Resisting Whiteness: anti-racist leadership in English Schools

Resisting Whiteness: anti-racist leadership in English Schools

Resisting whiteness: anti-racist leadership and professional learning in majority white senior leadership teams in English schools 

Claire Stewart-Hall, Penny Rabiger, Professor Vini Lander[1] and Viv Grant[2]

[1] Leeds Beckett University, UK  (

[2] Integrity Coaching, UK

This paper was published by The British Education Curriculum Journal in December 2022 and can be found here online (open access):



Many Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs) are engaging in professional development to nurture explicitly anti-racist practice. Teachers’ knowledge gaps about racism, its traumatic, lasting impact and how racism is generated through schooling persist within a cloak of silence. This small-scale study explores interview data from senior leaders in English schools, questioning legacies of colour-evasion and breaking silences to understand the role ‘race’ plays in their schools, appearing exigent due to Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements and the inescapable reality of racism seen in George Floyd’s horrific murder. Using Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) as theoretical tools, we explore negotiations and challenges of leading anti- racist work in systems favouring whiteness as the norm. Findings show senior leaders undertaking the Anti-Racist School Award (ARSA) and/or Race, Identity and School Leadership (RISL) programme are novice ‘race’ practitioners, despite their seniority, wrestling to recognise whiteness and to connect their own ‘race’(d) identities to role- enactment and policy. They must negotiate and make the case for anti-racist leadership to colleagues trained not to notice, and mitigate wider external systems operationalising whiteness, blocking the development of anti-racist practice. We examine resistances to anti-racist work in English school systems that (re)centre whiteness.


Anti-racism; whiteness; schools; leadership; Critical Race Theory, Critical Whiteness Studies