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Report shines light on race inequality for BAME teachers

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 14 December 2020

Antonina Tereshchenko.

Our new report ‘Making progress? The employment and retention of BAME teachers in England’, is published today. Focusing on the retention of teachers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, it questions the idea that the education system in England is ‘making progress’ in terms of race equality in the case of these teachers.

Currently, 14% of teachers in England are from minority ethnic groups. Our exploratory analysis of the 2018 School Workforce Data found that these teachers are much more likely to work in London. They are also more likely to work in schools with a high BAME presence, both amongst other staff and pupils.

The interviews with teachers who worked in urban, diverse and predominantly disadvantaged schools explored their job satisfaction and retention factors. We found that diversity of the workplace was important for these teachers. However, diversity was not enough to keep them in schools long term. Diverse schools with white leadership were often perceived as stressful and even hostile workplaces, and this status quo was questioned by every teacher in our sample.

Of particular concern were issues with: low expectations or negative attitudes about minority ethnic students, lack of support for culturally relevant and inclusive teaching, colour-blind approaches to dealing with students and staff, and limited dialogue about ‘race’ and equity in the school.

What is especially troubling is the levels of inequality BAME educators encounter in progression to leadership. The main retention factor for experienced teachers we interviewed was stalled opportunities for progression beyond middle leadership roles. Their concerns are valid. In 2018, White British people accounted for 92.9 per cent of headteachers and 89.7 per cent of deputy or assistant headteachers.

“It’s opportunity to move within the organisations, it’s become a serious issue, all my friends, well Black friends at least, we all get to assistant head levels and that is it, no further, not one of us have moved on to either deputy or head. I’ve moved down but this can’t be a coincidence”, said a Black African primary male teacher.

Feeling undermined in their effort to advance within schools, experienced teachers indicated, for example, a desire to retrain as school inspectors, become supply teachers or educational consultants, teach abroad or start a doctorate with the view of moving into teacher education.

Although BAME teachers had the same high levels of workload as all teachers, not least because they worked in urban schools in deprived areas where there may be additional demands on teachers’ time, the workload was not a dominant retention factor. But the need to cope with experiences of both overt racism and repeated covert racisms in the form of microaggressions, and position themselves within the relations of injustices, were an additional ‘hidden workload’ that took a toll on their mental health, wellbeing and retention.

A female primary teacher of Pakistani heritage described how diminishing aspirations to become a school leader drove her to take a career break after 14 years in teaching: “It has nothing to do with workload. It has everything to do with me being a person of colour and the issues that mattered to me, and the voice that I wanted to have as a leader made people uncomfortable”.

The findings suggest that a better preparation of school leaders and a conscious effort by them to improve the racial literacy and diversity within the SLT is paramount for a favourable racial climate for BAME teacher retention. Alongside this, targeted schemes to support BAME educators stepping into leadership in diverse schools require government funding and support.  

This research was supported by the BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant with funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

Making progress? The employment and retention of BAME teachers in England by Antonina Tereshchenko, Martin Mills and Alice Bradbury

Pictures: istockphoto

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