Educational leadership:

Theoretical approaches to understanding representation, distribution of power and race in Bristol schools.

Claire Stewart-Hall, PhD, 2018-2024

Preface & Glossary

For consistency of communication, I will use categorisation and labels aligned to the research being discussed. The categorisation and classification of racial and ethnic groupings is a highly contested area. Gillborn, (2018) Delgado and Stefancic, (2012), Wojciechowicz, (2013) argue they are biologically deterministic categories without scientific basis. Semantics or classification is not the focus of this research, so I acknowledge these classifications are highly problematic and have been rejected by the Human Genome Project (Foster and Sharp, 2020). Below shows my summary of the variety of terms currently used.

Experience & Career

Most of my teaching career has been spent in Bristol teaching and leading in 11-18 schools with over 80% of its student body from BME backgrounds and 85% entitled to Pupil Premium Funding (PP). This direct experience of training and supporting teachers’ professional learning has given me insight into typical institutional structures that enable promoted progression and develop leadership capacity.

Bristol has a legacy of being fraught and stifled by issues of race. In 2014, a school I worked in was found guilty of institutional racism in a legal case (24/7, 2014). In 2019, Bristol City Council was publicly accused of institutional racism (BBC, 2019) and in 2020 the statue of the architect of the Bristol slave trade was pulled down during a protest about black lives matter (#BLM). These events, as well as my prior experience of teaching in schools in the city with predominantly Black and Asian cohorts, offer me rich perspectives to understand how discourses about race in education are brought to the surface and interpreted in schools.

The Research Area

My research explores why there is one ethnic group that holds leadership positions predominantly in senior management in state schools in Bristol. I am interested in the reasons for a persistent lack of racial diversity in senior leadership in Bristol, a city with 22% from non-white (sic) British backgrounds (Bristol City Council, 2020); the factors affecting it and in evaluating proposed ways of changing it.

It is helpful firstly to understand both national contexts and focus more locally. Overall, 87% of the teaching workforce in state schools in England identifies as white British (DfE, 2018); most senior leadership teams are white British with 93% of Head Teachers and 90% of senior leaders identifying as white British (DfE 2018). The problem is gendered; although two thirds of the teaching workforce is women, 6% of men are Head Teachers, compared with 4% of women; a further 13% of men are senior leaders compared with 10% of women (DfE, 2018).

Table 1 below (Steel 2015:11) outlines the BAME representation in secondary schools compared to students in 2015.

It is problematic that fine data relating to cities is not accurately published nationally or locally and has been camouflaged by the privatisation of schools into geographically-spread Trusts, making tracking localised inequalities challenging. In the South West of England in 2015, 12% of the student cohort (aged 4-19) was recorded as coming from non-white groupings suggesting groups that are viable representative future-teachers in the city. The percentage of BAME trainee teachers was 1.6% (DfE, 2015) That year, this figure was the second lowest percentage of BAME Initial Teacher Trainees (ITT) in the country. Elahi, Finney and Lymperopoulou, 2017 have studied Bristol with regard to race and schools focusing on ethnic inequality and note the lack of diversity in teaching staff and school leadership in Bristol schools.

There has been speculation (Bhopal & Chapman, 2014) about why many school leadership teams nationally, and in Bristol (BBC, 2018), is made up of white leaders. One suggestion (BBC, 2018) is that there are fewer teachers from Minority Ethnic (ME) backgrounds entering the profession in the South West (DfE, 2015), a conclusion that might be drawn from data above. However, without an analysis of attrition by ethnic group (such as in Basit et al, 2006) or tracing where trainee teachers go on to teach following their training, or any collection of data following the range of Qualified Teacher Status courses, this assumption is hard to qualify. Teacher Trainees are not mapped to location, for example, a trainee can train in Bristol but seek employment elsewhere and vice versa. It is unknown how many teachers from ME backgrounds teach in Bristol, or come from abroad, enter via other routes, nor how many are eligible to work as senior leaders or Head Teachers. One conclusion could be drawn is that despite numbers of ME teachers, the majority of senior leadership teams and Head Teachers in England are white. Arguably, without analysis of how many all-white senior teams there are or any questioning why this might be, there remains a sustained proliferation of white leaders nationally and locally.

Methodological Approach​

The ethical challenge of researching in this area is to avoid recreating hierarchies of dominance and to guard against research being counter-productive (Figueroa, 2000). Considering the outlined lack of communication around the issue race, Habermas (1995; 1987), through his theory of Communicative Action, offers perspectives that might vocalise factors influencing patterns that result in a predominance of hegemonic leaders.

Research, as stated above, suggests that a blend of institutionalised racism, hidden criteria (Bhopal, 2019a; 2019b), the way race is positioned in discourse, a lack of understanding of colour conscious leadership in schools as factors that actively prevent more BME people from leading in schools (Miller, 2018; Bhopal, 2019a). However, it is observable that research tends to focus on the views of BME participants to reiterate the issue rather than focusing on institutions.

Without discourse around whiteness, power and institutions, and with dominant meritocratic and colour-blind narratives in the background, there is little opportunity to understand what individual school issues are and why there is lack of diversity in leadership positions. Mabokela and Madsen, (2005) identify an unconscious practice of white leaders to lean on racial identity groups for solutions to institutional racism thereby abdicating responsibility to connect with communities and leadership around the impact of race in schools. However, it is incumbent upon those in the hegemony to evaluate their own participation in current trends, the advantages current trends lend, the risks they pose and thereby how situations might be transformed.

Theoretical Lens

In his theory of Communicative Action, Habermas (1987) proposed that language and communication hold ways of reaching agreements among people and may provide opportunity for ‘intersubjective consensus’ (Callinicos, 2007, p. 290). The public sphere, institutional structures, bourgeois society, Habermas argues, have historically created a dialogic arena to engage in critical reason (Elliot, 2010). Habermas (1995; 1987) proposes that every act of speech raises diverse validity claims, in which he notes the performativity and sincerity of speech can create rational agreement and communicative dialogue which can be reciprocally recognised between people. He argues that the purpose of speech is to rationalise ideas, arguing for free and equal participants to seek validity claims to interlock perspectives in order to develop shared practice. It ought to include criticality and interpretations of language and together there can emerge a ‘we-perspective’ (Habermas, 1995, p. 118).

Opening up discourse portals in and about the public sphere might enable rich professional discourse about how leaders might understand issues of race in education or develop a ‘we-perspective’ about their problems in individual schools. Whilst there might be ethical concerns to consider in acknowledging and bringing together different professional groups to explore such issues, Mezirow (2000) argues that critical reflection triggers transformative learning through shifting ‘meaning perspectives’. Likewise, Kolb (1984) argues learning is experiential and in developing the means of discourse, this theoretical approach offers opportunity for experiential learning to take place. Group coaching, as described by Clutterbuck (2018), acts to democratize hierarchical structures, offering more controlled platforms from which to invite discourse, which can lead to organisational development. Together with Kolb (1984) and Knowles (1978), Habermas’ (1984) theory of Communicative Action could offer ways that problems might be handed back to those with institutional power to rethink and evolve them. Group coaching, as described by Clutterbuck (2018) might offer processes of stimulating reflection by white senior leadership teams to understand their own whiteness and its power and thus become more conscious of how their enactment of policy and institutional processes and systems privilege hegemonic groups.

My prior position of being a senior leader and Head Teacher in mostly white senior teams means I benefit from insider familiarity with systems and processes at this level of management in schools. It also positions me as someone who has experienced how race is typically positioned in narratives in schools, which is predominantly associated with outside of the school walls, through data collection, complaints, conflict and behaviour systems. This research will seek to reposition discourse around race at senior levels in a proactive way and at a strategic level with intent to provide structured opportunities to develop approaches to acknowledging and understanding whiteness and power in senior teams.

Research Design

My research design is to use group coaching as a methodological approach to engage with three to four majority white senior leadership teams in Bristol schools as research participants over an academic year to gather data on the impact of using group coaching to develop discourse to reposition discourse about race in schools. Before reaching this stage, I hope to collect Bristol specific, geographically situated counter-stories (Solorzano & Yosso 2002) from current Bristol teachers from BME backgrounds to use as a stimulus within the group coaching to update and interrupt common inaccurate narratives about Bristol’s current teachers and leaders.

Bristol Counter Stories

As a way of thickening description (Geertz, 1975) and avoiding an overreliance on anecdote, using counter stories (Solorzano & Yosso 2002) has long been a methodological approach that avoids stories of marginalized people being stolen (Tuhiwai-Smith, 2012), repurposed or reframed by the hegemony, enabling representation in people’s own voice. The vacuum of research into experiences of Black teachers contrasted with the on-going pipeline of white teachers into leadership positions offers opportunity for counter stories to deepen understanding of and build solidarity in understanding the issues of race in education (Tate, 1995) and specifically in a localized context. There are a multitude of ethical considerations to collecting the stories which I will need to address. At the moment, I plan to collect these stories via biographical narrative interview method (though this might change). I hope to use critical discourse analysis of the counter stories to deepen contextual factors affecting leadership progression in schools.

As well as creating a communicative space (Habermas, 1987) for white senior teams to reflect on race and education, counter stories positioned in group coaching might further support hegemonic leaders to ‘analyse, expose and challenge majoritarian stories of racial privilege.’ (Solorzano & Yosso 2002, p.32) and notice and counter narratives of colour-blindness, which might challenge and interrupt the ‘reproduction of past legacies.’ (Omi and Winant 1994: 159).


I propose that it is by communicating with hegemony that greater understanding of the levers that continue to enable so many white people to become school leaders could be generated. Furthermore, this will enable leaders, arguably the gate-keepers, a deeper understanding of the factors affecting how such continued organisational power has enabled a sustained lack of racial diversity in state school leadership in Bristol. By taking an intersectional approach and supporting discourse that acknowledges the significance of overlaps between and across class, race, gender, dis/ability, identity I might thereby provide recommendations, models and mechanisms for other white senior teams to reflect on how they might deepen understanding of their own positions and enactment of policy in institutions.


  • Alderfer, C. P., and Smith, K. K. (1982) Studying intergroup relations embedded in organizations. Administration Science Quarterly, 27, 36–65.
  • Ansley, F. L. (1997). White supremacy (and what we should do about it). In R. Delgado & J. Stefancic (Eds.), Critical white studies: Looking behind the mirror (pp. 592–595). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press
  • Apple, M.W. (2003), Freire and the politics of race in education, International Journal of Leadership in Education, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 107-118.
  • Atkinson, H. Bardgett, S, Budd, A., Finn, M., Kissane, C., Qureshi, S., Saha, J., Siblon, J., and Sivasundaram, S. (2018) Race, ethnicity and equality in UK history: A report and resource for change, Royal Historical Society, London. (online) Available from (accessed on April 15 2020)
  • Ball, S.J. (2008) The Education Debate. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Basit, T., Roberts, L., McNamara, O., Carrington, B., Maguire, M., Woodrow, D. (2006) Did they Jump or were they pushed, British Educational Research Journal Vol. 32, No. 3, June 2006, pp. 387–410.
  • Basit, T. & Santoro, N. (2011) Playing the role of ‘cultural expert’: teachers of ethnic difference in Britain and Australia, Oxford Review of Education, 37:1, 37-52.
  • BBC, (2018) Lack of black teachers in Bristol ‘shocking’ (online) Available from: (accessed on 14 April 2020)
  • Bell, D. A., (1980), Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 93, No. 3, pp. 518-533
  • Bell, D. (1995). Racial realism. In K. Crenshaw, N. Gotanda, G. Peller, & K. Thomas (Eds.), Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement, pp. 302–312. New York: New Press.
  • Bhopal, K. & Rhamie, J. (2014) Initial teacher training: understanding ‘race,’ diversity and inclusion, Race Ethnicity and Education, 17:3, 304-325.
  • Bhopal, K. (2019a) For whose benefit? Black and Minority Ethnic Training programmes in higher education in England, UK, BERA, PP *** (unknown)
  • Bhopal, K. & Chapman, T.K. (2019b) International minority ethnic academics at predominantly white institutions, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 98-113.
  • Boyle, W. & Charles, M. (2016) How can only 18 black teachers working in Liverpool represent a diverse teaching workforce? A critical narrative, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 20:8, 871-888.
  • Bristol City Council (2020) The Population of Bristol, April 2020, Bristol City Council Available from: (accessed on 14 April 2020)
  • Bryant, A. & Charmaz, K. (Ed.). (2010). The SAGE handbook of grounded theory. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Bush, T., Glover, D. & Sood, K. (2006) Black and Minority Ethnic Leaders in England: a portrait. School Leadership & Management, 26:3, 289-305.
  • Butt, G., MacKenzie, L. & Manning, R. (2010) Influences on British South Asian women’s choice of teaching as a career: “you’re either a career person or a family person; teaching kind of fits in the middle”, Educational Review, 62:1, 69-83.
  • Callender, C and Miller, P. (2018) Black Leaders Matter: Agency, progression and the sustainability of BME school leadership in England, Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 183-196.
  • Callender, C. and Miller, P. (2019) Eds. Race, Education and Educational Leadership in England, Bloomsbury Academic, UK.
  • Callinicos, A. (2007) Social Theory: A Historical Introduction, 2nd Ed. Polity, Cambridge, UK.
  • Carrington, B. & Skelton, C. (2003), Re-thinking ‘role models’: equal opportunities in teacher recruitment in England and Wales, Journal of education policy, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 253-265.
  • Clutterbuck, D. (2018) Chapter 19: Team Coaching, In Cox, E., Bachkirova, T. Clutterbuck, D (Ed.) (2018) The Complete Handbook of Coaching. Sage, London.
  • Cohen, B. (2019) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 20 years on, Runnymede. (Online) Available from: (Accessed on 20 January 2020)
  • Crenshaw, K. W. (1997). Color-blind dreams and racial nightmares: Reconfiguring racism in the post-Civil-Rights Era. In T. Morrison & C. B. Lacour (Eds.), Birth of a nation’hood (pp. 97–168). New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Cunningham, M. and Hargreaves, L. (2007) Minority Ethnic Teachers’ Professional Experiences, Evidence from the Teacher Status Project, London, Department for Education and Skills. (Online) Available from: (accessed on: 12 March 2020)
  • De Haan, E., Duckworth, A., Birch, D. (2013) ‘Executive Coaching Outcome Research: The Contribution of Common Factors Such as Relationship, Personality Match, and Self-Efficacy’, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 65(1): 40–57.
  • Delgado, R. & Stefancic, J. (2012) Critical Race Theory: an introduction, New York University Press: USA
  • Department for Education, (2018) Main Tables: school workforce census 2018 (online) Available from: (accessed on 11 April, 2020)
  • Department for Education, (2015) Main Tables: school workforce census 2015 (online) Available from: (accessed on 11 April, 2020)
  • Elahi, F., Finney, N. and Lymperopoulou, K. (2017) Bristol: A City Divided? Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity CoDE/ The Runnymede Trust (online). Available from: (accessed on 09 January, 2020)
  • Elliot, A. (2010) Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, Routledge, Oxon. UK.
  • Figueroa, P. (2000) Situated Ethics in Educational Research, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon.
  • Fook, J. Archibong, U. Kim, T. Aldercotte, A. (2019) Cracking the Concrete Ceiling: Tracking the impact of the Diversifying Leadership programme, Advance HE, England (online) Available from: (Accessed on 12 April 2020)
  • Foster, M & Sharp, R.R. (2002) Race, Ethnicity, and Genomics: Social Classifications as Proxies of Biological Heterogeneity, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 10.1101/gr.99202 Genome Res. 2002. 12: 844-850. (Online) Available from: (12 March 2020)
  • Geertz, C. (1975), The interpretation of cultures: selected essays, Hutchinson.
  • Gillborn, D (2005) Education policy as an act of white supremacy: whiteness, critical race theory and education reform, Journal of Education Policy, 20:4, 485-505,
  • Gillborn, D. (2008) Coincidence or conspiracy? Whiteness, policy and the persistence of the Black/White achievement gap, Educational Review, 60:3, 229-248.
  • Gillborn, D. (2010) The colour of numbers: surveys, statistics and deficit-thinking about race and class, Journal of Education Policy, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 253-276.
  • Gillborn, D. (2014) Racism as Policy: A Critical Race Analysis of Education Reforms in the United States and England, The Educational Forum, 78:1, 26-41.
  • Gillborn, D. (2018) the ‘betrayal of white pupils’ (and other lies we’re told about race and education), (Grand Challenges Lecture Series, Keele University, 23 March (online) Available from: (accessed on 12 April 2020)
  • Grant, A.M., Curtayne, L. & Burton, G. (2009). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience and workplace well-being: A randomised controlled study. Journal of Positive Psychology 4(5), 396–407.
  • Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action: Reason and the rationalization of society (Vol. 1). Cambridge, MA: Polity
  • Habermas, J. (1987). The theory of communicative action. Lifeworld and system: The critique of functionalist reasoning (Vol. 2). Cambridge, MA: Polity
  • Habermas, J., (1995) Reconciliation Through Public Use of Reason: remarks on John Rawl’s Political Liberalism, Journal of Philosophy, 92: 3 109-31.
  • Haley, H., & Sidanius, J. (2006). The Positive and Negative Framing of Affirmative Action- A Group Dominance Perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(5), 656–668.
  • Hooks, Bell (1990) Marginality as a site of resistance, in Ferguson, R., et al (Eds.), Out There: Marginalization and contemporary Cultures. Cambridge, MA: MIT, pp241-43.
  • Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Knowles, M. (1978) The Adult Learner. A Neglected species: Houston, TX: Gulf
  • Knowles, E.D., Lowery, B.S., Chow, R.M. & Unzueta, M.M. (2014), “Deny, Distance, or Dismantle? How White Americans Manage a Privileged Identity”, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 594-609.
  • Ladson-Billings, G. and Tate, W.F.I.V. (1995), “Toward a critical race theory of education”, Teachers College Record, Vol. 97 No. 1, pp. 47-68
  • Ladson-Billings, G. (2004) “Just What is Critical Race Theory and What is It Doing in a Nice Field like Education?” In The Routledge-Falmer Reader in Multicultural Education, edited by G. Ladson-Billings and D. Gillborn. London: Routledge Falmer.
  • Lander, V. (2014) Special Issue Race Ethnicity and Education: Initial teacher education: developments, dilemmas and challenges, Race Ethnicity and Education, 17:3, 299-303.
  • 2010. Equality Act 2010. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 April 2020].
  • Lewis, A. E. (2004) What Group? Studying Whites and Whiteness in the Era of “Color-Blindness”’, Sociological Theory, 22(4), pp. 623–646.
  • Lumby, J. & Coleman, M. (2007), Leadership and Diversity: Challenging Theory and Practice in Education, Sage Publications Ltd, GB.
  • Mabokela, R.O & Madsen, J.A, (2005) ‘Color Blind’ and ‘Color Conscious’ leadership: A case study of desegregated suburban schools in the USA, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 8:3, 187-206.
  • Manglitz, E. Guy, T., Merriweather, L (2006) Using counter narratives to construct a dialogue on race, positionality, and authority: Paper presented at the 36th Annual SCUTREA Conference, Trinity and All Saints College, Leeds 4-6 July.
  • Morrison, M. Lumby, J., Meringe. F., Bhopal, K. Dyke, M. (2007) Diversity, Identity and Leadership, Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL) 2020. Available from: (accessed on 15 April, 2020)
  • Macpherson, W. (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (The Stationery Office, London).
  • McNamara, O., Howson, J. Gunter, H. and Fryers, A. (2009) Supporting the Leadership Aspirations and Careers of Black and Minority Ethnic Teachers, Birmingham, NASUWT, Available from: [Accessed 20 April 2020]
  • Mezirow, J. (2000) How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.) Learning as Transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
  • Miller, P. (2016) ‘White sanction’, institutional, group and individual interaction in the promotion and progression of black and minority ethnic academics and teachers in England, Power and Education, Vol. 8(3) 205–221
  • NASUWT & Runnymede Trust & Act for Racial Justice, (2016) Visible Minorities, Invisible Teachers: BME Teachers in the Education System in England, NASUWT, Runnymede Trust. Available from: (accessed on 12 Jan 2020)
  • Omi, M. & Winant, H. 1994, Racial formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s, 2nd edn, Routledge, London; New York. Portelli, J. and Campbell-Stephens, R. (2009), Leading for Equity: The Investing in Diversity Approach, EdPhil Books, Toronto
  • Rollock, N; Gillborn, D; Vincent, C and Ball, S. (2014) The Colour of Class: the educational strategies of the Black middle classes. London: Routledge.
  • Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Solorzano, D. G., and Yosso T J (2002) Critical race methodology: counter-story telling as an analytical framework for education, Qualitative Inquiry, 8, pp. 23-44.
  • Steel, S. (2015) Race to the top: Diversity in Education, Elevations Network Trust, London: UK (online) Available from: file:///Users/clairestewart/Downloads/Race-to-The-Top-2-Diversity-In-Education1%20(1).pdf (accessed 13 February 2020)
  • Tate, W. F. (1995) Critical race theory and education: history, theory, and implications, Review of Research in Education, Vol. 22, pp. 195-247
  • Tuhiwai-Smith, T. (2012) Decolonizing Methodologies, Second Edition, Zed Books, London: UK.
  • Wang, W. & Seifert, R. (2018), BAME Staff and Public Service Motivation, The Mediating Role of Perceived Fairness in English Local Government, Journal of Business Ethics, pp. 1-12.
  • Weber, M. & Kalberg, S. (1904/2001), The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, Fitzroy Dearborn, London; Chicago.
  • Wilkins, C. & Lall, R. 2011, You’ve got to be tough and I’m trying’: Black and minority ethnic student teachers’ experiences of initial teacher education”, Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 365-386.
  • Williams, P. (1997) Seeing a Color Blind Future: The Reith Lectures, Virago, UK.
  • Wojciechowicz, A. (2013). ‘Cultural difference’ as a position-assigning pattern of interpretation of actors in the internship support of student teachers from immigrant families. In K. Bräu, V.B. Georgi, Y. Karakaolu & C. Rotter (Eds.), Teachers with a migration background. The relevance of a characteristic in theory, empiricism and practice (pp. 119–132). Münster: Waxmann.

Table of Contents