`Institutional racism' holds back BME teachers

10th April 2015 at 01:00
Academy boss says the public would be `appalled' by statistics

Black and ethnic minority (BME) teachers are being held back by "institutional racism" in the education system, the chief executive of an academy trust has warned.

David Hermitt, executive principal of Congleton High School in Cheshire and chief executive of Congleton Multi-Academy Trust, told TES that government data revealed an "appalling" shortage of BME teachers in the most senior jobs.

This was caused in part by a lack of BME individuals entering the profession, and in part because the "structures and systems" within education made it more difficult for them to succeed, he said.

The most recent figures from the Department for Education show that 97.3 per cent of headteachers at state schools in England are white. Just 0.7 per cent of school leaders are from an Indian background and 0.6 per cent are from a black Caribbean background.

Mr Hermitt said part of the problem lay with governing bodies, which in some cases saw appointing a non-white headteacher as a "risk".

"In an interview process where you have three very credible candidates, one of whom might be of colour, you are not necessarily going to pick the person of colour if you believe someone else will do an equally good job," he said.

Asked why he believed this to be the case, Mr Hermitt said: "There's a whole range of institutional racism issues that mean people feel as though they might be taking a risk."

Mr Hermitt, who works with the National College for Teaching and Leadership on schemes to increase the number of BME teachers and encourage them to move up the career ladder, said he did not think schools were being "deliberately racist".

However, he added: "Institutional racism is where the structures and the systems and everything around how an institution works make it more difficult for people from certain ethnic backgrounds to succeed. The statistics suggest it is more widespread than we'd like.

"I think the more the general public knew about the statistics, the more appalled those people would be. It would alter their view on how important this issue is," he said.

Strength in numbers

DfE figures show that in inner London, 40.2 per cent of teachers are from an ethnic minority group. Yet, according to 2011 census data, the BME student population is above 80 per cent in eight London boroughs, reaching 91.5 per cent in Newham. Across the capital, 67.2 per cent of pupils are from a BME background.

Mr Hermitt said schools faced "so many intricate problems" if their teaching bodies did not reflect the local community.

"[Imagine] you're a child and you're late to your lesson," he said. "If you happen to be black, is the teacher challenging you because you're black or are they just challenging you because you're late? They're challenging you because you're late. Now, if it's a white teacher in that context, it can sometimes turn into an issue of: `Oh, it's because I'm black.'

"Whereas if it's a black teacher in that context, it's because you're late. So there's a sense of getting rid of racism as an excuse when people are being disciplined and when we're doing all sorts of other things through the life of the school."

His criticism comes after research by the NUT teaching union, published in January, found that ethnic minority teachers were among the most likely to have missed out on a salary increase since the introduction of performance-related pay.

The poll of almost 5,000 teachers found that 28 per cent of those who had been notified of their pay decision had been denied an increase. However, among Asian and black teachers, this rose to 40 and 34 per cent respectively.

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