Knowledge Bank - Leadership

Is Our School Institutionally Racist ?

Sponsored by the National Education Union. Yet it remains the case that despite the prevailing liberal, humanist value system within most schools the promotion of black teachers into leadership positions is extremely rare and even rarer for those of Afro-Caribbean or African descent.

Most schools would be horrified to consider themselves racist and inequitable in their selection policies. Yet it remains the case that despite the prevailing liberal, humanist value system within most schools the promotion of black teachers into leadership positions is extremely rare and even rarer for those of Afro-Caribbean or African descent.

In November 2014, there were 454.9 thousand full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers in state-funded schools in England – of which 87.5 per cent of teachers were White-British. Teachers from ‘Other White Backgrounds’ (3.6%), White-Irish (1.7%), Indian (1.7%) and Black Caribbean (1.0%) backgrounds make up the next largest groups of teachers (DfE, 2014). Of the approximately 18,000 qualified BME teachers, approximately 1,000 are in leadership roles and only 104 (or 3%) are headteachers. That is, in 2014, 93.7% of headteachers were recorded as White-British, a slight reduction of 93.9% recorded in the previous year.

Researchers have identified three broad areas of concern; the first is that not enough BME teachers are recruited, particularly with an Afro-Caribbean provenance, reflecting a less than satisfactory school experience of children from this group. Secondly, overseas trained teachers have been very important in filling vacancies in the UK and will continue to do so, but the lack of any integration policy at government or local government level has meant that such teachers have felt isolated and culturally adrift.

The third concern has been that even those BME and OT Teachers embedded in UK schools fail to progress beyond departmental leadership in any great numbers and face a number of informal and hidden barriers that are both hard to analyse and harder to correct. They constitute institutional racism but this blanket term fails to unpick the complex and intangible locks and closed doors confronting BME teachers.

One of the most well-known researchers in this field is Professor Paul Miller of Huddersfield University whose studies on Overseas Trained Teachers, of which he is one, and on White Sanction has been widely and officially recognised.

He points out that government has tried to shift the responsibility for integrating Overseas Trained Teachers onto local government who have then generally rejected it as not their business. Where attempts have been made the Assimilationist and Multi-culturalist models have both been problematic, the first for not recognising the real cultural differences that exist, undermining the professional success for incomers and under-valuing any unique cultural contributions they could offer, and the second because it caused resentment from those representing the host culture, who deemed their status to be under-valued. He suggests a more complex, dynamic model, backed by official programmes of integration.

In White Sanction, Professor Miller shows how, in order to break through the informal cultural preferences that lead to the non-appointment of BME teachers to leadership positions, candidates have had to use the support of white colleagues to sanction their elevation. Controversially, Professor Miller argues that Black and Ethnic Minority teachers should not reject White Sanction but should actively seek it, in order to counter the ‘natural’ networking and social connections that might exist in schools amongst white colleagues.

Another radical dissection of the way bias operates within education has been put forward by Professor Jacky Lumby of Southampton University. In a research project on 10 institutions within the FE sector she found that staff formed an ‘outgroup’ which differed from the norm, particularly in relation to black and ethnic minority potential leaders, which worked against their entry into the leadership group. The staff sought to ‘homogenise’ the people within this group in order to delete any ‘other’. She also suggests leadership theory is complicit in driving out diversity. In a later study of two schools, one in South Africa and one in the UK, she found that the staffs’, of both schools, had a commitment to an idealistic concept of diversity that was enabling staff to be usefully and comfortably ‘colour blind’ in their acceptance of all white school leadership teams in the midst of black or ethnic majority populations.

Despite these excellent studies of the problem, the precise mechanisms that lead to disadvantage of teachers in post, and the levers that change this remain obscure, and as Professor Marianne Coleman points out very under-researched. For example, in forty years only one article has been published by the journal of the society, British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) that dealt with ethnicity compared with 250 others that dealt with other aspects of diversity. She calls for a large scale study, that goes beyond the small scale qualitative studies, that analyses the failure of black staff to progress and research the best way to break down ‘unthinking stereotypes’ that brand black teachers, parents, and children.

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