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 H: The EIS Members Experience of Racism Survey (Summary Report)

Survey of EIS members on their experiences of racism and Islamophobia: summary of findings

May 2018


  • In spring 2018 the EIS conducted a survey of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) members on their experiences of racism and Islamophobia in education. Responses came primarily from the school sector (67% overall); 43% of respondents were secondary teachers and 24% were primary teachers. Around a quarter of respondents were from further and higher education (24%). 'Other' accounted for 8% of responses, and nursery for 1%.
  • The majority of respondents described themselves as 'Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British' (63%) with the second largest group of respondents being 'African, Caribbean or Black' (16%). People from mixed or multiple groups accounted for 9% of respondents, and 8% chose 'other' and specified their ethnicity. The most commonly reported ethnicity in the comments field was 'Arab'.

Survey findings

1. A significant majority (71%, or nearly three-quarters) of all respondents had experienced racism in their capacity as a teacher or lecturer.

In response to being asked, "Have you experienced racism in your capacity as a teacher or lecturer?", 71% of members said Yes. 14% said No and 10% were not sure. (4% preferred not to say).

2. Respondents were evenly split on whether the racism they had encountered was motivated by Islamophobia, although a significant minority felt that it was; there were different views among different groups.

When asked, "Do you believe that any racism you may have experienced in your capacity as a teacher/lecturer was motivated by Islamophobia?", 40% said yes and 40% said no, with 20% unsure. People from an Asian background were more likely to attribute racism to Islamophobia, with 52% of these respondents saying yes to the above question, and only 26% saying no.

3. Manifestations of racism seen most commonly were racist language used by learners (mentioned over half of respondents) and racist attitudes among learners (mentioned by nearly half).

  • The most to least common manifestations of racism observed were:
    • Learners using racist or Islamophobic language - 56%
    • Learners showing racist or Islamophobic attitudes - 46%
    • Colleagues showing racist or Islamophobic attitudes - 44%
    • Being overlooked for promotion - 43%
    • Curriculum content which lacks ethnic diversity - 41%
    • Colleagues using racist or Islamophobic language - 26%
    • Being bullied or harassed on the grounds of race or religion - 25%
    • Witnessing bullying of a colleague based on race or religion - 24%.
    • Parents showing racist or Islamophobic attitudes - 24%
    • Being singled out (e.g. Muslim asked to comment on terrorism) -22%
    • Curriculum content which perpetuates racial stereotypes - 22%
    • Having less access than colleagues to Professional Learning - 16%
    • Having less access than other colleagues to mentoring - 15%
    • Being unfairly disciplined - 16%
    • Parents using racist or Islamophobic language - 15%
    • Seeing racist/Islamophobic graffiti - 13%
    • Curriculum content which perpetuates Islamophobia - 13%
    • Encountering policies which discriminate against different races - 12%

4. Many respondents had experienced unhelpful curriculum content.

  • Over four in ten (41%) respondents reported having seen curriculum content which lacks ethnic diversity. This figure was higher among Asian respondents: nearly half had seen curriculum content which lacks ethnic diversity (48%).

5. Reduced access to workplace opportunities was a strong theme.

  • Nearly half of all respondents had experience of being overlooked for promotion (43%) and a quarter (25%) had experience of being bullied or harassed on the grounds of race or religion.

6. Being singled out was not an uncommon experience for BME teachers.

  • Being singled out (e.g. a Muslim teacher asked to comment on a terrorist incident) had been experienced by a fifth of Asian respondents (20%).

7. Some positive aspects were observed, in particular curriculum content designed to challenge racism, and establishment-based activities to challenge racism, with nearly two thirds of respondents having encountered anti-racist curricula.

  • More than half (56%) of all respondents had encountered effective anti-racist policies, but only around a tenth (9%) had seen effective anti-Islamophobia policies.
  • Encouragingly, 62% had seen curriculum content which challenges racism. Just under a fifth (18%) had seen content which challenges Islamophobia. Over half of all respondents had seen establishment-based activities/events designed to challenge racism (56%), although only a quarter (25%) of African, Caribbean or Black respondents had seen such activities. Positive developments remarked upon included the activity of Show Racism the Red Card, and materials in Modern Studies and Religious Education which challenge stereotypes.

8. The majority of respondents did not believe that their establishment's efforts to tackle racism were effective.

  • Only 13% answered Yes; a third (33%) answered No; nearly a quarter (24%) were unsure; 6% preferred not to say; 23% were not aware of any efforts.

9. The vast majority of respondents did not believe that their establishment's efforts to tackle Islamophobia were effective.

  • Only 5% said Yes; just over a quarter (27%) said No; nearly a third (32%) were unsure; 4% preferred not to say; a third (33%) were not aware of any efforts.

10. The great majority (nearly four-fifths) of respondents had not had opportunities to undertake meaningful professional learning on racism.

  • 75% said they had not had such opportunities; only 25% said they had.

11. Only a very small minority of respondents had had opportunities to undertake meaningful professional learning on Islamophobia.

  • Just under a tenth of all respondents (9%) answered Yes; 91% answered No.

12. Just under a third of respondents had had opportunities to undertake meaningful professional learning on equality legislation.

  • 30% of all respondents said Yes and 70% said No.

13. A tenth of respondents had had opportunities to undertake meaningful professional learning on fostering good relations between people from different ethnic backgrounds.

  • 10% said Yes, and 90% said No. Asian respondents answered 88% No/12% Yes, a slightly higher positive response than for all respondents. Few African, Caribbean or Black respondents had had this kind of professional learning (only 8%).

Members' comments on their experiences of racism and Islamophobia

Comment fields were used to capture more qualitative data about members' experiences of racism and Islamophobia, to accompany the quantitative data. These showed that respondents have had a range of negative experiences in Scottish schools and colleges. Text analysis showed dominant words in the comments relating to the first broad question, about having experienced racism or not, as

  • Pupil - 32%
  • Skin - 21%
  • Racist - 16%
  • Accent - 16%
  • Classroom - 16%
  • Management - 11%

Text analysis showed dominant words in the comments relating to the final question (a broad, 'any other comments' question) as:

  • School - 19%
  • Colleagues - 19%
  • Education - 19%
  • Racist Incidents - 13%
  • EIS - 13%
  • Attitudes - 13%

These give some insight into the issues arising. Further analysis of all the text responses revealed a range of dominant themes:

  • unequal opportunities at work for BME members
  • disrespectful and prejudicial treatment of people perceived as 'other', including
  • women who wear hijab
  • racist language being common
  • poor recording of racist incidents and a sense of tokenism
  • concern about both pupils' and colleagues' attitudes.

Unequal opportunities for BME members

Barriers to success in the workplace were mentioned by many respondents in their comments.

  • "Difficult to get a promotion. I mean how many hijabi or Asians do we see in HT, PT or DHT roles. I have been teaching 9 years and yet to meet one. Sad times."
  • "Caused barriers to promotion."
  • "Always a no when I asked for things."
  • "Unreasonable demands have been made."
  • "Racism in further education is embedded in the system. For example, you do not progress in your career according to your qualifications and experience. You stay behind where everyone else easily moves forward. As someone from an ethnic minority, you have to always work harder and longer than others. Becoming a manager or having a managerial role is kind of considered that it is not something that is not for you although it is never discussed. You are simply counted out…"
  • "I have been discriminated against by my peers when I was in a promoted post. The college management has used the disciplinary procedure to discriminate against me. I have been discriminated against when applying for my own post during a college restructure."
  • "The head teacher was very cold and dismissive of me and my teaching. This further affected my confidence in the classroom."
  • "If you are from a minority working at a college, you do not progress like your peers and colleagues. You work on temporary contracts for years and you may not become permanent."
  • "I have registered so many times for courses only to be informed that the course was full. Other people somehow managed to get their name on the list."

Disrespectful and prejudicial treatment

There was a theme of disrespectful and prejudicial treatment of people perceived as 'other', which showed that rather than being valued for enhancing diversity, and bringing social, cultural and linguistic capital into education, many BME people from different backgrounds (including British BME people) have been mocked. Several women mentioned comments being made about their appearance when wearing hijab.

  • "People laughing at my name"
  • "Children referring to Urdu as a made up gobbledygook language"
  • "making fun of me by putting accents on (despite being born here and having a British accent)"
  • "is that a kilt you are wearing on your head" (reference to my checked hijab)
  • "Comments from some staff about my Hijab"
  • "Initially did not wear headscarf, when I did overwhelmed with comments as to why"
  • "I was told whilst under my desk fixing boxes if I was praying to Mecca! Again by the same member of staff I was told that once Scotland was independent, that me and all my kind would be chucked out of the country."
  • "Name calling, belittling, ignore etc."

The prevalence of racist language

Several respondents specifically mentioned racist language.

  • "I was called a racist remark by an angry 8 year old pupil when I did not do as he wanted. I was informed of a racist remark a pupil had made about me to another pupil."
  • "Racist graffiti appeared on my classroom door."
  • "A pupil verbally abused me using my skin colour as his main target."
  • "Have recently been called "black bastard". Also have had "Allah hu Akbar" shouted by pupils as they have walked past me."
  • "The first racist remark was 'Paki'"
  • "Was called suicide bomber".


Some members suggested that minimal real effort is being made to challenge racism.

  • "Lovely posters, competitions on diversity. At this rate equality for staff in the further education sector might prevail in about 500 years if we are lucky."
  • "While I think that there are policies in place, they are not fully practised in everyday life."
  • "In my experience, most schools resist Anti-Racist Education"
  • "There are modules that address equality and diversity but lecturers and learners can easily choose the protected characteristic they are most comfortable with. Not effective for challenging attitudes."
  • "All the good practice amounts to "lip service"."
  • "Procedure for reporting and recording such incidents is a very vague area."

Colleagues' attitudes

Whilst the most commonly experienced form of racism was hearing learners using racist language, several comments indicated concern about colleagues' attitudes and behaviour, either explicitly (e.g. comments) or implicitly (e.g. a failure to record racist incidents).

  • "A lot of racist incidents are not recorded effectively although they are dealt with in house."
  • "Comments from some staff about my Hijab and making assumptions about my rights being oppressed and where I would 'fit in' better! ??"
  • "My colleagues are very ignorant of how the talk of Prevent, bias reporting and general talk of terrorism affects me. They find it very uncomfortable to talk about it with/in front of me, nor ask for my opinion/insight. They are also not confident in separating words associated with Islam (e.g. AllahuAkbar) and terrorist acts."
  • "[I have experienced racism] by pupils and colleagues."
  • "Many discussions amongst teachers are very uninformed and based on media related sources."

Other themes of note

Several members commented on having been misidentified or mis-recognised as Muslim:

  • "I am not Muslim. However, due to my ethnic appearance people have presumed I am."
  • "I have been misidentified as Muslim."
  • "while not being Muslim, people look at you as Muslim because you are coloured and treat you on the basis of what they hear on the news about Islam. You can be Buddhist, Christian, Muslim but for the colour of your skin, you pay the price of things which you are not even associated with"

A few respondents suggested that attitudes have deteriorated in recent years, and some cited a negative impact of terrorist attacks on discourse in their establishments.

  • "After 9-11 the situation in schools has deteriorated. Some hidden some overt and Donald Trump has given a licence to the racists. Very sad that some Scots have gone down this ugly route. A lot is hidden and between white colleagues...especially after a terrorist incident.... very sad!"
  • "The first I got a comment, it was after the 2015 Paris attacks. An S2 child stated to me, unprovoked, that his grandpa has told him to tell his Muslim friend to go home. This boy later then, again unprovoked, asked me "Are all Muslims terrorists?" and a few weeks later asked me "Have you ever thought of becoming a terrorist?"."

Training was mentioned in some responses.

  • "In the current environment I think there needs to be some form of training given to all staff on how to discuss with learners when incidents (specifically terror related that have been carried out by so called Muslims) take place around the world. As teachers we have to be able to educate them and change any opinions formed due to mis information and what learners see/hear/read in the media."
  • "We have had online training on equality legislation but there was no discussion. I think open discussion about it is what is needed with the people who run organisations. This discussion needs to be done in the presence of the police, law experts, equality activists. We only have online training so that if somebody looks from outside organisations can say, "look, we have trained our staff on equality and we are fully complying with the law and the legislation" After that, nobody asks a word about the practice..."


  • The data suggests a clear issue of teachers and lecturers facing workplace racism, in many forms, including exposure to racist language and attitudes, unequal workplace opportunities, and being 'othered' and disrespected. Nearly three quarters of all respondents had experienced racism within an educational establishment, and the proportion was higher among specific ethnic groups. This suggests that concerted efforts are needed to challenge the culture in which this happens, and to support members who have these experiences.
  • The EIS has its part to play in this but other partners, including COSLA, ADES, Education Scotland and Colleges Scotland, have vital roles. This digest of the survey findings is being shared with partners and their responses to the issues raised is being sought. The EIS is actively considering how it can better support BME members and enhance anti-racist activity across educational establishments; and it is hoped that partners will do likewise.
  • BME teachers' access to professional learning on racism and other related equality matters is a matter of concern. It may be the case that workload issues and the cover crisis are preventing teachers from accessing professional learning (these were identified as obstacles to accessing equality training in a prior member survey) but race appears to exacerbate access issues.
  • It is concerning that colleagues' attitudes and behaviours were commonly mentioned by respondents. This reinforces the importance of a whole-establishment approach that consider the experiences of staff and learners as inter-related. The EIS will continue to reiterate that the learning environment is the working environment, and vice versa, and to seek, via local negotiating fora, the development of comprehensive anti-racist policies which translate into real actions. The survey suggests that current efforts to tackle racism are not considered effective, are often not known about, and invoke a degree of weariness and cynicism, so it is vital for some real change to now occur.
  • The EIS will continue to advocate for actions to diversify the teaching profession and for enhanced employer support of BME staff. We will also continue to remind members that obligations to promote race equality are shared equally among all teachers, in keeping with the professional standards that apply to all teachers, and with the Equality Act 2010. More information: National Officer (Education and Equality), Jenny Kemp/ /T. 0131 225 6244.


Email: Kelly Ireland

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