Standing at the front of an assembly hall. I’m talking about equality and equity and how we can achieve it in our school. It’s mostly aimed at students and what they can do. “It’s in the school’s values,” I’m saying – “fairness, respect, courage to take action, kindness.” But these values also lay down a challenge for us, as leaders. It is crucial that we live these values to which we are passively drawing our students’ attention and their hopes.
Our students need to see society represented in the power structures of their school. They need to know that the system we are pedalling, the one that they are meant to buy into is accessible to everyone. Accessible to them. This is one reason why the statistics of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic teachers in Bristol is worrying low.
In 2011, 1 in 5 people living in Bristol (22%) identified with an ethnic group other than White British, with 6% identifying as Black. Yet, as Inside Out West and Aisha Thomas’ report has demonstrated, we are far from representing this figure in our teaching profession across the city. Figures show that there are 1.9% of Black teachers in Bristol secondary schools and therefore an emergency for representation all levels of teaching leadership.
What can schools do today?
Review and build your staff and students’ ambitions
Have your Head of Human Resources and Head of Teaching and Learning ask your staff and students what their ambitions are for their career development. When was the last time you asked your staff and students where they are going and how they might be supported to get there? Then find some people and resources to help these dreams become realizable and support people to make a plan to develop.
For staff, Bristol Metropolitan Academy is the lead school in Bristol that has obtained a grant from the Government’s Equality and Diversity Fund to help increase the diversity of senior leadership teams in England’s schools. Use it. The lead is Alison Fletcher at The Institute, at The Cabot Learning Federation.
For students: it’s an emergency. Your city needs you to become a teacher. What impact might it have if all Bristol staff were treating the issue as urgent? Clear pathways, clear high quality careers advice about entry requirements, how to obtain funding, length of time to train and different routes, salaries at the end of training, guidance for parents. This could be actioned today. All schools have a school brim-full-of-teachers who mostly took this route. Share their experiences. Co-ordination across Multi Academy Trusts can ensure teachers are represented.
Review Curriculum Content
Ask your teachers to review their curriculum content. How inclusive is it? Who is checking how it dovetails? How does it encompass and celebrate diversity of voice and experience? When you walk through your school, who is represented in the classrooms, on the walls, in the senior team, in the estates and catering team? Think of how your student body might experience this. Initiate some ways of finding out, week in week out, over the year. Have a school leader drop in to lessons just to experience the curriculum termly and see how diverse it is. Monitor it. Track it. Include students in the evaluation of it.
Invest in some specialist support with diversifying your school culture over the year for your existing staff. Start with unconscious bias, and the impact of whiteness and white privilege. Avoid any wasteful one day training around diversity and see it as a longer-term way to develop your school. Unconscious behaviour doesn’t change in one sitting.
In predominantly white staff rooms, it is important to help staff check their perspective is just that, their own perspective, and that there are more perspectives that are equally valid. No blame: that’s why it is ‘unconscious’ – talking about it helps everyone become more conscious of their own embedded views and the impact on others. Employers need to take responsibility for this – school culture is theirculture to manage – it is not the responsibility of a minority group in an organisation to address an issue.
Include and Listen to Parents
Survey how well parents with children from ethnic minorities think the school supports the progress of their child and what it might do differently?How welcome do parents feel in the school? Whatis their perception of teachers’ expectations?
In a city with an historic 30 point gap between the attainment at KS4 between the highestand lowest performing group, parents of minority ethnic children might rightly feel rather anxious that teachers’ expectations are not as high as their own expectations of their child.This sometimes looks like teachers spending a lot of time communicating with parents about behaviour and much less time communicating about learning. (In KS4 Black Caribbean (33.1%), Somali (35.3%) and Pakistani (41.6%) groups have the lowest proportions of young people obtaining 5+ GCSEs at 9 – 4. (CoDE/Runnymeed, Jan 2017)
Take Positive Action
Are there opportunities to make staff changes? The city’s made up of 22% Ethnic Minorities. How representative is your staff/student ratio? Do Head teachers know the figure for their school? Or senior team? Can staff be co-opted onto management teams for a period of time? Where is the plan to change it?
It’s easy to say there aren’t the numbers, but are there the support staff in your school who might want some training to progress? It starts there. A conversation. If you can’t find inspirational leaders in the city of Bristol, and there are many, believe me, reach out to cities that are succeeding in having a representative teacher body, such as, Birmingham, Manchester, London. Use them to inspire your staff.
Provide some opportunities for middle leader training and make it easy for your BAME staff to leave school and access it. Schools are not responsible for staff ambitions, but they are responsible for helping their existing staff reflect on them and supporting and challenging them to make their ambitions a reality.
Ensure interview panels are representative of the city’s make up. Avoid appointing like for like. Employ diversity experts to help recruit and diversify your staff body, look for your school’s gaps from someone else’s perspective.
Retain Existing Staff with Protected Characteristics
Provide coaching for staff to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Offering support and encouragement to your staff to seek help and tackle some issues often communicates that an employee is valued by the organisation, included and worth investing in. Believing that teachers will become leaders and Head Teachers one day and sustaining your interest in their career means that development is a sustained process, not an event.
Coaching helps overcome challenge. Anyone who has worked within a dominant culture different to theirs will understand some of its challenges. It is hard to change a work culture and whose responsibility is it? As a minority, it can be quite the balancing act to challenge your colleagues on what they just said on break duty without feeling isolated and like you don’t fit in. Coaching can help staff to consider approaches to an external problem and get some help from management whose responsibility it is to nurture an inclusive culture and keep it relevant.
Interestingly, research from 2007 (Basit et al, Did They Jump or Were They Pushed?)found that the overwhelming reason why Ethnic Minority teachers left Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses in England was due to ‘personal reasons.’ Without explicit support from an employer or training institution, to challenge dominant culture, feeling excluded from dominant culture might feel like ‘personal reasons.’ Staff shouldn’t have to adapt to fit into the cultural expectation of the employer. The employer culture must be nimble and reflexive enough to ‘adapt to diversity’ (CoDE, Runnymeed, Jan 2017.)
The personal reasons ITT students cited were with childcare, impossibility of travel arrangements, lack of flexibility at work, lack of good quality mentoring in school placements, lack of effective communication between institutions and the tackling of discrimination. Most of these reasons could be eased by flexible and supportive employers, couldn’t they?