Race to the fore

10th July 1998 at 01:00
The Teacher Training Agency is determined to put combating racism at the centre of its work, argues Anthea Millett.

In putting education at the top of its agenda, the Government has stressed the importance of securing a more inclusive Britain, in which the talents of all children are fostered. Raising the standards of achievement of all children, and recognising and dealing with endemic underachievement, must be the highest priority for parents and for everyone working in education.

Children from ethnic minorities have been underachieving for too long, and this is a cause for serious concern. The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Sir Herman Ouseley, and others also hold the more contentious belief that there is widespread negative stereotyping of ethnic minority pupils by white teachers.

Small wonder that frustrations among ethnic minority parents and their representatives are mounting, as illustrated by your front-page story last week ("Race chief attacks training negligence", TES, July 3).

Given those frustrations, we are all obliged to re-examine what we are doing, its effectiveness, and the scope for doing more. At the TTA we have signed up to the CRE's Leadership Challenge, under which organisations pledge to take a stand against racial discrimination and promote racial equality.

As I illustrate below, that pledge has led us to address the key issues affecting ethnic minorities in all three areas of our work - initial teacher training, continuing professional development and teacher recruitment. Our starting point is an analysis, backed by Office for Standards in Education findings, of what will truly make a difference in raising the achievement of ethnic minorities: * high expectations of all pupils; * an ethos supportive of all pupils with a strong commitment to equal opportunities; * recognition of the importance of each pupil's first language; * a multi-cultural school curriculum in which there is celebration of different cultures; * an emphasis on building pupils' esteem, including through the presence of good role models; * maximum involvement ofparents.

In addition, we have recognised that society and schools must tackle racial harassment and racial stereotyping.

Newly-qualified teachers are often in the vanguard for new ideas and attitudes in our schools. Getting initial training right has therefore been a crucial task for the TTA. The Government has adopted - and is already implementing - our proposals for new standards for the award of qualified teacher status.

The new QTS standards are outcome statements but affect training directly by requiring that trainees are taught: to set high expectations for all pupils, notwithstanding individual differences, including gender, culture and language; to deal with bullying and its causes - and that must include racial harassment; and a working knowledge and understanding of race relations law.

New initial teacher training national curricula are also being implemented, some from this September and others from September 1999. Critically, these stress the multilingual and multicultural dimensions.

The next key task is to monitor the implementation of the QTS standards and ITT curricula, and here I shall be looking for clear evidence of how equal opportunities, discrimination and racism are being handled. We shall not hesitate to report to the Government any shortcomings or need for further action.

We shall also be exemplifying the standards to help providers of training tackle these issues, and I shall be looking to the CRE for advice on support materials.

Initial training adds, however, only about 20,000 individuals each year to the half-million teaching force. That is why we have woven the issues of multi-culturalism, and of combating underachievement and racial stereotyping, into our standards and programmes for headteachers, subject leaders and special educational needs co-ordinators.

In addition to heads' central role in securing high performance from pupils of every background, and as part of establishing the right school ethos, our national headteacher standards make clear that heads must create and promote positive strategies for developing good race relations and dealing with racial harassment. No one will be awarded the new national professional qualification for headship unless they can do so.

Finally, the teaching profession must become fully representative of the society in which our children live, so it is vital to attract more individuals from the ethnic minorities into teaching.

At the TTA, we have led the way in arguing that talented teachers can be found in every section of society, all bringing particular strengths and helping to ensure that teaching is a vibrant and diverse profession. Last week saw the first of our recruitment advertisements aimed at teachers from the ethnic minorities. And we have discussed with the CRE a detailed plan of further TTA action to promote good practice in recruitment.

Action in the field of teacher training alone cannot undo the problems that have accumulated over the past 20 years or more. But our measures mark an important turning of the tide against underachievement, discrimination and harassment. We shall persist with this work until success is manifest and sustained. The stakes are too high for failure to be an option.

Anthea Millett is chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency

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