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‘I just don’t look the part’: BME teachers suffer racism

Statistics show the struggle for jobs faced by teachers from minority backgrounds

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Statistics show the struggle for jobs faced by teachers from minority backgrounds

New findings show the stark underrepresentation of teachers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in some of Scotland’s biggest cities, amid concerns that “benign racism” is blighting the profession.

Research by the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) highlights the “critically low” proportion of BME (black and minority ethnic) staff in education posts in the four councils with the largest proportions of BME residents: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.

In Glasgow – where 12 per cent of residents are from a BME background – only 3 per cent of teaching job applicants in 2016 were BME.

And while BME applicants made up 2.7 per cent of those shortlisted for job interviews, they comprised only 1.4 per cent of appointees.

‘Something happens at interview’

Glasgow City Council education director Maureen McKenna acknowledged that the teaching workforce “does not reflect the communities we serve” and revealed that the authority was conducting research – due to be published later this year – into why this is.

The CRER figures also show that, in Dundee in 2014, 6 per cent of residents were BME, but candidates from BME backgrounds made up 1.3 per cent of applicants to the education department; none were offered jobs.

The most recent figures for Edinburgh show that 1.6 per cent of teachers come from a BME background, compared with 8 per cent of the capital’s overall population.

The evidence is being submitted to the Scottish Parliament as part of an ongoing inquiry into teacher workforce planning by its education and skills committee.

CRER director Jatin Haria said that “something happens at the interview stage”, with possible factors including outright racism and “benign racism” – for example, a feeling that BME people should be protected from “racist treatment from kids”.


It was also possible that BME interviewees interviewed less well – perhaps for cultural reasons such as discomfort with eye contact, he said. The figures for education were similar to other parts of the public sector, Mr Haria said. However, the CRER sees it as particularly critical for schools to address the problem.

Mr Haria said teaching was one of two professions with “power over people’s lives” where it is crucial to have more BME staff – the other being the police.

Having more black teachers would increase role models for black pupils and encourage more of them to choose teaching as a career, he added. “More so, they will show white pupils that black people are normal, competent, articulate human beings, and white kids will see black people in responsible positions of power, and not just as corner shop staff or taxi drivers.”

Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary at the EIS teaching union, said the union was “very concerned” at the under-representation of people from BME backgrounds in the education workforce, particularly in headteacher and deputy posts, where they are “invisible” in government statistics.

EIS is undertaking research into this area. Tes Scotland understands it has uncovered a teacher with Asian heritage being told “we need people like you in the EAL [English as an additional language] base”, and a teacher who wore a hijab being asked for ID when visiting a school to assess student teachers in training, when none of her white colleagues had been asked.

One Muslim teacher was asked by a colleague: “So which country would you bomb, then?”

The main complaints from members are less about overt racism, and more about “assumptions and minor barbs that appear to be grounded in prejudice”, a union spokesperson said.

The barriers faced by BME teachers have been raised in a separate submission to the inquiry by Rowena Arshad, head of the University of Edinburgh’s school of education.

Hearing about these negative experiences could deter some from entering the profession, she warns.

Her submission says: “From our experience, nothing works more effectively as a barrier [into teaching] than negative word-of-mouth advice by under-represented groups who have not felt supported in the profession.”

Teaching in Scotland was “highly homogenous” in ethnicity and BME people could be discouraged from teaching by “daily microinvalidations”, the submission said.

Expanding on this, Dr Arshad told Tes Scotland that “being constantly asked ‘where do you come from?’ might seem a natural question of curiosity, but repeatedly provides a message – whether intended or otherwise – that you are clearly not from here”.

Unwillingness to act

Sometimes, however, discrimination is more blunt and direct: one teacher told University of Edinburgh researchers about a pupil who said: “You’re Polish? Why are you not out picking berries?”

The research has also suggested that BME teachers are being deterred from taking up leadership posts.

An experienced BME teacher told researchers: “In the past I have deluded myself into thinking that it doesn’t matter if I am black, but now I believe that the only reason that I am still an ordinary classroom teacher is because of my colour and my inability to ‘fit in’. I just don’t look the part.”

University of the West of Scotland education lecturer Khadija Mohammed, who is researching BME teachers’ experiences, said, “There appears to be an unwillingness of SMT (senior management teams), perhaps due to complacency, nervousness or the school culture, to act in instances where BME teachers are subjected to racist treatment by pupils and staff.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We want BME groups to be better represented in teaching and recently met the Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators, [ethnic minorities umbrella group] Bemis and other groups to get their views on how to make that happen.

“We are also setting up a working group, which will make recommendations around the factors that impact on under-representation in teaching.”


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