Jessica Shepherd, Guardian (Manchester), November 6, 2009
Only a handful of black and ethnic minority teachers are made headteachers each year because of an “endemic culture of institutional racism” in England’s schools, a study claimed today.
Researchers at Manchester University and analysts at Education Data Surveys quizzed 556 state school teachers from ethnic minorities for their report. They asked the teachers what had helped or prevented them from being promoted and whether they had faced discrimination.
Ethnic minorities make up 10.1% of the population of England but only 1% or fewer of the headteachers in primary and secondary schools, according to data gathered by the teaching unions.
Only 2.6% of teachers are Asian, while 1.7% are black and 0.8% are of mixed race, data from the Department for Children, Schools and Families from last year shows.
Some 44% of the teachers quizzed said they had suffered discrimination because of their ethnicity and 70% said it was harder for teachers from ethnic minorities to become headteachers than it was for white teachers.
The male teachers cited discrimination as the top barrier to them becoming a head, while for the female teachers this was the sixth biggest barrier. Women teachers cited workload, self confidence and family responisbiities as the most significant obstacles to them taking up a headship.
Almost two-thirds of African teachers said they had faced discrimination, compared with two-fifths of Pakistani teachers and a third of Indian and Caribbean teachers.
The study, The leadership aspirations and careers of black and minority ethnic teachers, which was commissioned by a training college for aspiring headteachers–the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services–and teaching union Nasuwt, concludes that the findings are “indicative of an endemic culture of institutional racism”.
Four-fifths of the teachers quizzed said they were “very” or “reasonably” ambitious.
The two main barriers to promotion were the perception that headteachers are overworked and a lack of confidence in their ability to take on a headteacher’s role.
“When depicting teachers in leadership posts, black and minority ethnic role models should be used wherever possible, in order to create an image of an inclusive profession and to challenge the dominant cultural perceptions that black and minority ethnic teachers do not make good leaders,” one of the co-author’s of the study, Professor Olwen McNamara, said.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the Nasuwt, said: “This report reveals the true extent of the problem of racism and discrimination that, regrettably, is still all too pervasive in our schools.”
She said the government and local authorities should “systematically monitor” the career paths of BME teachers so that barriers could be identified and removed.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Black teachers have to apply many more times than white colleagues for higher positions. This experience leaves many lacking the confidence and support needed to move up the teaching career ladder.
“We need to know where this discrimination originates and to eradicate it.”
Others said the findings did not show schools were institutionally racist.
Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College, said: “While there is no doubt that some of those sampled had experienced discrimination, which is obviously unacceptable, this does not mean that the system is institutionally racist.
“Although discrimination on the grounds of race was cited by all as in the top ten barriers to achieving career aspirations, workload and confidence were the first and second most cited barriers overall.”
Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This research shows that the number one barrier to leadership for black and minority ethnic teachers is the same as for non-black and minority ethnic groups, and that is excessive workload.
“Discrimination should not be tolerated anywhere but, if anything, there is more equality and understanding in schools than in many other workplaces.
Almost two-thirds of the teachers polled were from secondary schools with just under a third from primary schools. The rest were from special and other schools. Just under three-quarters of the teachers were women. Two-thirds were of Indian, Afro-Caribbean, African or Pakistani origin. The mean age of teachers in the sample was 38.
A spokesman from the DCSF said: “We know there is more to do to break down the barriers stopping black and minority ethnic teachers from achieving their full potential.
“That is why we are through the National College developing training programmes to support promising BME teachers develop leadership skills and encourage them into leadership roles.
“With Ofsted, we have set up a scheme for BME school leaders to shadow Ofsted inspectors to help boost confidence and increase aspiration to progress to headship. Given it takes around ten years for headteachers to come through, today’s crop of heads started their careers in the mid-1990s when there was no support or career structure in place for teachers full stop.”