Visible and Invisible Barriers: The Impact of Racism on BME teachers

NUT Conference 2017

An NUT/Runnymede Trust report

14 April 2017

The report presents the findings of a survey and in-depth focus groups looking at the experiences of Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BME) teachers in England.

The survey for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) was conducted by the Runnymede Trust.

The questionnaire was open for seven weeks between 28 April 2016 and 17 June 2016.

A total of 1,027 BME teachers responded to the survey. Focus group interviews were conducted with 15 BME teachers from different geographical locations and stages of schooling. Percentages quoted are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Key findings
This new report found that Black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers:

  • Are given stereotypical tasks like Black History Month rather than wider teaching and learning responsibilities.
  • Face regular “micro-aggressions” and are viewed as troublemakers and aggressive if they challenge decisions;
  • Experience lack of support from their line-managers in terms of career progression and dealing with racist incidents.
  • Face invisible glass ceilings and encounter attitudes amongst senior teaching staff that they “have a certain level” and are incapable of going beyond that.
  • Many BME teachers felt that not all racism and discrimination experienced in schools was deliberate. A change to day to day practices of senior leadership teams could stop many BME staff being unwittingly excluded from their teams and decision making.
  • BME teachers were passionate about their role as teachers but felt “overburdened” and demoralised by recent reforms to pay and current capability procedures.

1. While many BME teachers were positive and felt supported by the senior leadership in their schools, many also reported feeling isolated and lacking in management support with regard to their career progression and racist incidences.

The survey showed that:

  • Just half of BME respondents based in primary schools agreed with the statement “my manager values my contribution and recognises my strengths.”  In secondary school, this drops to 44%.
  • The majority of BME teachers did not feel positive about the appraisal system: only 30% of BME teachers working in primary school and 23% of BME teachers working in secondary school agreed the appraisal system is “supportive rather than punitive.”
  • Less than half of BME teachers in primary and secondary school agree with the statement “my line manager supports me in my career development and progression” (42% and 40% respectively).
  • Only a third of BME teachers in primary and secondary schools agreed that their school was “proactive in identifying and responding to racism affecting pupils in their school.”

2. A third of the sample had never applied for promotion. A disproportionate number of teachers who had never applied for promotion were female (over 80%). Overall, most respondents had applied 1-3 times although men were still more likely than females to apply.

3. BME teachers from all ethnic groups complained about being given stereotypical responsibilities (e.g. behaviour responsibilities or Black History Month) instead of challenging or intellectual Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) roles. Black teachers, in particular, spoke about being labelled “troublemakers” or being viewed as “aggressive” if they challenged any decisions.

4. Structural barriers such as racism, including assumptions about capability based on racial/ethnic stereotypes were everyday experiences for BME teachers. In particular, BME teachers spoke about an invisible glass-ceiling and a widespread perception among senior leadership teams (SLT) that BME teachers “have a certain level and don’t go beyond it.”

5. Overall, the experience of many BME teachers within schools was a feeling of isolation and lack of management support. However, there were also a significant minority of teachers who felt collectively supported by their SLT.  For example, there were reports of zero tolerance to racism by head teachers and leaders within schools.

Diverse staff team has impact on environment for pupils and staff
6. A higher proportion of BME staff in a school was associated with respondents feeling that the ‘school was an inclusive and welcoming environment for staff of all ethnic backgrounds.’

Annex C:  In schools with less than 5% of BME staff, 41% agreed with this statement - but in schools where more than 40% of staff were BME, 68% of staff agreed that “school was an inclusive and welcoming environment for staff of all ethnic backgrounds.”

7. A higher proportion of BME pupils in a school was associated with lower proportions of respondents (teachers) feeling that the “school was an inclusive and welcoming environment for students of all ethnic backgrounds.”

Annex C:  47% (almost half) of BME teachers agreed the school was an inclusive welcoming environment for students of all ethnic backgrounds where the school had less than 5% of pupils who were BME. In schools where more than 80% of pupils were BME, only 34% of BME teachers agreed the school is an inclusive environment for these pupils.

8. There was widespread agreement amongst BME participants that there should be more BME staff in the school workforce generally.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:
“Racism is not discussed enough in schools, even at a time when intolerance is increasing within society. These findings remind us that it is a defining feature of BME teachers’ lives and deeply affects the experience of young black people. It is urgent we open up conversations about racism in staff rooms, in classrooms and in the curriculum.

“The Government has starved local authorities of the funds and remit they need to sustain the race equality teams which supported schools and developed anti-racist education and professional development opportunities. It has given no thought to what to put in their place. 

“This report shows us the cost of the gap between the proportion of BME teachers and BME pupils, which is getting wider because diversity in teaching is not keeping pace with pupil demographics. Alongside a proper strategy to recruit and retain enough teachers, Government needs a credible strategy for attracting sufficient BME teachers.

“Children come to school in a world that is not equal. BME teachers and pupils face racism in the streets, in popular culture and in employment. Strategies to better use the potential of schools and colleges to reduce racism are urgently needed. The NUT will be using the good practice identified in schools via this research to develop practical tools for schools to challenge the effects of racism.” 

Dr Zubaida Haque, research associate at the Runnymede Trust, said:
“Government and school leaders should be concerned that over 60% of Black and ethnic minority (BME) teachers are thinking of leaving the teaching profession. Our survey found that BME teachers were not only overwhelmed with the mountain of paperwork but they are also beaten down by the everyday ‘micro-aggressions’ in the staff room and the low expectations and support by senior staff in their schools. This has led to BME teachers feeling undervalued, isolated and disillusioned with their careers.

Editor's Note
The full report and annexes can be found here.

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