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Oxford man gives something back

A talented young black graduate has returned to his old inner-city college to teach. Karen Thornton reports

It was a white, middle-aged Irish woman who lured Shane Mitchell into teaching.

Miss Feeny, his former history teacher, suggested he spent a couple of weeks working as a teaching assistant at his old west London school after graduating from Oxford - and he was hooked.

He stayed at Thomas More school, Chelsea, then signed up for teacher training. He started work this term as a business studies teacher at his old sixth-form college, St Charles Catholic college in Ladbroke Grove.

As a young black man from the same background as his students, Mr Mitchell wanted to give something back to his own community. The 24-year-old also wanted to demonstrate to African-Caribbean boys that they can use education to better themselves and not just in sport and music.

But English schools have a long way to go on attracting more black role models such as Mr Mitchell.

The first figures on the ethnic background of teachers show that just under one in 20 in England (4.7 per cent, or 16,318) is from an ethnic minority, compared to around 14 per cent of their pupils.

Mr Mitchell believes that teachers who are representative of their pupils do make a difference.

But he said: "I have experienced bad teachers. For me, a teacher is a good teacher regardless of whether they are black or white.

"I could make a greater wage in a job outside teaching but I wouldn't get the same job satisfaction.

"It is a delight to teach, especially coming back to my own community."

Official figures show, unsurprisingly, that black and Asian teachers are concentrated in London and cities with large ethnic minority populations, including Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, and Manchester.

The Department for Education and Skills says the overall figures are representative of the UK's ethnic-minority working population, estimated at 4.6 per cent.

And it points to a rising proportion of recruits from minority communities.

Last year, they made up 7.8 per cent of all those starting teacher training and the target is for 9 per cent by 2006.

The Commission for Racial Equality welcomed publication of the figures, but said that they marked only the first step towards achieving a workforce that better reflects the ethnic make-up of pupil rolls.

A spokeswoman said: "We would expect schools and education authorities to look at how representative their workforces are and whether people from different backgrounds are being promoted at the same rate.

"When they find anomalies, we expect them to take action to redress that."

Research by London Metropolitan University found non-white teachers were around half as likely to be heads and deputies, and were more demotivated by pay than workload - perhaps because of their concentration in relatively junior positions.

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