Tackling racism in teaching

Theresa May has vowed to tackle racism, following a ground-breaking report by the The Equality and Human Rights Commission on the extent of prejudice in Britain today.

– Ethnic minorities are twice as likely to be unemployed than white British adults
– White people, Indians and Pakistanis are more likely to own their own homes
– Black women are more than seven times more likely to be held under mental health laws than white women
– White boys perform most poorly in exams at age 11

This data is important for two key reasons for schools: racism impacts the learners and is also visible in the treatment of school staff as they move through their career.

This report will now be used to inform a project to identify 20 regional ‘hotspots’ which ministers will target to introduce measures, which could include offering work placements, English, maths and vocational training for ethnic minorities. The investigation will also look at how white, working class boys are disadvantaged by the school system.

Visible Minorities, Invisible Teachers?

Another report published earlier this year by the NASUWT and the Runnymede Trust, Visible Minorities, Invisible Teachers: BME Teachers in the Education System in England, found that “BME teachers have poor experiences across the school system”. The report states that, “whilst the levels of educational attainment and degrees have improved significantly for people from BME backgrounds, these successes have not translated into improved labour-market outcomes. The NASUWT believes that this problem is particularly pertinent to the teaching profession.”

The report is well worth reading in its entirety, but it raises some difficult truths: “The NASUWT continues to find evidence of everyday racism in schools and colleges, discrimination, harassment, ostracism, lack of pay progression, and BME teachers being held back from promotion. As these concerns have been examined in more depth, it is increasingly clear that they remain deep-rooted, endemic and institutionalised.”

Zero tolerance

It’s obvious that we need change in employment practices as well as a far more nuanced understanding of how racism operates. But this isn’t easy to achieve. Benjamin Doxtdator, who teaches at The International School of Brussels and writes about education at longviewoneducation.org and @doxtdatorb on Twitter, explains that “It can be difficult to discuss racism in schools when we focus on individual attitudes and intentions. Conversations easily turn to “I’m not a racist”, and white people too often expect to be taught, instead of doing the hard work of learning about how larger systems, power, and histories oppress people of colour. This work is difficult, uncomfortable, and necessary.”

This need for each and every one of us to face up to the reality of racism in education is echoed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). A spokesperson from the EHRC told me that: “We are committed to challenging intolerance and racism in the workplace. As our recent report ‘Healing a divided Britain’ has shown, ethnic minorities tend to earn less, overall, than white people. The drivers of low pay for specific groups are numerous and complex, and may include discrimination and unfair treatment. In 2016 we joined forces with a coalition of business organisations to call on employers to show leadership in challenging intolerance and to ensure employees who may be experiencing racism in the workplace feel supported. It’s up to all of us to work together to show a zero-tolerance approach to racism, both inside of work and out.”

Making sure that the profession has such debates, and moves forwards in ensuring that conference speakers and panels, and arguably more importantly, jobs in our schools, colleges and universities have diverse representation, will help us to make progress.

What to focus on

The NASUWT and Runnymede Trust report, Visible Minorities, Invisible Teachers: BME Teachers in the Education System in England, suggests that there should be a “concerted effort across he education system to Act for Racial Justice in schools”. It states that this should consist of:

1. Challenging racism in schools and across the education system
2. Meaningful actions to close the gap between equality policies and practice
3. A national conversation about racism in the education system

Without such a conversation, we are committing to the status quo. Is that really the best we can do?

Find out more…

– If you are in any way affected by the issues discussed here, the Equality Advisory and Support Service may be able to help. In addition, the Education Support Partnership, the UK’s only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff and organisations, is there for anyone in the sector, who can call their free, confidential helpline if experiencing any issues or challenges they may wish to talk through with an expert counsellor. The helpline, 08000 562561, is available 24/7.

– Follow @BAMEedNetwork on twitter
– Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” is published by Bloomsbury Circus and discusses the existence of structural racism and its symptoms.


Author: Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth holmes photo

After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.

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3 thoughts on “Tackling racism in teaching

  1. Mrs May is looking for political/votets support only. Shame on her for using equality as a excuse and for trying to use ethnic minorities as tools. Pretending she care about ethnic minorities she wants to make ethnic minotities to dislike european citicens.

  2. Discrimination in England is at its record high and this is happening right now in many of our schools. Nonwhite British and children of foreign descent are systematically given low GCSE targets to hold them in lower sets in schools and to ensure they do not achieve high grades, hence smashing their life chances. I am myself an English teacher in this country, but despite producing excellent exam results year in and year out, and being observed as an outstanding English teacher for years, I have never been considered for any promotion. Instead, after working for 5 years in the same school, I have been so unfairly treated by the school and the people in my department that I eventually had to resign. I have now been on countless interviews for a new teaching role, however, it seems the prospective employers write me off the minute they hear my accent. They stop at my accent even before considering my prior achievements as an experienced teacher. Before being black, white, yellow…we are first and foremost human, and we all deserve to be treated equally!

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