Updated: Nov 25, 2020
LONDON — A BBC documentary has revealed there are just 26 Black teachers in Bristol’s secondary schools, despite it being one of the UK’s most diverse cities. The documentary ‘Inside Out West’ found that just 1.9 percent of the city’s over 1,300 teachers were from Black backgrounds despite making up six percent of the population, raising concerns over school recruitment procedures.
The shortage of Black teachers is nonetheless a national issue. According to official government figures, just 13 percent of state-funded schools’ teachers are currently from Black and other minority backgrounds (BME), compared to 27 percent of pupils. This means an extra 68,000 teachers from BME backgrounds would need to be employed in order to reflect the UK’s schools’ population.
Some believe the lack of BME teachers is due to a lack of role models, with many young undergraduates not seeing teaching as an option for BME professionals leading to a lack of applications to teacher training courses. However, a number of reports highlight casual racism, lack of support and low progression opportunities as key barriers in the careers of Black teachers today with 60 percent of existing teachers considering leaving the profession.
A study released last year by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Runnymede Trust found Black teachers were often given ‘stereotypical’ roles such as hosting Black History events rather than wider teaching and learning responsibilities. Many teachers also spoke of being labeled as ‘troublemakers’ or being viewed as ‘aggressive’ if they challenged decisions.
The study which surveyed over 1,000 teachers from BME backgrounds saw many express concerns over a ‘glass ceiling’ which limited opportunities for progress as well as feelings of isolation leading to NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney calling for significant action;
“These findings remind us that (racism) is a defining feature of BME teachers’ lives and deeply affects the experience of young Black people. This report shows us the cost of the gap between the proportion of BME teachers and BME pupils, which is getting wider because diversity in teaching is not keeping pace with pupil demographics. Alongside a proper strategy to recruit and retain enough teachers, Government needs a credible strategy for attracting sufficient BME teachers,” he said.
There are also concerns that the lack of Black teachers has implications on the treatment Black children receive in UK schools, with reports of both conscious and unconscious bias being heavily discussed for many years. In one study, Black children were found to perform consistently better in externally marked exams rather than assessments marked by their own teachers with low expectations believed to be a key reason behind the disparity.
According to one of the Black teachers surveyed in the NUT and Runnymede Trust report, schools need to quickly address the imbalance for the sake of pupils across ethnicities;
“[Schools] don’t realise that ethnic minority children need role models from their own group,” they explained.
“If the children see SMT [the senior management team] as being all White and the cleaning staff from ethnic minorities, that is all they aspire to be. Especially if they do not see people around them or members of their families in senior positions.”
In response to the report, a Department of Education spokesperson said there was “no place’ for discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, gender or disability and highlighted Government schemes aimed at addressing the issue.
“We provide a range of support to teachers from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds such as the Leadership Targeted Support Fund and Equality and Diversity Fund. These fund support networks for BME teachers as well as coaching and mentoring for BME teachers in senior leadership roles.”
With only four percent of UK headteachers coming from BME backgrounds it’s clear there is still much to be done.