Coronavirus: 'Significant gap' in advice for schools to protect BAME staff

A network representing black, Asian and minority ethnic education staff has published its own guidance to help schools prepare for the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minority groups.

BAMEed said it had identified a “significant gap” in guidance provided by the government and other bodies in terms of advice on how schools should act to protect BAME employees, who face a greater threat from the virus.

This could be the start of a long-awaited change

Analysis by the Office for National Statistics released earlier this month found the risk of death involving Covid-19 among some ethnic groups is “significantly higher than that of those of white ethnicity”.

Once age is taken into account, black women are 4.3 times more likely and black men 4.2 times more likely to die a Covid-19-related death than white women and men. Those of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Indian and mixed ethnicities “also had statistically significant raised risk of death involving COVID-19”, the analysis found.

Department for Education guidance states that schools should be “especially sensitive to the needs and worries of BAME members of staff, BAME parents and BAME pupils”, given the higher risk. BAMEed believes this does not go far enough.

“We know that many school leaders lack the requisite knowledge and confidence to address this issue, and that BAME staff members themselves may feel unsupported and unsure about how to broach the subject with their employers,” said the organisation’s steering group members Allana Gay, Penny Rabiger, Amjad Ali, Hannah Tyreman and Lizana Oberholzer.

“Having not found guidance from DfE or from the unions, we decided to draw on support from colleagues in the NHS who have made strides in this area, and to create guidance and risk assessment that can be used by schools and other education settings.”

The group’s guidance, published online, makes five “calls to action”, which are modelled on calls made by the NHS Confederation regarding BAME healthcare staff.

BAMEed’s guidance calls for the protection of staff, including risk assessments “that specifically take into account the physical and mental health of BAME staff”, and states that engagement with staff and relevant networks is “paramount” and should be strengthened.

It also states that representation in decision making is critical “to include BAME staff as key influencers in decisions that may be made that directly affect them”.

“There should be a national audit of BAME representation (segmented into the respective groups and not lumped together as a broad category of ‘non-white’ peoples) across educational leadership, governance and leading policymaking functions of all education organisations.”

The group also wants to see “bespoke and continuing health and wellbeing support throughout and beyond the crisis” to ensure “the unique needs of our BAME colleagues are met both now, and in the future”.

It adds: “This could be the start of a long-awaited change.”

The fifth and final call is for education communications to be “positive about BAME colleagues and students and representative in terms of optics as well as content matter”. This stems from a concern that media representations of the education sector “do not tend to include BAME colleagues”.

The guidance also includes a “risk assessment tool” to help schools to work out the potential impact of the outbreak and their way of working on BAME people.

The network hopes the release of the document “will facilitate the start of a conversation that needs to happen more widely, and that we can make real and lasting change for our BAME colleagues and the communities we all serve”.

It follows calls from Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union for reassurances from ministers that the government’s school reopening plan will address concerns about a greater impact on BAME people.

According to the Guardian, Roach has requested clarification from ministers that they will fulfil their duties under the Equality act “to prevent further discriminatory impacts related to the transmission of the coronavirus”.