Leaders' college targets 'racism culture'

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Boost for minority ethnic teachers held back from headship

The college that trains future leaders has launched a bid to address the "culture of racism" that is stopping black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers from becoming heads.

Senior teachers are failing to encourage BME staff to seek top jobs, with the result that they are vastly underrepresented in the profession, according to the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services.

The college, which is responsible for developing school leaders, is holding a series of events to support BME teachers.

They follow research commissioned by the college and teaching union NASUWT and published at the end of last year, which identified an "endemic culture of institutional racism" that is barring BME teachers from leadership jobs.

An event will be staged in Manchester next month for Asian women teachers amid concern about the small number of Asian heads serving many Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

"There are particular perspectives that black and ethnic minorities can bring to school leadership, but they don't get the jobs because they are not as prepared as they could be," said Ankhara Hunte, the college's diversity consultant. "They are not clear about selection procedures and they often experience sexism and racism when interviewed."

"We've seen cases of them being asked inappropriate questions - for example, about their children. If we had more opportunities to focus on what's going on we might also stop their loss to the profession."

Around 2.7 per cent of heads are Asian - 1.4 per cent Indian, 0.7 per cent Pakistani and 0.2 per cent Bangladeshi. Ten years ago the total figure was 2 per cent. Black men will also be targeted by the campaign and encouraged to "break down barriers".

It is hoped that efforts to encourage teachers from ethnic minorities to seek leadership jobs will also help succession planning as the current generation of heads prepares to retire.

Bushra Nasir became England's first Muslim head at a state secondary on her appointment to lead Plashet School in Newham, east London, in 1993.

"It's great for the children to have a positive role model, and for the parents to have someone who understands the culture," said Mrs Nasir, who mentors other heads.

"But it also creates problems because parents expect me to agree with them just because I understand the culture. Often I don't - taking extended holidays, for example."

Usha Sahgal, head of Downsell Primary in east London, believes more Asian women would like to be heads.

"We must provide direction and show them they can," said Ms Sahgal, who has been a head for 22 years.

"Support systems must be there."

HINDERED PROGRESS

Najma Chaudhary was one of four sisters who went to teacher training college in Bradford in the 1970s.

She has been a headteacher for 17 years, now at Heath Mount primary in Birmingham.

Mrs Chaudhary was the first Asian teacher at her first school and felt her progress was hindered until she was encouraged by an Asian local authority adviser.

"It was subtle: people wouldn't show as much confidence in you and I saw other teachers being more supported," she said.

"I felt resigned to always being a class teacher. It was a turning point when I met the adviser as he really inspired me to apply to climb the pay scale and was the first Asian person in a senior position I had met.

"When working in Birmingham I was encouraged by a black female adviser there to go for a deputy head position, but also by a white male head I knew."

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