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Rethinking how we can improve the diversity of the teaching workforce in England

Feyisa Demie, School of Education, Durham University Beng Huat See, Durham Evidence Centre for Education, Durham University

The lack of black and minority ethnic (BAME) teachers and headteachers in English schools is a growing concern facing policymakers in England. In a recent conference of school leaders, Nadhim Zahawi, England’s new education secretary, commented on the lack of diversity among teaching staff, and in particular the lack of black headteachers (Adams, 2021). Lewis Hamilton (the world-renowned British Formula One racing driver) has also raised this issue with the launch of a scheme to recruit black teachers in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Kershaw, 2021). This article explores the importance of improving the diversity of the teaching workforce in England.

Why does diversity matter?

Previous research suggests a long-standing concern about the mismatch between the teacher workforce and student populations (Tereshchenko, 2020; Demie, 2019). While BAME student numbers now stand at 31 per cent (Demie, 2019; Adams 2021), the majority of school leaders (93 per cent), teachers and teaching assistants (86 per cent), and other staff (87 per cent) are White British by ethnic background in England. The Hamilton Commission (Morgan & Scarlett, 2021) found that 46 per cent of schools in England had no racially diverse teachers at all – a point reinforced by Lewis Hamilton who said that he had no black teachers throughout his education (see Kershaw, 2021).

Diversity in the teaching workforce matters if we want to raise the attainment of BAME pupils. In national exams in England, such as the general certificate of secondary education (GCSE), the lowest attaining pupils are the Gypsy/Roma and Irish travellers, followed by those from Black Carribbean background (DfE, 2021). Having teachers as role models for these children can help raise their aspiration, tackle educational inequality and close the achievement gap. Black and minority ethnic teachers also bring different perspectives and life experiences, exposing our children to cultural diversity, which reflects the languages, cultures and ethnic background of the local community and society at large. Staff of BAME heritage should be represented across the school and within the leadership team (regardless of the demographic of the school population) as this brings a rich cultural diversity to the school community, and fosters better understanding and tolerance among different groups of children.

‘Staff of BAME heritage should be represented across the school and within the leadership team – regardless of the demographic of the school population – as this brings a rich cultural diversity to the school community, and fosters better understanding and tolerance among different groups of children.’

While we recognise the positive impact of a diverse teaching workforce, there have been no rigorous studies in England on how this could be achieved. This is despite much comprehensive research into the widespread concern into the complex determinants of teacher demand and supply in England and other countries (See et al., 2020, 2021; Morris et al., 2021).

In England, policy for improving the recruitment and retention of BAME teachers is patchy (Tereshchenko et al., 2020). Currently, there are policies and research on closing attainment gaps of White working-class boys (Education Select Committee, 2021), but few about improving outcomes for BAME children, perhaps because they constitute only a small proportion of the pupil population. To address this concern about the diversity and disproportionality of BAME school leaders and the teaching workforce in England, we are encouraging other researchers to undertake the following research.

  • Analyse the overall demographic changes and trends in the teaching workforce since 1990 in the United Kingdom, by types of school, local authorities and economic regions to understand the scale and direction of these trends.
  • Identify the barriers and good practices in developing recruitment and retention of BAME teachers.

References

Adams, R. (2021, 9 October). Not enough black headteachers in England says Nadhim Zahawi. Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/oct/09/not-enough-black-headteachers-in-england-says-nadhim-zahawi

Demie, F. (2019). Educational inequality: Closing the gap. University College London Press.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2021). GCSE results: Attainment 8. https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/education-skills-and-training/11-to-16-years-old/gcse-results-attainment-8-for-children-aged-14-to-16-key-stage-4/latest

Education Select Committee. (2021). Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. https://committees.parliament.uk/work/237/left-behind-white-pupils-from-disadvantaged-backgrounds/publications/

Kershaw, T. (2021, 5 October). Lewis Hamilton launches project to recruit black teachers in STEM subjects. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/motor-racing/formula1/lewis-hamilton-black-teachers-stem-b1932489.html

Morgan, R., & Scarlett, Y. (2021) Accelerating change: Improving representation of black people in UK motorsport. The Hamilton Commission and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

See, B. H., Gorard, S., Morris, R., & El-Soufi, N. (2020). How to recruit and retain teachers in hard-to-staff areas: A systematic review of the empirical evidence. In T. Ovenden-Hope & Passy, R. Abingdon (Eds.), Exploring teacher recruitment and retention (pp. 148–162). Taylor & Francis.

See, B. H., Morris, R., Gorard, S., & El Soufi, N. (2021). What works in attracting and retaining teachers in challenging schools and areas? Oxford Review of Education, 46(6), 678–697. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03054985.2020.1775566 

Morris, R., See, B. H. & Gorard, S. (2021). Teacher shortage in England: New evidence for understanding and addressing current challenges. Impact: Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching. https://impact.chartered.college/article/teacher-shortage-in-england-new-evidence-understanding-challenges/

Tereshchenko, A., Mills, M.,& Bradbury, A. (2020). Making progress? Employment and retention of BAME teachers in England. UCL Institute of Education. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/awx3v