3 ways to address BME representation in schools

Last week The NUT and The Runnymede Trust launched their report ‘Visible and Invisible Barriers: the impact of racism on BME teachers’.

It included a number of heartening findings, including that younger BME teachers were more likely to have ‘positive experiences in school’, such as being valued by their managers and feeling school was an inclusive environment for them.

It also, however, showed a number of worrying barriers such as the lack of career progression opportunities for BME teachers, with many given stereotypical roles in schools such as responsibilities for behaviour or Black History Month, rather than teaching and learning responsibilities necessary for career progression.

Many BME teachers also reported feeling isolated and unsupported by their managers when it came to dealing with incidences of racism and career progression. Critically, 60% of BME teachers were considering leaving the profession.

Having been a BME education professional for many decades, while I was pleased to see the positive trends emerging, I wasn’t surprised by the barriers. Exactly 20 years ago Audrey Osler wrote her seminal book ‘The Education and Careers of Black Teachers’, highlighting exactly the same issues.

Currently, 15% of postgraduate initial teacher trainees are BME. However, this varies considerably depending on which route trainees take with 19% of trainees on postgraduate HEI routes reporting to be BME, compared to 8% for SCITTs.

Many BME teachers also reported feeling isolated and unsupported by their managers when it came to dealing with incidences of racism

At the other end of the scale, however, we have 3% of BME heads.

Ofsted’s latest equalities data shows that the percentage of BME employees at inspector grades, which was already low, has decreased even further for all inspector grades in 2015-2016, with only 4.2% BME HMIs compared to the previous year of 5.2%. The comparable figures for Senior HMIs are much worse: 1.6% BME compared to the previous year of 5.2%.

DfE data also shows a similarly downward turn, with only 3.3% of its senior civil servants coming from BME backgrounds in December 2016, compared to an already low 5.7% the previous year.

While one year is not proof of a trend, we should stay vigilant that the move towards a self-improving education system does not have unintended consequences for equality – with senior positions increasingly recruited from an ‘in group’ with the same characteristics, thoughts and actions.


So what are the solutions?

While there is already legislation in place, adherence is an issue. All working in education need to be aware of and compliant with the Equality Act 2010, which covers nine different characteristics, one of which is race and ethnicity.

Of relevance are, firstly, the Public Sector Equality Duty, which requires all public bodies to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people when carrying out their duties.

Secondly, specific duties require public bodies to publish information showing compliance with the Equality Duty, and to set equality objectives.

Research undertaken by the EHRC in 2013 revealed an alarmingly high proportion of schools were not publishing equality objectives: both primary (73%) and secondary schools (70%) rated very poorly compared to all public authorities excluding schools (12%).


What more can be done?

My own view is that action can be taken at three different levels: by individuals working in educational organisations; by educational organisations and schools and MATs as entities; and by policy makers such as Ofsted, the DfE and the National College as an executive body of the DfE.


At an individual level, all colleagues should have the necessary training and competencies to understand difference and an understanding of how their conscious and unconscious biases come into play. They need to be critical of how these impact on decisions taken the workplace.


At an organisational level, the ethos and values that place importance on equalities and in this case race equality are inherently important. They give clear signals from the outset to what is expected and are the golden thread that runs through the organisation.


Finally, policy makers have a crucial leadership role to play by ensuring these issues are highlighted and signalled as important.


The DfE has started to make positive changes through a focus on equality for the workforce through the now-shelved white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ and through the awarding of three-year diversity grants. However, what is needed now is a strategic framework that gives strength and credibility to these initiatives, because as important as these are, they are a drop in the ocean compared to the demonstrable wider actions needed to make the step change that is required.

The test will be to see if there is willingness to change – or will we still be having the same conversation, with another report, albeit with a new audience, another 20 years from now?

Sameena Choudry is Founder of Equitable Education

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  1. Kenny Frederick

    Well put Sameena. All you say is true and things don’t seem to be improving. Personally, it is about values and vision and the leader is the person who sets the tone. Inclusion needs to be about staff as well as students and every policy in the school needs to consider this fact and think about what they need to do to include students and staff at all levels. Policies need to be real life policies that are known to everybody and teachers and all staff need the opportunities, the encouragement and the space to develop. Leaders can provide these. One of the things I did (after all the policy stuff etc) was to monitor the make up of staff over the years in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and status in the school. This way I (and subsequently Governors) could see if things were getting better…. when I first started doing this 14% of staff were from ethnic minorities and when I left it was around 50%. We also monitored middle and senior leadership roles in the same way..

    We also made sure that as an inclusive school we were flexible and were able to (and made sure we did) meet individual needs… as well as good quality training and development and opportunities to take on new roles with support..

    It was not perfect but these simple things made the vision and values were lived and staff and kids took ownership and took responsibility for developing themselves and each other. The school benefitted from securing the services of great teachers, managers/leaders and support staff. An important part of the inclusion agenda is to value the contribution of every single member of staff, to spot and develop talent and to give credit where it is due. Its also important to support staff to move on (probably from your school) to promoted posts!
    Anyway a great article Sameena!

    • I totally agree with your article Sameena. However. I’ve been in education a long time and BME staff in senior positions is quite demoralising especially when you see the make up of teams and governors. This is not reflected with the rest of the school.
      It’s a shame as there are many talented BME staff and they are far too often overlooked