Recent debates in education about diversity and equality in representation on conference panels, in particular, has raised questions concerning how well the wider profession deals with racism at work.
This is undoubtedly a good thing. 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.
Yet there’s little doubt that education as a profession has issues around racism. A 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.”
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.”
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 colleges 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…1) If you are in any way affected by the issues discussed here, the Equality Advisory and Support Service may be able to help.
2) 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. @renireni
About the author
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. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.