Teachers from ethnic minority groups and those active in trade unions are being discriminated against by heads, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Documents seen by the Guardian show that union officials and teachers from some ethnic minority communities are less likely to pass the performance threshold, a key standard which is awarded by school principals and allows teachers to progress up the pay scale.
According to the statistics from the Department for Education and Skills, heads failed about one in 20 teachers in 2004, but that figure rose to one in 10 among staff who were union officials.
Teachers from the Bangladeshi and black African communities, as well as those categorised as “Asian other”, had the lowest success rate of any ethnic group in 2004 at around 80%. Those from the Pakistani and Caribbean communities scored 90%, still some way behind the “white British” teachers who achieved a 95.5% success rate.
Greg Robbins, the Islington secretary for the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers, who obtained the information, said the trend was extremely worrying. “This is supposed to a transparent and fair policy but it seems as though it is being used to bully and victimise certain groups in certain schools,” he said. “It is clear that in some areas the threshold award is being used to carry out unacceptable levels of bullying and discrimination within the workplace.”
Each teacher has to apply to their head to gain the performance threshold. Heads are then required to assess that member of staff’s progress and unless they pass them the teachers are unable to move up the career ladder.
Mr Robbins said although the awards were supposed to use strict criteria there was enough “room for manoeuvre” for some heads to discriminate against groups or individuals.
“From these figures it is clear that there is a serious issue here,” he said. “We talk to union officials in schools across the country and there is a strong feeling that in certain areas they are being picked on. I would go as far as to say that some schools in some areas are racist and clearly discriminate against union activists.”
The performance threshold was introduced in 2001 but this is the first time an analysis of the national figures has been made public.
Last night Martin Ward, deputy head of the Secondary Heads Association, said headteachers did not consciously discriminate against any members of staff. “These awards are made according to quite clear, and as far as possible, objective criteria and the decisions of heads are scrutinised through an appeals process.”
He said the poor success rate of teachers from some ethnic minority groups was “difficult to understand” and could be attributed to “unconscious discrimination”. But he said there may be causal link between union activists and teachers who failed the performance threshold. “It may be that teachers who put themselves forward to be union activists are less secure in their situation anyway.”
Last night a spokesman for the education department said although some groups seemed to do less well in the latest set of figures the picture changed every year. “Success rates do vary from year to year and between different minority ethnic groups.”