Ethnic divide in training hampers diversity

17th February 2012 at 00:00
Minority applicants compete for the same places, study shows

Teaching remains an overwhelmingly white profession, despite classrooms becoming ever more diverse.

Indeed, new research shows that even high-flyers from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds who have real potential to make a success of a teaching career are falling at the first hurdle - they never commence training.

One of the main reasons for this, the study by the Training and Development Agency for Schools suggests, is that applicants from BME communities are less likely to be offered a place on a teacher training course because they compete against each other for places at the same institutions.

Large numbers of well-qualified BME graduates apply for the same courses, therefore effectively excluding each other from teaching. According to the TDA, the reason for this is that such applicants frequently limit their applications to universities in their local areas. This phenomenon is perhaps most pronounced in the capital, which plays host to nine of the 10 universities that recruit the most diverse intakes.

The statistics bear out the thesis. Acceptance rates at universities in "cluster" areas - where a high proportion of BME students train - are 42 per cent for white applicants but just 27 per cent for their BME peers. Meanwhile, in non-cluster universities, acceptance rates for BME applicants rise to 32 per cent.

The TDA, the government body charged with recruiting teachers, is so concerned about this situation that it is seeking changes to the way recruitment operates.

Staff at universities in urban areas will be encouraged to work with colleagues from other institutions, to help them attract different applicants. In future, if tutors are unable to offer a place to a talented BME student, they will work with other academics to find them a place elsewhere.

London Metropolitan University has one of the highest proportions of trainee teachers from BME communities in the country - an average of 46 per cent from 2007-08 to 2010-11. Staff will start collaborating with contemporaries at the University of Oxford to share experiences of attracting and working with students from different backgrounds. The TDA also wants to make use of their expertise.

"Students want to come here because we are in an urban location and particularly because we have a reputation of being able to work with and train people from BME backgrounds," said Suzanne Burley, academic leader for teacher education and professional learning at London Metropolitan University.

"When you have that reputation, it fuels itself," she added. "Students feel comfortable because diversity is reflected around them - belonging is very important."

But the efforts to increase diversity will not work if the process of reform is one-sided, according to Paul Cohen, director of initial teacher training recruitment at the TDA. Mr Cohen said that he also wants students to apply for courses that are beyond their comfort zone.

"For our part, we are communicating directly with BME registrants of our `get into teaching' advisory service to encourage them to be imaginative in their choices of training provider," he told TES. "The quality of applicants from BME communities has never been better, but the number entering initial teacher training is not as high as it should be.

"Teaching cannot afford to lose people like this who have so much to offer. That requires providers - especially in the South East, outside London - to encourage more applications from BME communities. It also requires providers to work together to ensure that no one falls through the net."

But James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said that course tutors were concerned about the extra work the initiatives would create.

"It's a really laudable aim, but the administrative burden of making information available in this way could be significant," he said.

The TDA's concerns are not new. Race equality thinktank Runnymede has long been concerned about "ethnic segregation" in universities.

"There are currently more black Caribbean students attend-ing London Metropolitan University than at all of the Russell Group institutions put together," said Rob Berkeley, Runnymede's director. "This level of ethnic segregation between universities is a problem for society, as we miss the opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to learn together."


Government statistics show that

93.7% of teachers are white,

3% are Asian and

1.9 % are black Afro-Caribbean.

97.7% of head teachers are recorded as being white.

In state-funded primary schools in 2011

26.5 % of pupils were classified as being of minority ethnic origin, an increase from

25.5% in 2010. In state-funded secondary schools this figure was

22.2% an increase from

21.4% in 2010.

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