'Racial inequality within our schools system is deep-rooted, endemic and institutionalised'

The government must ensure that all schools meet basic racial equality requirements for pupils and for the workforce

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Today’s Racial Disparity Audit, commissioned and published by the prime minister's office, depressingly confirms what many of us know, namely that racial disadvantage and discrimination is widespread within our school system.

The problem remains of concern 30 years after the seminal report on racial inequality in schools – Education for All – was penned by Lord Swann.

There has in recent years been more focus on pupil performance by background and that is welcome. Today’s report builds on research that had shown white British children were falling behind children from other backgrounds.

Some may argue that if black and minority ethnic (BME) children are outperforming white British children then this may suggest there is no problem with racism holding those with BME backgrounds back from attending university.

But we would say this would be wrong.

We also know that children from BME backgrounds are at least three times more likely to be excluded from school and while today’s findings cannot be ignored, it appears the reality still for many BME pupils is that they lag behind their white peers.

Racial inequality among teachers

What about BME teachers? We know like all teachers they have the burning passion and commitment to bring out the very best in the children and young people they teach.

But there is widespread inequality of treatment.

Research by the NASUWT teaching union among its members has found that:

•  77 per cent of BME teachers do not believe that they are paid at a level commensurate with their skills and experiences, compared to 66 per cent of all teachers.

•  58 per cent of BME teachers have experienced verbal abuse by pupils compared to 49 per cent of all teachers.

•  52 per cent of BME teachers do not feel that their work is valued by the school management compared to 39 per cent of all teachers.

•  64 per cent of BME teachers felt their opinions are not valued by school management compared to 53 per cent of all teachers.


We know that the inequality of treatment inside schools is having an impact on the wellbeing of BME teachers outside of school – 53 per cent of BME teachers say the job has affected their physical health in the last 12 months.

These experiences of inequality were underlined in separate research by this union and the Runnymede Trust, which highlighted that BME teachers continue to experience discrimination and harassment as well as greater barriers to pay progression and career progression.

For the education system to be truly equitable, discrimination has to be challenged and rooted out wherever it’s found. This includes throughout the institutions and those individuals who play a part in the education our children, as well as with regard to the children themselves.

We are dismayed that teachers from BME backgrounds experience everyday racism, discrimination, harassment, lack of pay progression and being held back from promotion to senior management posts and headship. We believe these issues remain deep-rooted, endemic and institutionalised.

Exacerbated by reforms

What happens in schools is often reflected in the fabric of wider society. BME communities too often say they feel marginalised, excluded and discriminated against.

The government reforms since 2010 have resulted in greater autonomy and flexibility for schools in terms of how they employ and reward staff – and key decisions about the curriculum, which has exacerbated racial inequality. These reforms have also undermined the ability of the education system as a whole to take strategic action to secure progress.

The government has to take its share of responsibility by ensuring that all schools meet minimum standards for ensuring racial equality. Regrettably, there has been a culture of defensiveness and denial when the government has been challenged about its record on racial equality in the education sector. That has to stop.

Ministers must ensure that they use all available levers at their disposal to ensure that all schools meet basic racial equality requirements for pupils and for the workforce. 

That is why the NASUWT is leading a pro-active campaign, Act for Racial Justice. Working with all stakeholders, we are determined to challenge racism wherever it exists.

Dr Patrick Roach is the deputy general secretary of the NASUWT

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