• Mabel Osejindu

Are teachers in the UK from diverse backgrounds?

An educated perspective.

I am a teacher. A teacher of “ethnic minority”. I have found so much pleasure in my job, and I never would have known how much a child’s laughter and innocent smile could warm a person’s heart. My heart. When I first trained to become a teacher, it was super tough, and each day was a struggle. I remember writing a note to myself to open 5 years later. It was a message of hope about the sort of teacher I wanted to be by that time. I opened it last year and boy, was it profound. Through my early years in the profession, I never thought about how I was a figure of representation for little ethnic minority children. Once I realised this, I attributed so much more significance to my role. But throughout my time as a class teacher, I have been dumbfounded and disheartened by the sheer lack of Black and Asian teachers in schools. Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority individuals are hugely represented in higher education and university institutions with 53.1% Asian, 47.5% Black and 71.7% Chinese students admitting to these places for study. Between 2006 and 2020, Black pupils had the biggest entry rate increase out of all ethnic groups, from 21.6% to 47.5%. In 2020 alone, 71.7% of pupils from the Chinese ethnic group got a higher education place in the UK, the highest entry rate out of all ethnic groups. So why, if individuals of diverse heritage are often very well educated, not adequately represented in the UK’s teacher workforce.

For a long time, the term BAME has been used to describe individuals of Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic individuals. I’ve seen it as a political way to clump diverse people into one. "The 'A' in 'BAME' means Asian, which, in itself, is a very broad term and simply excludes 'South Asian', 'East Asian', 'South East Asian', 'Indian', 'Pakistani', 'Chinese', 'Thai' and 'Vietnamese'. Each ethnic background should be valued and I was greatly elated to see that the BAME title will be scrapped almost 4 months ago, after the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report led by Tony Sewell. So I choose to describe us, as individuals of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.

According to Government statistics on the school workforce in England in November 2019 based on the 2011 census, only 4% of school teachers have Asian ethnicity. The startling difference is that Indian communities make up 3% of our working England population but only 1.9% of Indian individuals are part of the teacher workforce. In stark contrast, 78.5% of the working-age population of England is White British whereas 85.7% of that population is in the teacher workforce.

0.9% of the entire teacher workforce is Black African and 1.1% Black Caribbean. The figures for Black Other and Mixed White and Black are even lower. In Nursery and Primary school, 3,700 teachers are recognised as Black whereas a staggering 215, 500 teachers are White. On the other side, in secondary schools, there is a larger number of 6, 200 Black secondary school teachers but still very few compared to 179,000 White secondary school teachers. Interestingly, the data does not include diversity amongst teaching assistants and support staff. From my experience, these roles are often the most diverse and wide-ranging. Even though there are numbers of teachers in the thousands working in England's schools, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic teachers are concentrated in London schools so can it ever be a positive statistic if involvement and participation are not widespread across the country? Is it a matter of demographics and that England’s BAME population all live in inner-city London? Once again, false. While yes, 40.2% of residents identified with either the Asian, Black, Mixed or Other ethnic group are in London (2011 Census), other areas with the second and third highest diverse demographics like the West Midlands which is 10.8% Asian and 3.3% Black and Yorkshire and Humer which have 7.3% Asian and 1.5% Black populations, are not reflected in the teacher workforce in any significant way. The Bristol Post has even ashamedly confirmed that they only have 26 black teachers out of 1,346 in the whole of Bristol.

When divided into teachers and deputies/senior leaders, it is apparent that 0.1% of classroom teachers are Black African or Mixed White, the lowest percentage out of all ethnic groups in this role. When roles are considered, White British individuals made up 92.7% of headteachers and by contrast, only 1% of Black individuals were headteachers. Many of the exact figures of numbers of teachers (not percentages) who are headteachers have been “protected for confidentiality”. Why does the data need to be withheld? Is there guilt for the lack of diversity and therefore a shameful and purposeful cover-up of the true data? Perhaps given the low percentage figures, the exact number is no longer relevant or it is only 1 or 2 are therefore is easily identified by searching in that respective school or local education authority.

Researchers from UCL also found that even in diverse schools, leadership teams are almost always white. Additionally, the Runny Mede Trust in collaboration with @penguinukbooks states that 46% of schools have no Black, Asian or minority ethnic teachers. The Lit in Colour campaign on social media is hoping to change that to make all schools more inclusive. These statistics quite honestly and fairly dispute the very idea that the education system is making progress in terms of racial equality in teaching but rather perpetuates the conversation around prejudice, exclusion and inequality. According to figures for 2019, 65% of pupils in England are White British so what about the other 35% who are not white? Don’t they need a figure in their lives for representation? It is often said you cannot be what you do not see and I ponder on the idea that many minority ethnic young children are growing up 1. Not seeing a model of the authority of their own race/gender in school and 2. Not inspired to become teachers or positions of authority in the future too, therefore, perpetuating the cycle of a lack of diversity in schools.

One cannot help but ask why there are not many Black or Asian teachers in schools? Are Black people encouraged to enter the teaching profession? Or have huge numbers been leaving the profession? Can diversity be seen in other areas, professions or industries that give reason to the lack in the teacher workforce? I would argue that the investigation into the lack of diversity may need to commence right at the start of the recruitment process. That is, what percentage of the working population are training to become teachers and is there a disparity between their qualification as teachers and them actually entering the role of a teacher in a mainstream school? I wonder whether many individuals of diverse backgrounds are put off before even finishing their training programmes or holding the position of a class teacher.

Some argue that the lack of diversity is perhaps due to the stagnation of teacher's wages since 2010, though one hopes that the recent increase in teacher's wages will attract teachers who had previously left the profession. In July 2020, it was confirmed that there would be a pay rise of at least 2.75% for existing teachers (equating to £1,250 extra on average) and 5.5% for new teachers, making this proposal the biggest pay rise for education professionals in 15 years. Therefore, the minimum starting salary for a qualified teacher will rise to £32,157 in inner London and £25,714 outside of London. The Department of Education (DfE) has been actively pioneering teacher recruitment adverts through its £37 million "Get Into Teaching" national TV advertising campaign. It portrays the day-to-day life of a teacher but it has been scrutinised for not covering the realities of teaching. More recently, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson even affirmed the need to “make teaching attractive to the most talented candidates by recognising the outstanding contribution teachers make to our society”. But where is the commitment to make teaching attractive to diverse individuals? Where is the commitment to prioritise inclusion and bring an end to prejudice? I strongly believe that there is an imperative need to include gender and ethnic diversity at different levels of seniority as well as amongst different communities so that those making the decisions about which teachers are employed have awareness of inclusivity and diversity. It raises concerns about the lack of Black or Asian or Mixed school leaders, which is seen as a key factor in lower retention rates among teachers of diverse heritage than their white counterparts. Whilst many teachers were positive and felt supported by the senior leadership teams in their school, there were also many teachers, who reported feeling isolated and lacking in management especially in regards to incidences of racism. Alongside the considerable workload of teachers, there is undoubtedly an "invisible" load and pressure in coping with racism and discrimination.

Many teachers of diverse backgrounds face daily ‘microaggressions’ about their skin colour, hair, or cultural background, which often weighs them down from completing their job at hand. As a teacher, I can recall several occasions when I was prejudiced against for simply being me such as laughing at my traditional names, questioning my faith or the texture of my hair. I once had a visitor come into my class to observe how our school works generally and the first thing the individual said was ‘are you the teaching assistant here?’. He had assumed that me being Black and female could not and did not equate to the role of a class teacher. I feel that it confirmed an unsaid stereotype that Black and Asian individuals can only assist or help rather than lead and innovate. When I asserted that I was indeed the class teacher, they were taken aback and I did not understand why. Diversity and inclusion are not and should not be about the ways we treat everyday members of society in a general sense. It should be about the way we embrace differences in roles, the difference in perspectives and the difference in appearance. If one sees a position held by someone who is not perceived as the ‘norm’, one should be sensitive to this and know that a position is not just held by one type of individual. We live in a multicultural society but we act and conduct ourselves as if we are not. It is almost as if our multiculturalism is a matter of circumstance from immigration or past histories than something willingly embraced and upheld.

Individuals from diverse backgrounds may be reluctant to become teachers because of the lack of teachers’ career progression due to institutionalised racism. 40% of Indian and Pakistani teachers had never applied for promotion according to the study by the Runny Mede Trust and you can only wonder why. No one wants to work diligently without the opportunity to progress or advance towards personal and professional growth. Some assume that they will not be successful in their efforts to work as a senior leader in school and therefore, wish to save themselves from the inevitable heartbreak. The ever ending effect of the unseen "glass ceiling" to leadership opportunities for Black, Asian or Mixed teaching professionals.

But let’s not focus exclusively on race or ethnicity. Teaching is a very female-dominated occupation in the UK and evidence shows a very steady decline in the proportion of men in the school workforce across the country except for inner London areas. According to official statistics, in 2019, 75.8% of school teachers were women, and in every other group, there were more female than male teachers. Surely, children need male role models as much as female ones. Despite the disparities between gender, the number of White British male teachers is still significantly higher than the number of male teachers of any other ethnic group.

The teaching workforce is becoming more diverse and some positive change has been shown but there is so much further to go. Diversity of teachers needs to be the norm, first of all. Every school should have a teacher workforce with individuals of diverse backgrounds. Teachers of Black and Asian ethnicity should be represented up and down the country and should be campaigned for, not to fill teacher shortages or tick an arbitrary inclusion box to satisfy adherence to Anti-Racism law, but for the good of the child in witnessing representation so desperately needed and the inclusion of our Black and Asian British citizens. By diversifying the workforce, we directly assert that Black and Asian individuals are welcomed and will be valued as teaching professionals with something to give back to the community and for the education of pupils nationwide.

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