You’re about as likely to find someone from a black and minority ethnic (BAME) group sitting on the bench in robes at the Crown Court as you are to find them at the front of the classroom. Both professions are disproportionately white.
The most recent school workforce census from 2015 found that only around 7 per cent of classroom teachers in England identified as BAME. Diversity statistics published by the lord chief justice show that the same proportion are district judges. Neither picture reflects the population of England and Wales as a whole, with census figures showing that 14 per cent of people identify as BAME – twice the rate that we find among teachers.
As Angela has explained, too few teachers from a BAME background then progress on to leadership.
“Education is filled with historical structures that seek to maintain confidence in a ‘white male expert educator’ image,” says Allana Gay, the co-founder of #BAMEed – a grassroots movement to address diversity in education – and a deputy headteacher at a primary school in North London. “Even when someone from a BAME background is recruited there is continual pressure on them to excel beyond their white peers while opposing stereotypes of their race. They are not readily seen as leaders or supported to progress in career. Resultantly, low numbers enter, low numbers progress, increasing numbers leave and the face of education remains the same.”
It’s not easy to explain why a profession that is dedicated to creating opportunities for everyone is so bad at creating them for BAME teachers.
“I think it’s ironic that education is meant to be progressive, liberal and inclusive, but the staff body does not represent the communities that we serve,” says Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham.
“The issues in play are nuanced, subtle and covert, and it’s difficult to have clear concrete evidence for them, although the statistics create a particular picture.”
The difficulty of proving racism means that many schools deny there is even a problem, she says.
“Nobody likes to talk about racism. So to mention it in your workplace could jeopardise your promotion chances. Mentioning it is almost worse than it happening,” Bhopal explains.
Reports from employment tribunals make it clear that startling cases of racial discrimination do occur in schools. A tribunal in 2014 ruled that a school had unfairly treated a black teacher with 10 years’ experience when an NQT was appointed as head of department over her.
‘Don’t upset the status quo’
In another case in 2012, a black development worker was awarded £14,000 by a tribunal for racial discrimination after he was repeatedly overlooked for promotion. The school had appointed an all-white management team to run a project to raise attainment among ethnic minority students.
“When trainees see the progression into headteacher and senior roles, it’s very low. So the incentivisation is less likely to be there,” Bhopal says.
Anjum Peerbacos, an English teacher with 20 years’ experience, says she has experienced these obstacles to progression.
“I’ve had interviews when I know who got the job and why. You think, ‘My face just didn’t fit there’,” she says.
Peerbacos recalls attending a National Professional Qualification for Headship course where many ethnic minority candidates said that they felt the same.
“They were fine in middle management and the school was happy to keep them there, but as soon as they tried to break through that threshold into SLT or further into headship, it’s just as though it’s not going to happen. Accept your fate, that’s where you’re going to stay. Don’t upset the status quo.”
This issue of retaining BAME teachers and offering them career progression may be particularly important because the one place where teaching does better resemble the British population in terms of diversity, according to the November 2016 ITT Census, seems to be among trainees.
In terms of teachers on training courses in 2015/16, 13.4 per cent of new entrants for undergraduate and post-graduate teacher training identified as BAME.
However, the picture is skewed slightly by postgraduate courses: at postgraduate level the figure was 14 per cent, but at undergraduate it was just 9 per cent (83 per cent of new trainees in 2015-16 were on postgraduate routes).
At postgraduate level, the routes into teaching differ in ethnicity make up, too. Provisional figures for 2015-16 indicated that in HEI-led programmes, 18 per cent of recruits identified as being from a BAME background. The figures were 15 per cent on TeachFirst, 9 per cent on SCITT and 10/13 per cent on School Direct. (See here – the government does not publish revised figures for this data)
Most BAME teachers come into the profession via university ITT, then, whose role is being challenged by the government’s championing of school-based routes (though there are signs of the war against HE courses abating).
Schools ‘stick to their own’
No one knows why there is such a discrepancy. Rosamund McNeil, head of education at the NUT teaching union, says that it’s a reminder of the risks of allowing schools to recruit in their own image, rather than recruiting trainees for the system as a whole.
“It shouldn’t be led by individual heads and narrow groups of schools,” she says. “We are concerned about moving it to a system where individual schools run the risk of employing people who just remind them of themselves, who look like them, where it risks bringing a narrower pool of recruits in.”
Experts call the phenomenon where people favour their own group, without necessarily realising they are doing it, “unconscious bias”. A recent study uncovered striking evidence of this in schools, in teachers’ assessments of pupils.
Dr Tammy Campbell, a researcher now at the London School of Economics, compared data on teacher assessments from the Millennium Cohort Study with students’ actual performance in tests. She found that black Caribbean seven-year-olds were more than 15 percentage points more likely to be judged below average at maths than a white child with the same test results.
Campbell says that there’s no evidence that teachers are more biased than anyone else. “The mass of evidence indicates that all humans are prone to cognitive bias,” she adds. But she says that these judgements are likely to influence everyday interactions and undermine students’ motivation and self-belief.
The same teachers who are prone to this bias in their assessment of students will, later in their careers, decide who to hire and promote.
“Is unconscious bias what teachers are feeling when they’re confronted with applicants who are the same on paper, but they’d rather have someone they feel comfortable with?” asks Peerbacos. “The only way to change this is to make the employer black.
“Kids are working their socks off, being underestimated at school, surpassing expectations and their white counterparts in HE, and then being turned out the other side after university and being passed over for jobs just because of who they are. The injustice there is huge. It needs to be addressed, not just in education but across the board.”
Joseph Lee is a freelance journalist. He tweets @josephlee