Teaching in a diverse Scotland - increasing and retaining minority ethnic teachers: 3 years on

This report outlines the progress and challenges faced in implementing the seventeen recommendations of the Teaching in a Diverse Scotland report, and outlines the work still to be undertaken to achieve the aim of a teaching profession, which reflects the diversity of Scotland's population.

3. Key messages

3.1 Diversifying the teaching profession is relevant for all areas of Scotland

While the presence of Black and minority ethnic teachers has been shown by research to benefit Black and minority ethnic pupils (see for example Egalite et al (2015)[14]; Gershenson et al (2017)[15], educator diversity can lead to more positive outcomes for all students. Black and minority ethnic teachers bring different perspectives, life experiences and provide students who may not be familiar with diversity the opportunity to learn from difference and to become more comfortable with diversities. Having a diverse teaching workforce must be understood as a necessary asset for all.

The misconception that race equality issues matter more for areas of higher ethnic diversity needs debunked. Ethnic majority pupils and young people in all areas are in as much need for exposure to diversity as part of preparation for future life and work. Failure by those who shape, lead and provide education services to grapple with this is to limit the opportunities for these children and young people.

All schools in Scotland need to engage with this issue irrespective of the demographic of their own population. Local authorities and schools themselves can play a fundamental role in addressing this issue but many require a much greater engagement in order to do so, particularly those for where there are lower numbers of Black and minority ethnic people and where race equality is perceived as less relevant.

3.2 The issue of race equality needs to be addressed explicitly

It is acknowledged that consideration of any equality, diversity and inclusion work will take account of race equality. However, Scottish Government engagement with Black and minority ethnic young people, parents and communities since summer 2020, including engagement with the Government Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity, has raised a range of concerns from stakeholders including:

  • Racism and bullying faced by children and young people, teachers and lecturers in Scotland's schools and how this is addressed.
  • Diversity in the Teaching Profession and Leadership - lack of diversity of representation at all levels and the lack of racial awareness is affecting the confidence and competence of the profession in being pro-active to deliver for race equality and addressing racism.
  • Curriculum – concerns around consistency, breadth and depth of teaching about Black history and heritage including Scotland's role in colonialism and the slave trade.
  • Anti-racism – separate to Black history, is not explicitly set out in the curriculum, representation of diversity across the curriculum and the need to have anti-racism education.

What this informs us is that a 'business as usual' approach to inclusion is insufficient. There is a need for all involved in the shaping and delivery of Scottish education to consider the issues raised above specifically, to consider action required and then to move to mainstream these issues and actions into the generic equality, diversity and inclusion framework.

3.3 Recognising and counteracting racial microaggressions

Everyone accepts that being bullied or harassed as a result of an individual's ethnicity, colour, religion, language, culture is wrong and unacceptable. The detrimental effects of such bullying is largely recognised. However, in our work, Black and minority ethnic teachers, probationers and student teachers asked specifically for greater understanding of the corrosive impact of everyday racial microaggressions. This will help those keen on taking action against racism to move beyond engaging with racism and anti-racism as abstract concepts to ones that are connected to the everyday experiences of Black and minority ethnic people.

Racial microaggressions are defined as: "Everyday verbal, non-verbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership" (Sue et al. 2019[16]).

Some microaggressions are based on assumptions and stereotyping which can impact on an individual's esteem or even life opportunities. An example of a microaggression could be if a headteacher assumes that experience gained teaching Mandarin in Saturday schools is less valuable than experience gained teaching Gaelic, consequently focusing on and uplifting only the latter. Furthermore, microaggressions often occurs as invalidations of lived experience of Black and minority ethnic people when they share experiences of everyday racism. They may be asked to confirm whether they are sure that it was in fact racism, and other gaslighting tactics such as suggestions that they are overly sensitive.

For more information about the effects of microaggression and how to counteract them, go to the University of Edinburgh site on microaggressions[17]. While the examples relate to university life, it provides a read across to other educational contexts. In particular, Black and minority ethnic teachers and some white colleagues stressed that unless school leaders address racial microaggressions within a school's ethos, culture and practices, it would be difficult to recruit and retain Black and minority ethnic teachers for the future.

3.4 Data is key

The collection of ethnicity data allows service providers to identify and respond to inequalities, to address gaps and to ensure there is improved representation at all levels. It is part of informed policy or decision-making. Capturing ethnicity data is important to establishing a baseline and evaluating progress. Such data is required as part of fulfilling the spirit and requirements of the Equality Act 2010.

Education stakeholders need to be cautious that the 'numbers are too small to disclose' argument is not used to avoid engagement with ethnicity data. The limited data rationale is often used to revert to broad categories (e.g. conflating the terms Black and minority ethnic) as providers structure diversity initiatives. Such a logic can also miss within-group differences and can hinder meaningful change.

Where numbers are small, a default position of not being able to disclose needs to be avoided. Small numbers may not allow comment on 'representative samples' however it does not hinder the identifying of patterns or to deepen understanding descriptively (especially if coupled with hearing the voices of local Black and minority ethnic employees and pupils) what is going on in a school, local authority, university or college. Small numbers must not mean taking no action or a lack of accountability on matters of race equality.

Improving the confidence for people to disclose their ethnic identity for the purposes of improving services is an area requiring attention. There will be different reasons for poor disclosure rates such as not knowing what the data is being collected for, a fear that sharing information might lead to that information being used negatively against an individual and a frustration that previous disclosures have led to inaction. Education stakeholders with poor disclosure rates must grapple with challenges of how to encourage and enable disclosure such as creating a positive and safe culture, communicating the case for disclosure and considering how disclosure questions are asked sensitively.[18]

The underrepresentation of certain groups is not inherent or inevitable. With effort and commitment, actions and structures can change. Data should be used to inform these changes and evaluate the progress made. All education stakeholders need to be part of this.

3.5 Preparing teachers who are not 'race' evasive

Scotland's Black and minority ethnic young people are asking for teachers of all stages of education to have the confidence to deliver a curriculum that is anti-racist. In addition, they want a curriculum that does not avoid discussions about Scotland's historical role in empire, colonialism and transatlantic slavery. There is also a call for the contributions of Scotland's diverse communities, past and present to be better reflected in the curriculum.

This places immediate responsibility on those engaged in teacher preparation such as ITE providers and those providing continued professional learning to graduate teachers who are racially literate and not 'race' evasive. ITE providers' commitment and action to anti-racist and culturally responsive education for all student teachers is key. ITE needs to engage proactively with concepts like 'decolonising the curriculum' and what that means for each subject area and for each stage, thereby employing pedagogy as a tool for confronting injustice and promoting equality. This work is already happening in many other subject areas but remains relatively embryonic within ITE. (CERES 2020)[19]

ITE programmes also need to do more on exploring what it means to be and become a teacher for Black and minority ethnic student teachers. Black and minority ethnic student teachers often report that they cannot see themselves in these discussions and that they would benefit from exploring their multiple identities too and recognise the cultural wealth they bring rather than trying to assimilate.

3.6 School leaders need to lead race equality

A whole school approach is essential in building an anti-racist ethos and community. This requires school leaders to ensure race equality issues are mainstreamed into all aspects of school life and are not bolted on to certain topics e.g. bullying and wellbeing, English as an Additional Language or celebration of festival events are only considered when there are racist incidents.

Race equality, like other equality and inclusion issues needs to be considered as part of whole school improvement plans covering the formal and informal curriculum. Headteachers and school senior management teams have the ability to move from bystander mode to action. School leadership teams can be enablers or they can be blockers. Therefore, they hold particular responsibility in taking forward race equality and the agenda for diversifying the teaching profession.

Where school leaders have provided staff with opportunities for continuous professional learning, the impact of this needs to be discussed, monitored and evaluated. Attending anti-racist online or face to face training sessions should not be viewed as an end point if the learning is not taken forward. Professional learning is not a panacea for improving racial literacy, it is only a start.

3.7 Moving beyond mentoring to sponsorship

Few people achieve career success, promotion and progression in a vacuum. Mentoring is often a route taken to assist individuals to progress with the provision of mentors who provide advice and guidance.

However, mentoring alone is not sufficient. There are many Black and minority ethnic teachers who have had excellent mentoring experiences who are still being overlooked for promotion and progression.

Scottish education now needs to look at sponsoring as another institutional strategy to adopt. Sponsors, unlike mentors, act as spotlights providing exposure, networking connections and endorsement. Sponsors do not just talent spot but they will hold their sponsored individual's career vision in mind and invest in upward movement. There is a need to establish a national sponsoring initiative in partnership with those employing and promoting teachers to enable the breaking of glass ceilings and removal of cemented floors.

3.8 Centering the voices Black and minority ethnic teachers, young people, parents/carers

Post events related to the killing of George Floyd and action taken by Black Lives Matter in the US and also in Scotland, the Scottish Government received over 1,000 pieces of correspondence seeking support and commitment for Scottish education to take a more proactive role in education for and against racism. What was also called for was a need to listen to the voices of Black and minority ethnic young people, parents, communities and teachers.

Black and minority ethnic teachers, young people, parents and carers will continue to be vocal and lead efforts to promote equity. However, in moving to anti-racist allyship, those who have the leadership power to enable foundational shifts need to respond to the realities of the everyday experiences of teachers and young people and include them as co-constructors of that change. This also means working with third sector organisations, with youth workers, community learning and development to offer opportunities for discussion and identification of ideas and priorities for action at local levels.


Email: sian.balfour@gov.scot

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