Just 39 black headteachers for over 3,000 secondaries

6th November 2015 at 00:00
Study reveals shocking under-representation at the top

Only 39 secondary headteachers in England are black, according to new research laying bare the under-representation of minority ethnic groups among school leaders.

The analysis of government figures by academy chain Ark shows that there are only 24 female and 15 male black and black/white mixed-race headteachers in more than 3,000 secondaries across the country.

The numbers amount to just 1.1 per cent of all secondary headteachers in England, despite 4.5 per cent of the general population in England and Wales being black or mixed race.

One black headteacher, Matt Jones, believes the pigeonholing of black teachers into pastoral roles and their lack of confidence in the system – and sometimes themselves – contributes to the under-representation.

But he dismisses the idea that racism in the schools system could be a cause (see panel, below right). Ark undertook the study as it believes there is a pressing need for schools to develop the leadership qualities of a wider range of teachers from all backgrounds.

‘A long way to go’

Lucy Heller, chief executive of Ark, which employs two of the 15 black male secondary headteachers, says it is important for teachers and school leaders to be representative of the communities they serve.

“It’s clear from these figures that we still have a long way to go,” she says. “We know that our headteachers can be very powerful role models for students, demonstrating that hard work and effort can be rewarded with professional success.

“Schools, academy networks and government all have a responsibility to break down the barriers that exist within the teaching profession.”

Overall, black and minority ethnic (BME) people make up 20 per cent of the population in England and Wales, and 13 per cent of the teaching workforce in England. But they are hugely under-represented when it comes to headships, with just 6 per cent of headteachers in England identifying as BME.

The Association of School and College Leaders admits there is a “massive discrepancy”. Brian Lightman, the association’s general secretary, says the lack of black headteachers leads to a dearth of role models for other black teachers to look up to, creating a “vicious cycle”.

“Teachers from minority ethnic groups need to have the confidence to go for these roles,” he says. “But they must also have the support from their senior leadership team, and that means being given the training and experience so they develop the courage to apply for the jobs.”

Is it all about who you know?

Darren Chetty says that although schools do not ignore equal opportunities legislation, they often play “fast and loose” with it.

He is researching a PhD at the UCL Institute of Education in London, focusing on black teachers in England’s schools and their experiences of racism in the education system. His findings are based on interviews with black teachers.

“People often recruit people who are in their network, who are known to them, and that happens more when it comes to more senior roles,” he says. “The higher the stakes, the more likely they are to hire someone ‘like us’.”

Mr Chetty, who has spent 20 years in the classroom, believes that rather than merely looking at what individuals can do to gain the top jobs, a “broader policy response” is needed.

“Hiring practices need to be looked at,” he says. “Research is taking place in Sheffield University looking at implicit biases, which adds strength to the fact that the way schools appoint leaders needs to be reviewed.”

However, he adds that there are no “quick fixes” when it comes to rectifying the imbalance. To achieve real change, Mr Chetty says that real engagement is needed, and existing system leaders must look at to what extent they are inviting black teachers to get involved.

‘Many black teachers don’t think they have a chance’

Matt Jones (pictured below) believes the stereotyping of black teachers, especially men, as having “strong personalities and being disciplinarians” is one reason why they are under-represented as school leaders.

That often leads to black teachers being pigeonholed and placed in more pastoral roles, according to Mr Jones, principal of Ark Globe Academy in South London. He is just one of 15 black men in England to lead a secondary school.

“A key area is the opportunities offered to black teachers, which are disproportionately limited to a pastoral experience,” the 44-year-old tells TES. “They go through the head-of-year route, which only gets you so far…When you get to interviews you need greater credibility around teaching and learning and data analysis.”

Mr Jones identifies a lack of confidence as a further factor. “Many black teachers don’t put themselves forward because they genuinely don’t think they are going to have a chance, because of a bias against them,” he says.

“They lack confidence in the system and sometimes in themselves. There may be unintended bias, or sometimes intentional bias, [but] if you’re a brilliant candidate you have to believe the school governors are going to choose the best candidate.”

Mr Jones dismisses the idea of institutional racism within the school system, saying teaching is one of the “least discriminatory professions”.

But he says that giving black teachers better opportunities would lead to more of them gaining headships. “If you were to ask me what would be the easiest factor you could change to try to resolve this issue and have the biggest impact, it would be if we could change teachers’ range of experience as that is linked to their confidence,” Mr Jones says.

He rose through the ranks at a “typically white school in mid-Essex”, as a head of year, department head and director of key stage 4. “It was down to the foresight and the insight of my headteacher, who was willing to give me the opportunity,” he adds.

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