‘We must end the unconscious bias in teaching’

BAME teachers have been marginalised in education for far too long – everyone must work together to tackle the issue

BAME teachers, BAME, Unconscious bias in education, BAMEd network

Whether or not we are allowed to call it a "crisis" yet, it is clear that there is an acute and snowballing issue around recruitment and retention of staff in our schools workforce.

Schools are considering many proposed solutions: promises to reduce workload and challenging the traditional reticence around flexible working practices and job shares. The DfE has even launched a jobs board platform aimed at reducing the costs for recruitment that are often crippling for schools.

While we manage the impact at ground level, we pay little attention to the snowy peaks that influence the experience below. There’s one area that seems relatively untouched, which, if we can address effectively, could have a marked effect on an existing and potential population of our workforce, as well as on the success and wellbeing of our students.

Teachers from black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have been marginalised in a system that seems to have changed little since the 1980s, back when the Swann report identified that ethnic minorities were underrepresented in teaching.

Research in 2017 confirmed that BAME educators are consistently the victims of systemic racism, which sees them overlooked for promotion and undermined. This is enacted not only through policy and practice around curriculum design, recruitment and performance management, but also through daily examples of micro-aggressions and behaviours from their colleagues – all of which serve to discredit them as teachers and leaders.

We are all becoming familiar with the term “unconscious bias” to try to explain why this might happen, but we seem less committed to finding ways to seek out and cull the practices which perpetuate this bias. Structures of disadvantage in education are untouched and continue to perpetuate stereotypes of ethnic groups. Saying it is “unconscious” has proved to even give us an excuse that it may not be within our power to change. This is, of course, a damaging fallacy. Acknowledging the forces of socialisation can be a start to bringing the seemingly unconscious into the conscious domain and ensuring that the outcomes of our behaviour and actions, policies and practices are not damaging.

Education secretary Damian Hinds has been heard recently declaring that “far more teachers from ethnic minorities” are needed in schools and to be role models for their pupils. It is essential in our global society, for students from BAME backgrounds, and even more so for those from non-BAME backgrounds. Having a workforce that reflects its pupils is essential to good teaching and learning. We also know from recent research such as the McKinsey Report, that having a diverse workforce leads to better teamwork, and more successful decision-making.

If we are to see a change in attitudes and the subtle and not-so-subtle trappings of systemic racism, we also need BAME role models for our fellow colleagues of all backgrounds, for governors and trustees and for students from non-BAME backgrounds too. If we are to accept BAME people as credible teachers and leaders, we need to see them at every level in our schools workforce.

Just as addressing the bias that holds women back in the workplace shouldn’t be left exclusively to women to champion and work towards, so too must colleagues, school leaders and system leaders from all backgrounds educate themselves around the issues that face their marginalised counterparts. If we want to address the recruitment issues we face, and if we want to retain and develop our best leaders from diverse backgrounds, there has never been a better time to commit to this.

The BAMEed Network, a grassroots organisation founded in 2017, has been working towards this goal in earnest, and has made some headway in moving the issue further up on the agenda for the DfE and for school leaders, governors, MAT leaders and practitioners themselves. As well as inputting into policy and thought leadership on the issue, the BAMEed Network has a deeply practical approach to supporting BAME teachers and leaders and their non-BAME colleagues nationwide to understand and act to reduce systemic racism in our sector.

Allana Gay is a headteacher of a primary school in London and Amjad Ali is deputy headteacher at a secondary school in Oxfordshire. They are co-founders of the BAMEed Network

On 15 June, the BAMEed Network will hold its third annual conference at the University of Brighton and the day will include as ever, practical workshops on a host of issues that are of relevance to BAME and non BAME educators, policy-makers, practitioners and leaders alike. Many Voices with one Aim: for more information and to book your place at the conference, please click here

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