'BME teachers still suffer "micro-aggression" and perpetrated stereotypes in school. We must address this'

A lethal cocktail of overt and covert racism is leaving BME teachers feeling unsupported, isolated and excluded from mainstream school processes, writes one research consultant

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One of the most noble aspects of public service workers is how passionate and committed they are to their jobs.

So it should come as no surprise that well over half of black and ethnic minority (BME) teachers choose this profession because they want to make a difference to pupils or want to be role models to pupils.

But a Runnymede Trust and National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey with more than 1,000 black and ethnic minority teachers has shown that as well as BME teachers feeling overwhelmed by paperwork (similar to their white peers), they are also beaten down by the everyday "micro-aggressions" in staffrooms, unintended discrimination in everyday decisions and low expectations and lack of support from senior members of staff.

Effect remains – regardless of intent

More than a dozen interviews across three focus groups also revealed a lethal cocktail of overt and covert racism, together with "unwitting and unconscious biases" which resulted in BME teachers feeling unsupported, isolated and excluded from mainstream processes and career opportunities within their school.

An Asian teacher told our study: “There is casual racism without intention to harm, but the lack of intent to harm doesn’t do much if harm is caused anyway”.

More worryingly, both the BME teacher survey and the focus group interviews revealed that the impact of staff racism was particularly pernicious for black teachers, with males and females reporting “everyday micro-aggressions” from other members of staff and senior leadership teams.

These perpetrated stereotypes resulting in them being held back in their careers. A black teacher told us: “We get given the tough behavioural jobs, but not the intellectual challenges and responsibilities”.

Focus group interviews also showed that BME teachers were increasingly experiencing the wrath of right-wing populism and overt racism but felt that school policies did not protect them sufficiently. 

The cumulative impact of these negative and detrimental experiences has resulted in BME teachers feeling demoralised, isolated and lacking in confidence in a school system where a third of primary school and a quarter of secondary school pupils are from BME backgrounds.

'Trusted messengers'

The representation and status of BME teachers is not only important due to their position as “role models” for impressionable BME pupils, particularly in terms of transmitting the social mobility message that barriers can be broken in the labour market, but also because impressionable white pupils will grow up seeing that BME adults are capable of achieving qualified jobs that are highly regarded.

How we treat teachers, and their retention in the workforce, also matters because teachers are viewed as “trusted messengers” by both pupils and parents.

In a recent Ipsos Mori survey of Mumsnet users (December 2016), teachers were rated in the top three professions (just below nurses and doctors and above scientists and the police) as the most trusted professionals “to tell the truth” in our society (Ipsos Mori Veracity Index, 2016).

In an increasingly distrusting society (where “alternative facts” are now part of the narrative), we need teachers, both BME and white, to equip our children with critical thinking skills and neutral facts to navigate this new world order.

Dr Zubaida Haque is research consultant at the Runnymede Trust

@zubhaque

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