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in Britain’s schools, and its correlation with underachievement amongst Afro-Caribbean schoolchildren. It suggested that black students were less likely to aspire to a career in teaching due to experiences of racism and stereotyping in school, as well as a lack of representation in staff and curricula. To mark Black History Month, I interviewed prominent black leaders in education and studied the Government’s school teacher workforce ethnicity facts and figures to see what’s changed.
While there has been a small rise in the number of BME teachers, the number in senior positions remains considerably lower. Around 78% of the working age population is White British, yet account for 93% of headteachers, 90% of deputy heads and 85% of classroom teachers. In comparison, less than 1% of all state school heads are of Black African or Caribbean descent.
These figures reflect deputy head Adrian Rollins, former special school head Audrey Pantelis, and multi-academy trust (MAT) CEOs Clive Webster and David Hermitt’s perceptions that black educators are still grossly underrepresented in our schools, particularly at leadership level. Indeed, when preparing to conduct these interviews, MAT governance data showed David (CEO of Congleton Multi-Academy Trust) and Clive (CEO of Kent Catholic Schools’ Partnership) were two of three black MAT CEOs I managed to identify. That’s just three out of over 1,500 in the country.
As highlighted in a recent OECD report, children need to see themselves reflected in a diverse range of role models to help broaden their aspirations and career prospects (as David said, “the future MAT CEOs are sitting in our schools right now”), but NASUWT's report on inclusion in teaching shows that BME teachers were more likely than their white counterparts to leave the profession due to the challenges they faced as teachers of colour. Respondents cited failures of management to deal with racist incidents, being pushed towards stereotypical roles (such as pastoral care in diverse schools), and a general lack of support.
While it’s important that black people see themselves reflected in all aspects of public life, it’s important that white people do too. We shouldn’t just strive for diversity in predominantly black schools or areas with large black populations. Only 3% of teachers in the North East are from a minority background, making it extremely unlikely that pupils in the region will ever be taught by a black or brown teacher. Surely, the presence of more BME teachers would show children and communities that people from a whole range of ethnicities are an integral part of modern Britain.
There is no one way to tackle racial bias within British education system. While mentoring schemes for BME teachers, such as the NEU’s Equal Access to Promotion course, are essential to improving progression for BME teachers, it is evident that we need more people of colour in education at every level to act as role models and broaden the aspirations of children who look like them, and those who don’t.
The DfE’s equality and diversity fund is a step in the right direction, but curricula that engage and affirm the identities, cultures and experiences of everyone within and beyond the classroom, that engender a sense of social justice in students, will ensure that more children leave school equipped with the confidence, resilience and tools needed to disrupt and dismantle the status quo. This shouldn’t just apply to students; according to the latest newly qualified teachers (NQT) annual survey, 70% of NQTs don’t feel prepared to teach children of colour. Such training is essential to avoid racist stereotyping of black and brown children in their classrooms and playgrounds, and can go some way to alleviate unconscious bias in the recruitment process, breaking down barriers.
While Black History Month has officially come to an end, it’s important that that conversations about inclusion and diversity in education and beyond take place every day of the year. Only through minority voices shaping the debate and striving for diversity in schools will we begin to see a future in which BME teachers are represented at every level.