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Blog post Part of series: Education, #BlackLivesMatter and racial justice in the UK and beyond

The uncomfortable and destabilising realities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students on an initial teacher education course

Anna Olsson-Rost, Manchester Metropolitan University Yvonne Sinclair, Manchester Metropolitan University Diane Warner, Manchester Metropolitan University

As a major provider of teacher education in the north west of England, we want to develop inclusive and anti-racist practices that will allow us to provide the best possible quality of experience for our Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students. We therefore believe that it is essential to draw upon their testimonies when we design our courses. When we recruit BAME students, we want them to feel confident that we have not just listened to students’ experiences, but that the insights gained from their contributions have informed our practices.

In our discussions concerning how to develop these practices, we have found that powerful neoliberal discourses frequently take priority in the strategic planning and development of our courses. The new initial teacher education framework, the teacher standards and Ofsted are all prominent influences when it comes to course development in ITE. Unfortunately, how to advance anti-racist practices to enhance experiences of BAME students, have not been prominent drivers in these developments to date.

‘The new ITE framework, the teacher standards and Ofsted are all prominent influences when it comes to course development in ITE. Unfortunately, how to advance anti-racist practices to enhance experiences of BAME students, have not been prominent drivers in these developments to date.’

As Maylor (2015, p. 29) has rightly pointed out, ‘the British government determines which type of teacher knowledge is privileged’, and this certainly influences the design of our courses. We fear that unless we challenge these powerful discourses, they could prove detrimental to the development of more inclusive and anti-racist practices. This is why we want to utilise student testimonies to inform our courses.

Our knowledge and work are given impetus by troubling retention rates for BAME student teachers. Between 2015 and 2018 the retention rate for BAME secondary students was consistently 4 per cent and 5 per cent lower than that for White students, and while significantly improved for 2018–19, in-year data for 2019–20 indicates a rate 10 per cent lower.

In a semi-structured discussion, a focus group of secondary BAME student teachers (2018–19) talked about their experiences while on the programme (Doran, 2019). They revealed examples of microaggressions and overt racism, and in particular from their White student peers. They recounted use of racist language such as ‘Paki’ and the N-word in student-only, often informal, group situations where they were the sole Black or Asian student, leaving them uncomfortable and forced to make decisions about how and whether or not to respond.

In school contexts, one young Black female student reported how she’d learnt that her school mentor thought her ‘aggressive’ and had stated she felt ‘afraid’ to be alone with her. The student’s distress was compounded when seeking support from her university tutor, who responded that she too perceived her as aggressive (showing no awareness of the damaging trope of the ‘angry Black woman’). The students also felt racist incidents witnessed in schools were played down and/or inappropriately addressed. In one recalled instance, one pupil had name-called another pupil ‘Black monkey’ yet both pupils were removed from the classroom.

The students made two specific recommendations: more university sessions addressing diversity, race and racism, ‘not just one or two’ (Doran, 2019, p. 3) and that incidences of racism, especially among student teachers, be unequivocally dealt with.

We can see that these and other stories of burden and racial difficulty experienced by BAME student teachers are persistent and real. We hear variations and repetitions each year which is disheartening for us but at times devastating for them. In addition to Doran (2019) other literature relates their struggles to ally their racial heritage with their teacher training, obstacles and setbacks on school placements leading to self-doubt and disillusionment and little interest, even embarrassment from White peers and tutors (Warner, 2018). These issues of racism, microaggressions and other exclusionary realities are further compounded by the silence and erasure of critical education about race and racism in schools.

We understand that these problems unfortunately persist in the current climate of standardisation and our responsibility is how we, as tutors, listen and respond to the students, university systems and to schools’ partners to achieve impactful change. These actions, and more, are crucial to ensure BAME student teachers complete their courses, feel fully accepted, thrive and are recognised as valuable, rather than be assigned the roles of stereotyped or stigmatised ‘others’. Teacher education and the teacher workforce need to embrace BAME teachers as knowledgeable and skilled participants otherwise they will remain sidelined and underemployed leading to the lack of a properly developed critical education for all pupils (Alexander, Arday, & Weekes-Bernard, 2015). Teachers should and must represent all of society, and it is key that BAME student teachers are seen and treated as fully part of their teacher education course and subsequently the teaching profession.


References 

Doran, E. (2019). Draft report on the experiences of BAME PGCE (secondary) student teachers at Manchester Metropolitan University 2018/19 (Unpublished report). 

Maylor, U.  (2015). Challenging cultures in initial teacher education. In C. Alexander, J. Arday, & D. Weekes-Bernard (Eds.), The Runnymede school report – Race, education and inequality in contemporary Britain. London: Runnymede Perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/The%20School%20Report.pdf 

Warner, D. (2018). The unrecognised: A study of how some Black and minority ethnic student teachers face the challenges of initial teacher education in England (Unpublished PhD thesis). Lancaster University, Lancaster. Retrieved from https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.768186