Teaching in a diverse Scotland: increasing and retaining minority ethnic teachers

This report aims to increase the number of teachers from under-represented groups at all levels in Scottish Schools.

Annex D: Diverse Teachers for Diverse Learners

The number of teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds across the whole profession has declined from 1.9% of the total workforce in 2011 to 1.3% in 2016. In 2016, 639 teachers identified themselves as from a black/minority ethnic background. Of this, 229 are in the primary sector representing 1.0% of the workforce and 378 are in secondary representing 1.7% of the workforce. The number of teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds in the special sector is 32 representing 1.7% of the workforce.

The lack of diversity within the Scottish teaching workforce on the basis of ethnicity was highlighted in a Scottish Government commissioned report by Kaliani Lyle, 'Addressing Race Inequality in Scotland: The Way Forward', launched in December 2017[23]. In her report (Action 63) recommends the setting up of a short-term working group to increase the number of teachers from under-represented groups at all levels in Scottish schools.

I have been asked to convene this group. We will focus our efforts on four key areas:

  • To explore whether Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes and associated recruitment activity are attractive and relevant to students from minority ethnic backgrounds;
  • To consider whether university admissions processes are sufficiently enabling to capture the range of possible applicants from diverse backgrounds;
  • To explore student placement experiences and the on-going support for students from minority backgrounds; and
  • To consider issues related to the retention of student teachers and teachers from minority backgrounds.

Some might argue that the demographics of the teaching workforce should not matter and what really counts is the quality of individual teachers. Others might also argue that given minority ethnic pupils achieve better results than their white counterparts in Scotland, it demonstrates that the current teaching workforce are doing a sterling job. Our work does not question that young people are being very well served by the teaching profession. Our focus is on the need to diversify the workforce to better represent the communities we are part of. The words of Maya, a young person who I spoke to as part of my research on race equality matters rings out for me…' If I cannot see myself there, then I cannot imagine myself there'. This young person was referring to the lack of diverse teachers as part of their school experiences.

If we are wishing to diversify the teaching profession, we need young people like Maya to imagine themselves as a teacher and to view teaching as a profession of choice.

We also want to explore how we better retain student teachers from minority backgrounds. Anecdotally, we hear student teachers/teachers talk about the importance of having a positive placement, probationary or work experience as important reasons for staying on in the profession. Given the drop in minority ethnic teachers in the profession, we need to know what more needs to be done to enable minority ethnic teachers to stay on and to move into promoted posts if that is what they aspire to do.

Research to date on the experiences of minority ethnic teachers in Scotland and the UK find that being 'different' or 'visible' does impact on workplace experiences. Some of the impact is positive in that diversity is welcomed and harnessed. However, there is also unconscious bias. Noor, a secondary teacher, describes the types of throwaway insensitive comments that can impact.

We have students from Pakistan, India, Syria, Russia …we have quite a mix in the classroom and there have been terminologies used in the classroom, colleagues have said things like, "oh, I think I am coming into a refugee camp" when they come into the classroom.

Other experiences are more damaging but are often less obvious to those not on the receiving end. Take the example of Miriam who is a student on placement at the moment. The school she is at is not use to working with minority ethnic people. The teacher she is placed with has complained about the way Miriam smells. Miriam's university tutor does not think Miriam smells and is at a loss as to how to challenge the school without detriment to Miriam. Eventually, the tutor finds a way to talk to Miriam and finds out the student is being isolated and not supported. The teacher Miriam is placed with does not provide the conducive learning environment and support. This experience has impacted on Miriam's self-esteem and her considering the profession in a positive way. It is unlikely that Miriam will encourage other minority ethnic people to consider teaching as a profession.

We are writing to a range of education stakeholders for advice and will be talking with minority ethnic teachers. If you have any suggestions you wish to the Group to consider, please do contact the secretariat for the group Kelly Ireland (Kelly.Ireland@gov.scot). We welcome any ideas that can assist our work.

Rowena Arshad


Email: Kelly Ireland

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