The pain of the recent loss in the Euro 2020 final (for England fans at least) was quickly overtaken by the focus on the horrendous racial abuse meted out to Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho on social media – and what it shows about the deeply problematic racism in society.
Education may think of itself as free from such issues but, in reality, it is something faced daily by many teachers in British schools, too.
For example, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities reports that, “[Minority teachers] can face pushback from other teachers in the ethnic majority”. This reality becomes problematic when considering that 92.7 per cent of headteachers in the UK are white British.
And although there is less concrete data collected, the proportion of non-white teachers working internationally is thought to be less than 10 per cent, with that figure dropping further when considering leadership positions.
Teachers who find themselves in a minority within their school can thus find that observations and annual reviews contain expressions of discrimination, while a 2016 report from the NASUWT states that “[31 per cent of surveyed] BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) teachers reported they had experienced discrimination in the workplace in the past 12 months”.
Overall, in international and UK settings, discriminatory practices for non-white teachers is a known reality. What’s more, it also reduces our students’ access to high-quality teachers who can broaden their horizons.
What can we do to support our minority teachers?
This is clearly not an acceptable situation – so what can we do to change things?
The first thing to say is that public commitments to equality and diversity within organisations such as Ofsted and the NASUWT are important and necessary. Combined with local or subject-specific initiatives, such as Decolonising Geography, there is change taking place already.
For schools and teachers, though, here are some further progressive and anti-racist strategies that can help all settings work towards a safer and more inclusive setting for all members of the teaching community and reframe the experience of BAME colleagues.
1. Join a union
Union membership is Teaching 101 and an expectation for all. The major teaching unions offer comprehensive protection to their members and can add your voice to actions that support more inclusive and accountable schools.
Although I joined a union on the trainee teacher plan, I foolishly did not initiate a full membership until perhaps my second year of teaching. I did this to receive access to support and guidance concerning upcoming strikes and concerns about pensions.
This blossomed into deeper learning about my rights as a teacher and led to me utilising union support during my own experiences of discrimination at work, and I recommend it as a must for all teachers.
Many unions offer free training and information sessions, which can greatly empower you.
2. Keep a record of your successes and incidents that take place
Evidence and accountability go hand in hand. Teachers need to take advantage of this as a general professional practice and a staunch defence against discrimination.
As such, keep a personal list of your work and achievements: field trips, positive feedback and proof of student progress. Alongside this, record events that were discriminatory and may require consideration immediately or in the future.
By keeping a record, you can justify applications for promotion, refute accusations, and support any concerns about discrimination with examples and events.
3. Be aware of your school’s commitments to equality and diversity
Many schools have commitments to equality and diversity in their contracts and staff handbooks. Become familiar with them and take the initiative to support the school in maintaining its commitments.
If you find that no such statement from your school exists, or it does not currently achieve its goals, then recommend one. A conversation with the senior leadership team and some initiative with your colleagues can quickly lead to the establishment of a commitment from your school. Unions also offer support for these types of initiatives.
4. Your emotions are valid
No event is “too small” when considering the safety and comfort of ourselves and our minority colleagues. When you experience situations at work that feel discriminatory, share how you feel with someone you trust.
This humanising element helps colleagues and decision makers, who may not inherently recognise the issue. Sharing these emotions opens a deeper discussion that can lead to solutions through awareness.
5. We need to work together, SLT included
It is crucial that school leaders take clear steps to push for better BAME inclusivity and equity. Actively promoting the steps above for your staff is a great starting point. Following it up by proactively asking for and being willing to listen to constructive criticism, raised issues, and to try suggestions can bring a school community together.
This can promote actions that bring to light and challenge discrimination, and present the chance for progress.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are seeing a rise in institutional commitments to acknowledging and addressing discriminatory practices, from the Independent Schools Council (ISI) through to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. It is important that our leadership is aware of these developments, avoids defensive stances and encourages the school community to champion actions that can support all members of the school community.
The fight goes on
In writing this article, I was reminded of the advice a union rep gave me; if the school does not support you or acknowledge its faults, leave and find a school where you are appropriately valued.
This advice rings true for all teachers; there is no shame or “loss” in making the decision to leave a school where you feel discriminated against or feel the discrimination of others is not being appropriately addressed. Many of us hold our commitments to our students as high, if not higher, than the England team’s commitment to the shirt.
Never underestimate the impact that your existence and continuance have on people around you, whether as an inspiration or a challenge to the status quo, wherever you feel safe working.
I look forward to the continuing success of the English national football team, as I look forward to the continuing success of teachers of all ethnic backgrounds.
Daryl Sinclair is a secondary geography teacher in Germany. He tweets @dsinclair17