Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights - anti-racist policy making: review

Findings of a research programme into Scottish race equality strategies since 2000. The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) was commissioned to support the implementation of this review, with a focus on exploring opportunities for better practice.

Education and Lifelong Learning

Race Equality Framework for Scotland Vision

Everyone has the opportunity to learn in an inclusive environment without disadvantage in relation to racial inequality or racism


14. Innovative, inclusive and effective approaches to education (whether through teaching or pupil support) which take account of the differing needs and experiences of pupils in all ethnic groups are embedded throughout Scotland's education system

15. Minority ethnic pupils are provided with careers guidance that helps to improve transition into employment and tackles occupational segregation

16. Minority ethnic pupils have confidence in, and are effectively supported by, approaches in school to prevent and respond to prejudice‑based bullying and racist behaviour or incidents

17. Scotland's educators are confident and empowered to promote equality, foster good relations and prevent and deal with racism

18. Scotland's education workforce better reflects the diversity of its communities

19. Minority ethnic people experience better outcomes in completing further and higher education, and in transitioning to the labour market after completion

Key themes

Race equality actions and commitments were recorded 105 times in relation to education across the range of documents studied. Given the importance of equality in education and the range of potential issues within education policy, this is perhaps less than would be expected.

A significant number of these actions and commitments related to considering race equality within a mainstream area of policy; 21 commitments of this nature were made, often without any significant reflection of race equality issues (for example committing to publishing revised policies which would benefit everyone, including minority ethnic people).

The second highest number of actions or commitments were on capacity building on race equality within the education sector.

Capacity building related commitments included:

  • Educational leadership programmes including content on everyday racism, bias and institutional racism
  • Improving the availability of anti-racist and diversity focussed curriculum resources
  • Development of guidance and best practice sharing resources
  • Making training relevant to race equality available from Initial Teacher Education stage onwards

The tone of capacity building commitments changed significantly over time in this area, unlike some other areas where the tone has been consistent throughout. For example, an early strategy from 2001 only went so far as to commit to 'consider whether further curriculum advice should be provided regarding diversity', whereas recent strategies have been more explicit about the need for capacity building on issues including institutional racism throughout the education sector.

Improving the availability of data was the subject of 14 education commitments, whilst diversity in the education sector (and especially within the teaching profession itself) was the subject of 13 commitments. The Teaching in a Diverse Scotland strategy, published in 2019, boosted the focus on this.[31]

Further topics covered by actions and commitments on education included:

  • The role of audit and inspection in regard to race equality
  • Careers guidance within school settings
  • Specific activities to improve educational outcomes for Gypsy/Traveller learners
  • Involving minority ethnic people in education policy and school life, particularly parents
  • Addressing prejudice-based bullying and racist incidents
  • Factors such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) requirements and experience of harassment impacting adult learners in Further and Higher Education

Some evidence of change relating to education can be found within progress reporting. The consistent availability of attendance data by ethnicity over time makes this one of the more measurable indicators, however clear information is rarely given in relation to groups who are disadvantaged in attendance, particularly Gypsy/Travellers. In one progress report, increases in attendance for higher attending ethnic groups (Chinese and Indian learners) are given in percentage terms, whilst for Gypsy/Travellers, attendance is only said to be 'improving.'

Attainment data tends not to show disadvantages for most minority ethnic groups, but again, Gypsy/Traveller learners and those in the 'other' ethnicity category are particularly disadvantaged. Reporting through race equality strategy progress updates rarely addresses this in detail, so the degree of change over time is unclear.

Positively, early progress reports showed considerable gains in take-up for vocational learning by minority ethnic groups, with the proportion enrolled trebling over the period 1999 – 2002. Progress was also made in the availability (and thus presumably uptake) of ESOL courses due to a large increase in funding for this over 2007 – 2009.

Evidence on inequalities and change over time

Key Issues:

  • Minority ethnic people experience variable outcomes in relation to education, with significant differences between ethnic groups in terms of attainment and post-school destinations
  • Gypsy/Traveller educational outcomes are among the worst in Scottish education, with fewer qualifications gained, lower attendance rates, higher exclusion rates and fewer individuals progressing to positive destinations
  • High educational attainment in minority ethnic groups is coupled with a range of negative factors and experiences related to racism and structural discrimination which impact their experience in education, particularly within schools
  • Whilst schools are becoming more ethnically diverse, the teaching workforce does not reflect this
  • High educational attainment does not translate to labour market advantage for minority ethnic people


In the 13 years between 2006 and 2019 the ethnicity of pupils in Scotland has changed, with the number and percent of BME pupils increasing significantly (see Figures 8 and 9).

The number of pupils from a Bangladeshi, Chinese, other Asian or mixed ethnic background have roughly doubled, whilst pupils from an Indian or Black African or Caribbean background have more than doubled. Pupils from a Pakistani background have also increased, making up 2% of school pupils in 2019, up from 1.3%.


As the number of BME pupils in Scotland's schools has increased, minority ethnic teachers have remained significantly underrepresented in Scotland's schools.

In 2008, 0.9% of the teaching workforce in primary schools and 1.9% in secondary schools came from a minority ethnic background.[32] There has been negligible progress over time; in 2019 1.2% of the teaching workforce in primary schools and 1.9% in secondary schools came from a minority ethnic background.[33]

This compares with a minority ethnic population of 4% in Scotland according to the (now significantly outdated) 2011 Census and is also significantly lower than the percent of BME pupils in Scotland's schools.

Minority ethnic teachers are also underrepresented in promoted posts - 0.5% and 0.9% in primary and secondary schools respectively in 2019.[34]


Pupil exclusion rates by ethnicity were previously published, but no longer appear to be published by the Scottish Government so an up-to-date analysis is not possible.

Previous data from 2013 had suggested that exclusions may be a particular issue for Gypsy/Traveller pupils,[35] however a lack of consistent data means it is not clear if this is the case year on year. In 2014-15, the pupil exclusions by ethnicity dataset had no information on rates for Gypsy/Traveller pupils,[36] however in 2017 data shows that Gypsy/Travellers had the highest exclusion rate at about double the average rate (27 exclusions per 1,000 pupils compared to 53 per 1,000 for Gypsy/Traveller pupils).[37]

Free School Meals

Previously, data on free school meals was available disaggregated by ethnicity, but no longer appears to be published by the Scottish Government so a comparison over time is not possible.

Data from 2007 had shown that students from a mixed, other Asian, Black African, other Black, Occupational Traveller, Gypsy/Traveller, other Traveller, or 'other' ethnic group were more likely than the average to register for free school meals.[38]

Racism and Bullying

Research has highlighted the widespread existence of both subtle everyday racism and overt racism within schools, impacting pupils and teachers. In the Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee's 2017 inquiry into bullying in schools, teachers reported that bullying based on race is the most frequent type of prejudice-based bullying.[39] The inquiry also uncovered serious concerns about inconsistencies in teachers' understanding of (and responses to) prejudice-based bullying.

CRER research in 2012 and 2018 on racist incident reporting in schools identified significant weaknesses in policy, a lack of coherence across Scottish Local Authority areas and insufficiencies in recording and monitoring of racist incidents in schools.[40] [41]

There is no mandatory national approach to recording and monitoring of prejudice based bullying incidents, with data voluntarily collected at local levels but not reported nationally. This makes it difficult to provide a baseline or analysis of change over time. BBC Scotland reported 1,274 racist incidents in Scottish schools between 2011 and 2012 – 730 in primary schools and 544 in secondary schools.[42] A recent FOI found that between the 2017/18 and 2019/20 academic years there were 2,251 instances of racism in schools.[43]

Attainment and positive destinations

BME pupils in Scotland's schools have historically had high rates of attainment overall. However, exam results are not the only important aspect of school; pupils need a supportive educational experience which promotes equality and builds confidence. Additionally, effective careers guidance is critical for young people preparing to leave school.

As can be seen in Figure 10, from 2009-2019 BME pupils have generally had high rates of positive initial destinations amongst school leavers.[44]

However, pupils whose ethnicity is recorded as 'all other categories'[45] have tended to have slightly lower percentages of positive initial destinations over the ten years.

Data on achievement for Curriculum for Excellency levels related to literacy and numeracy in primary schools shows strong performance rates for BME pupils, and this continues through to secondary school.[46] Scottish Government statistics showing percentage of school leavers by attainment and ethnicity show that over the period 2009/10 to 2019/20, BME students have generally left school with high levels of attainment.[47] In particular, and consistently, students from Chinese backgrounds have the highest level of attainment across the ten years.

Despite high attainment levels at school and rates of entry to further and higher education, statistically, BME people are not receiving the labour market advantages which should be expected from their positive educational outcomes. In 2017, The Life Chances of Young People in Scotland was published with a focus on the transition from school to adulthood.[48] The report noted:

  • BME people with good qualifications face greater barriers to finding work which matches their qualifications compared with the white majority ethnic population
  • Compared with white young adults, BME young adults have lower rates of employment
  • Pupils from most BME groups have higher educational attainment than pupils from white groups, with BME young people having a higher rate of participation in education, training, and employment than the national average
  • BME young people are more likely to continue in education, particularly higher education, compared to their white counterparts

Young BME people are less likely to be in employment than their white counterparts. In 2020, 7% of BME 16-19-year-olds were in employment compared to 19% of white 16-19 year olds.[49] The rates in 2019 and 2018 are almost identical, confirming a trend over the last five years since the first data is available in 2015, where 8% of BME young people were in employment compared to 19% of white young people.[50]

Patterns of lower employment in this age group can partially be attributed to a higher proportion of BME young people in education. However, this lower employment rate persists after the age young people generally leave college and university.

Statistics from the Annual Population Survey 2019 show that the gap in the employment rate for minority ethnic people was largest for ages 16 to 24 (26.1 percentage points), followed by ages 25 to 34 (25.3 percentage points) with lower rates for older groups.[51] Significantly these are the years where career establishment, progress and development generally take place. Youth unemployment has been found to have a long term 'scarring' effect on future earning potentials and increases the likelihood of recurrent unemployment.

Unemployment and underemployment are relatively high for BME groups, including for BME graduates. Recent statistics released in 2020 on post-graduation destinations highlighted disparate outcomes for BME graduates compared to white graduates in Scotland. CRER analysis found BME graduates in Scotland are less likely to go into full time employment and are up to three times more likely to be unemployed compared to white graduates.[52]

Ensuring that further and higher educational attainment leads to appropriate labour market outcomes is essential to address racial inequality.

Further Education

A Joseph Rowntree Foundation study found that minority ethnic groups were overrepresented in the further education sector, which is disparate with their relatively lower participation in higher education and their overall higher rates of attainment at school-leaving age.[53]

Data collected by the Scottish Government from 2009/10 to 2019/20 on school leavers and initial destination categories seems to support this.[54] In particular, further education is a common destination for those from Pakistani, other Asian or African/Black/Caribbean backgrounds, representing around a third of leavers from these groups each year.

Previous CRER research has suggested that certain ethnicities may withdraw from further education at greater rates, with high rates found amongst those from Caribbean, other Asian, African, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese and other ethnic groups.[55] However statistics are not consistently available over time to analyse if this is a trend year on year.

Higher Education

Previous CRER research has also suggested that certain ethnicities may withdraw from higher education at greater rates, with high rates for Black students and students from 'other' ethnic groups.[56] Again, these statistics are not available over time.

In 2019, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report on racial harassment in universities in the UK, including Scotland.[57] The report found that:

  • Racial harassment is a common experience for students and staff at universities
  • Students and staff experience a broad spectrum of racial harassment, including verbal abuse, exposure to racist material, exclusion and less obvious forms such as microaggressions
  • 1 in 20 students said they left their studies due to racial harassment
  • 3 in 20 staff said racial harassment caused them to leave their jobs.
  • Most students and staff do not report racial harassment
  • Universities do not have a clear picture about much of the racial harassment that is taking place and are uninformed about the impact of their policies

Following the Equality and Human Rights Commission's report, the University of Glasgow investigated racism on their campus, finding that half of minority ethnic students had suffered harassment.[58]

Gypsy/Traveller Pupils

One common limitation of Scottish Government education datasets, including those on educational attainment, is that no data is provided for Gypsy/Travellers pupils. It is not clear why this is the case, given that detailed performance data for the educational attainment outcome are available otherwise for specific ethnic groups. Evidence suggests that Gypsy/Traveller learners may experience worse outcomes in many areas of education, and lack of data means that inequality for this particularly marginalised group of pupils cannot be effectively tracked.

Some information is available for this group regarding level of qualifications upon leaving school. A two-year average from the 2014/15 and 2015/16 leavers' data showed:[59]

  • 23.9% of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' left school with no qualifications at SCQF level 3 or higher, compared to 2.1% for all publicly funded secondary school leavers
  • 43.3% of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' left school with 1 or more qualifications at SCQF level 5, compared to 85.4% for all secondary school leavers
  • 74.6% of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' were in a positive follow up destination, compared to 91.7% for all publicly funded secondary school leavers

There is a correlation between attendance and attainment. Pupils with the lowest rates of attendance statistically demonstrate the highest rates of underachievement. In Scotland, overall, school attendance rates have remained relatively stable in the last few years, with little significant differences between ethnicities except for Gypsy/Traveller pupils. Gypsy/Traveller pupils enrolled in school have the lowest attendance rates of any ethnic group at 78.8% in 2016/17 compared to the 93.3% Scotland average.[60]

Early Years Education and Childcare

Research has suggested that access to appropriate childcare provision may be an issue for some BME families. The Scottish Government's report 'Growing up in Scotland: Birth Cohort 2' found that families in which the respondent was white were more likely to be using childcare than those where the respondent was from a non-white ethnic background (53% vs 33% respectively).[61]

The Scottish Government publish data on some demographic figures for early learning and childcare (ELC) registrations, however, ethnicity is not currently published.[62] Without this, it is hard to establish a baseline of the level of access for BME families and to see if measures like the recent move to diversify the workforce are creating progress.

There is a current underrepresentation of BME individuals within the ELC workforce; data from 2018 suggests that only 1% of the ELC workforce are from BME backgrounds.[63]

In its 'Poverty and Ethnicity: Key Messages for Scotland' report, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation noted that childcare and early education plays an important role in preventing and reducing poverty.[64]

Research in 2018 by Close the Gap highlighted how, for BME women, childcare responsibilities are a key barrier to entering and progressing within employment:[65]

  • BME women find it difficult to plan work around childcare and can feel forced to use sick leave and annual leave to manage their caring roles due to the inflexibility of both working practices and childcare provision
  • Accessing affordable, appropriate childcare is a particular challenge for some recent migrant BME women; the absence of informal networks to help with childcare can limit their ability to enter the workforce or increase their working hours
  • Some BME women did not feel comfortable using formal childcare or may be unaware of the services available to them
  • BME women reported a lack of cultural sensitivity, which in part is a cause and consequence of a lack of workforce diversity; the early years workforce in Scotland is overwhelmingly white

Considerations for future policy

Scottish Government has been undertaking stakeholder engagement work on race equality in education over 2020-21, which is expected to generate actions for future policy. A common thread running throughout the various issues being examined is capacity building for teachers on race equality. Analysis shows that there has been significant policy emphasis on this over the years, but without identifying measurable change through progress reporting.

The size and complexity of the education sector in Scotland means that significant effort and investment is needed to undertake meaningful and sustainable work on race equality. This is reflected in the breadth of goals on education set out in the Race Equality Framework. It is suggested that Scottish Government may want to consider the following opportunities for future policy:

  • Developing quality, consistent and sustainable approaches to capacity building on race equality from Initial Teacher Education stage onwards
  • Evaluating the work undertaken in support of the Teaching in a Diverse Scotland agenda to identify what has been achieved, where the gaps are and what more needs to be done to improve diversity in teaching
  • Reviewing the effectiveness of the current voluntary approach to recording and monitoring prejudice-based bullying and racist incidents using SEEMiS, with a view to improving this and consideration of the potential to develop a mandatory approach
  • Investigating how schools and teachers address racist bullying and racist incidents in order to identify opportunities to strengthen good practice and eliminate poor practice
  • Reviewing the availability and use in policy making of education data disaggregated by ethnicity (particularly relating to Gypsy/Traveller pupils, but also datasets where disaggregation has regressed such as exclusions and free school meals)
  • Building on the work begun by Education Scotland to look at the race equality implications of Curriculum for Excellence and how it can strengthen diversity in the curriculum, anti-racist learning opportunities and approaches to improve the wellbeing of minority ethnic pupils
  • Working with ELC providers to increase access to ELC for minority ethnic families



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