More ethnic role models are needed but, as Nadene Ghouri found out, there are reasons why so few come forward
Ethnic-minority teachers are "second-class citizens in a second-class profession", receiving lower pay, lower status and fewer promotion opportunities than their white colleagues.
So said Professor Jim Murphy, head of education at the University of East London, at a conference organised by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Teacher Training Agency this week.
In the current crisis in teacher recruitment the greatest shortages are of ethnic-minority teachers, delegates at the conference were told.
Clive Booth, chair of the TTA, said nobody knew how manyethnic-minority teachers were working in Britain. He cited the 1991 census as the most reliable source of information, which not only revealed a disturbingly low number of ethnic- minority teachers, but also that they suffered higher rates of unemployment.
He said: "Ethnic teachers have the most difficulty securing a first placement after training, and in some instances find securing a training place hard. I find that extremely worrying."
Estelle Morris, education junior minister, said it was "absolutely right that ethnic-minority children should be taught by teachers from their own communities", but she added that all children would benefit from a diverse teaching force.
"We need to attract the brightest and best graduates from all backgrounds into teaching, but we clearly aren't attracting the brightest and best from minority groups at present."
The minister reminisced about her days as a teacher in an inner-city school in Coventry. She said: "I know the dangers of generalising about ethnic-minority low achievement. Many of the children I taught were from overseas or had problems with English. Many are now at university.
"But the truth is too many ethnic- minority children do not realise their full potential. If they don't achieve at school, if they don't enter higher education, if they don't graduate, then they are not even in the frame as potential teachers."
Sir Herman Ouseley, CRE chair, said underachievement could only be tackled if there were more ethnic teachers acting as role models. He called the Government's failure to monitor the numbers of such teachers a "disaster". He said: "Lots of good teachers have been driven out of the system because they didn't feel welcome, and they are not going to come back. You can't manage what you don't measure. And you can't measure blanks."
Heather Du Quesnay, director of education in Lambeth, south London, said her schools were often forced to employ ethnic-minority teachers, particularly language support staff, on short-term contracts or projects with limited funding. She said: "Their status will inevitably be depressed and promotion prospects reduced."
Jim Murphy of the University of East London said ethnic minorities faced "double disadvantage" if they entered teaching. He said: "With all the barriers and general low status of the profession as a whole, you'd have to be very idealistic indeed to even consider it."
Clive Booth profile, 8
Margaret Hodge, 23