Are we showing the profession all that it can be?

14 Jul 2021, 5:00

Every year, we audit our back pages to hold ourselves accountable for representing the teaching profession at its diverse best. JL Dutaut sets out how we did in 2020/21

As Schools Week’s commissioning editor, I take seriously my duty to ensure the paper’s features are representative of the profession as a whole. After some pleasing success in my first year in post, with increases in the representation of women and ethnic minorities across the piece, my second year has been more challenging. One increase this year is particularly encouraging, but a couple of declines need rectifying in the coming months. Other good numbers have remained good – but like the profession we inform, we aim for outstanding.  

Across the 35 editions since our last audit in July 2020, 103 faces have appeared on our front pages. Of those, 42 per cent have been female, down 2 percentage points on last year. Regular appearances by Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson throughout the pandemic may explain some of that, but when women make up 74 per cent of the teaching population and 66 per cent of all headteachers, we still have a long way to go to represent them.  

Things look better for our expert contributors; 57 per cent of them this year have been female. But that number has flatlined since last year, and it is still some nine per cent short of representing our core readership. Meanwhile, our lead features have focused on women less this year. We find ourselves down nine percentage points, having featured 22 women out of 50 interviewees.   

Overall then, there’s still work to do to ensure women are represented not just equally but fairly in our pages.  

The number of opinion pieces by BAME contributors has doubled in 2020/21

When it comes to the representation of ethnic minorities, the number of opinion pieces by BAME contributors has doubled in 2020/21 to 22 per cent. And it’s a proportion of a much larger number too. Last year, there were 12 BAME contributors from a total of 109 expert pieces. This year, it’s 57 of 258.  

BAME faces make up 19 per cent of all those shown on our front pages – four points above ethnic minority representation in the teaching workforce, and 12 above their representation among headteachers.  

Meanwhile, our profiles and investigative features have focused on BAME system leaders 12 per cent of the time. That’s five points higher than BAME representation in headteacher positions, but three short of their contribution to the teaching profession as a whole and nearly ten short of their contribution to the national workforce. So we are exceeding fair representation by most measures, but we aim to do more still.  

When it comes to content, we’ve talked a lot about race with regards to attainment, curriculum and the impacts of the pandemic. A recurring message is that people can’t be what they can’t see, so we hold ourselves accountable for showing them.   

We encounter resistance, much of it understandable. It takes bravery to step into the journalistic spotlight, and when you’ve spent your career overcoming barriers, putting your head above the parapet is naturally a daunting prospect.  

The same is true for women, who we know still face unacceptable challenges to fair and equal treatment. Ofsted’s review of sexual harassment in schools shows at what a young age these barriers begin to manifest.  

We will continue to break down some of these barriers by normalising discussion about subjects that still garner stigma.   

This week, we are focusing on women in the workforce. We are talking about menopause and maternity leave. We’ve talked and will continue to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism, and to tackle the issues that matter to every under-represented group without fear or favour.  

Because normalising these discussions is an important step in ensuring fair representation doesn’t rely on the bravery of those who have faced the toughest challenges. 

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