Minority ethnic parents need our help, group says

And academics argue that racism is still a problem in Scottish schools

The education of children from ethnic minorities is suffering because of lack of parental understanding and ignorance about race in Scottish schools, a new campaign group warned this week.

Parents are poorly informed about the Scottish education system, leaving them unable to support their children effectively, according to the Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators (SAMEE).

The group, which launched last month, said there needed to be a "major focus" on helping black and minority ethnic (BME) parents to access the curriculum.

Founding member Khadija Mohammed (see box), a former primary teacher and lecturer in the University of the West of Scotland's school of education, said that a different educational background, coupled with linguistic and cultural barriers, made it harder for BME parents to become involved in their children's schooling.

"We seem to think as teachers that parents have enough information to support their children, but our own experiences as teachers, with members of the community, is that parents come to us and say things like: 'What is a NAB (National Assessment Bank)?'" she said. "It's quite alarming."

SAMEE intends to become a point of contact for BME parents seeking advice and support, she said. The organisation, which has more than 50 members and held its inaugural meeting last month, also aims to challenge racial ignorance in education; ensure that the contribution of minority ethnic teachers is recognised; and to engage with policymakers.

Racism remains a problem in Scottish schools, according to Rowena Arshad, who this month became the first minority ethnic head of a school of education in Scotland when she took up her new post at the University of Edinburgh.

"Formal procedures like recruitment and selection are now fairer, but BME teachers do get excluded from the informal networks that often exist in schools - who gets invited out to where, for instance," Dr Arshad said. This could affect promotion prospects, she added.

Geri Smyth, a professor in the University of Strathclyde's school of education, agreed that racism is still an issue for Scottish schools. She welcomed the launch of SAMEE, describing it as "an incredibly important association".

"In Scotland, there are very few minority ethnic teachers and those that there are can feel quite isolated in the workplace," Professor Smyth said. "This association will give a voice to minority ethnic educators and give increased confidence to that group."

Scottish government statistics show that just 2 per cent of Scottish teachers come from minority ethnic groups, compared with just over 7 per cent of students.

Two major Scottish government programmes aimed at improving diversity in teaching have been scrapped in recent years, Professor Smyth said - the RITeS project, which helped refugees and asylum-seekers with teaching qualifications to enter the profession, and REMIT, which aimed to increase BME teacher numbers.

Increasing the presence of BME teachers would improve the experience of all students, said Professor Smyth, who led the RITeS project. Most BME teachers were bilingual, if not multilingual, she added.

More BME role models in schools would also lead to more minority ethnic young people entering the profession, she predicted.

However, providing minority ethnic role models was also critical for white students, Dr Arshad said. "There are still young people in Scottish schools who are not used to seeing someone like me in a power position," she said.



Khadija Mohammed was "playing white for a very long time" when she started her career in an all-white South Lanarkshire primary, she says. "I assimilated into the majority culture."

It was only when a child from Pakistan joined her class that she began to change her practice.

"I realised nothing in my classroom showed I valued other languages - every display was in English. And all the resources I was using were drawing from the majority ethnic group."

One of the aims of the Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators will be to provide CPD training to address the specific needs of minority ethnic teachers, as well as giving them a voice and a place to go if they have negative experiences.

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