Lack of support holds back ethnic teachers

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
Minority leaders and staff will quit profession early unless local authorities do more, warns report

Local authorities must do more to support the progress of black and minortiy ethnic (BME) teachers, a report commissioned by The Learning Trust demands.

School leaders and teachers from BME backgrounds will continue to leave the profession long before their white counterparts and few will reach leadership positions unless the situation changes, the report claims.

Those surveyed told researchers that they face isolation and "unique obstacles" partly because they are not getting enough help from local authorities to advance their careers.

The survey, commissioned by the The Learning Trust and Hackney in east London, used face-to-face interviews with eight black and minority teachers and a focus group attended by 11 black and ethnic minority teachers in the borough.

As a generation of heads prepares to retire and there is a shortage of leaders coming up through the system, fewer than 3 per cent of heads are from black and minority backgrounds, compared with around 22 per cent of primary pupils and 17 per cent of those at secondary school.

The report says local authorities should do more to ensure increased numbers of such teachers reach senior leadership positions. It suggests this could be done through work shadowing and coaching, as well as continuing professional development that addresses their needs.

It also says the way BME teachers manage other people's perceptions could be a primary barrier to career progression, as could their lack of confidence.

The report, which was written by staff from Integrity Coaching which works with black and minority teachers, says the high turnover of heads from these groups can result in "ambiguity" and lead people to question local authorities' commitment to equal opportunities.

Other problems the teachers reported were poor line management and negative expectations from colleagues. But they also recounted positive experiences, including support received from governors and the opportunity to gain experience.

The report says race equality policies should be monitored to ensure they have a positive effect on recruitment, selection and retention.

Those surveyed said outside bodies didn't understand how hard it was to get to senior leadership positions in Hackney. Many were unnerved by the fact that several local heads had been appointed to challenging schools, but left shortly afterwards in unclear circumstances.

They believed if they did get the top job, they would be placed in "failing" schools, put under greater scrutiny than their white peers and would not get enough support.

Viv Grant, director of Integrity Coaching, said the issues highlighted by the report applied to black and minority teachers nationwide.

"Local authorities need to be more proactive in helping these teachers reach their potential and turning the negative aspects they experience - others people's perceptions - into something positive," she said.

"Helping BME teachers will help the workforce as a whole. Local authorities are just not aware of the issues or how to address them. A little support makes a big difference."

Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, said: "Bringing more BME teachers through to leadership positions is a significant challenge the college is working hard to address. While there is no simple answer, our equal access to promotion programme offers customised support for BME teachers who want to move into leadership.

"We continue to work with local authorities to evaluate what they are doing to support BME teachers' career progression and identify how they could take it a step further."

Tricia Okoruwa, The Learning Trust's deputy director of learning and standards, said: "It was clear not enough people were coming up through the ranks. It was hard to hear the messages of the report, but it's been positive for us in terms of understanding the types of help black and ethnic minority teachers find useful."


A love of movement inspired Bolaji Badejo to change careers, but her background meant the move from dance teacher to school teacher was not as smooth as expected.

As a newly qualified teacher, Ms Badejo felt unsupported by her first head, who was meant to be her mentor. This made her lose confidence and doubt her abilities.

Only when she signed up for coaching did Ms Badejo, who started teacher training aged 41, realise her potential and understand the unique challenges faced by black and minority teachers.

"Although it appears like a natural progression from dance teacher to school teacher, it took me a long time to make the commitment," said Ms Badejo, who now works at a London primary. "One of the reasons was that I didn't know any teachers and had no one to ask for advice."

She remembers a time she felt so despondent she almost left the profession: "Despite the fact that I received positive feedback from parents, and my pupils were doing well, I couldn't shake the doubts that I just wasn't good enough."

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