February 2018


  • Relish the change
    Geoff Barton reflects on his personal journey at ASCL over the last few months and how 2017 has led to a shift in thinking around wider education policy and context. More
  • Real world, real learning
    Businesses can support schools and colleges in preparing students for life and even help develop resilience, says Confederation of British Industry (CBI) President, Paul Drechsler, but they need to understand the challenges that educators face if they are to help young people gain the skills and knowledge the country needs. Here, he talks to Julie Nightingale. More
  • Getting ahead
    Deputy Headteacher Allana Gay explains the philosophy behind Black, Asian and minority ethnic educators (BAMEed), the network helping ethnic minority staff aspire to leadership roles. More
  • Shaping careers
    Senior Research Manager Claudia Sumner says the government's new careers strategy is a step in the right direction, but research shows that a combination of measures are required for a successful, long-term solution to careers guidance. More
  • Next steps
    Two essential questions to answer in the quest for a headship or principal post are: Is it what I want and, Am I what they want? Aiming to join a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) as its leader requires you to consider these in order, says former ASCL President Allan Foulds. More
  • Plan for all seasons
    A curriculum represents the entire daily experience of each pupil, so designing it and evaluating its impact requires deep and detailed thinking. ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O'Farrell sets out the key areas for consideration. More
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Deputy Headteacher Allana Gay explains the philosophy behind Black, Asian and minority ethnic educators (BAMEed), the network helping ethnic minority staff aspire to leadership roles.

Getting ahead

I am the child of a teacher and I always saw it as an inspiring profession, in both senses: it was something I thought would be professionally and personally fulfilling but, equally, it was a public service role in which one could raise the ambitions of children and young people. Teachers of all ethnicities move into this vocation with a desire to improve the lives of all the children and young people they meet.

This remains true for me. I have spent my career working in schools in challenging circumstances, both secondary and primary. I have risen to deputy head and I still love the job after 15 years. I’m embarking on my National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) and I’m as committed as I ever was to the young people I work with.

The challenge, as an aspiring leader, has been how to overcome some of the obstacles that, for a variety of reasons, have blocked my path.

After completing the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), for example, I worked hard, and, within four years, I was second in a department. But when the head of department role became vacant, I was turned down twice on the basis that I didn’t have enough experience – although I was asked to take on the role as acting head while they hunted for a replacement.

Although I was surprised, as a well-qualified and experienced professional, sometimes to have my ambitions thwarted – I was once told in feedback that my approach to leadership was both too aggressive and too relaxed – I knew I wasn’t the problem.

Barriers to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) educators who have aspired to leadership in the profession are well-documented. While approximately 30% of pupils in the school population are BAME (https://tinyurl.com/y8bjpem4), the workforce of teachers and teaching assistants is about 14% BAME and of headteachers in the region of 7% BAME (https://tinyurl.com/y7g6ab7m). These barriers are not new, and they are stubbornly resistant to change.

Part of the problem here is systemic: the number of BAME leaders is tiny so there is a lack of role-models for aspiring leaders. As such, the leaders who do make it are regarded as exceptional, rather than the norm. It makes widening the pool of entrants to a profession an ongoing problem.

There is also the idea of a ‘cut-out’ model of leader, leading to a lack of diversity in all areas. People are more likely to seek a mirror-image of themselves or someone who fits into the mould of what they believe a leader looks like, than cast the net widely. So, when you look across senior leadership teams (SLTs), you see lots of people who are of the same ethnicity, culture and class as the head, rather than diversity.

This is why we set up BAMEed. Similar to WomenEd, the organisation for women leaders, it aims to bring together BAME professionals in education.

Volunteer-run, we began in January 2017 and among our developments so far are:

  • a steering group made up of senior leaders prominent in their fields
  • a database of people who aspiring leaders can contact for advice, whether on job applications, preparation for leadership roles or coaching in a key area
  • BAMEed Coaching for Progression – this programme brings aspiring leaders together with a coach/mentor who offers support and advice
  • BAMEed Annual Conference – the 2017 inaugural event was at the Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School in Birmingham

We want to encourage more BAME educators into the profession in the first place but also to ensure that they are supported to progress within their careers. Meanwhile, there are things that BAME leaders can do on the ground to build their own confidence, profile and networks and prepare themselves to step up to leadership.


Develop a professional network – people who will give you a steer on job applications and help you to prepare and practise for your interviews. Look at the BAMEed website and newsletter where there are lots of grassroots events and training organisations listed, many of them new.

Support from other leaders is crucial as it has a significant impact on the experiences of BAME educators. I would not have progressed without coaches, advisers and mentors; those in positions of influence who are willing to challenge, invite and support more diversity to higher positions are important.

Increasingly, organisations like ASCL are starting together networks, too, to widen the scope for what they are doing. So, the union side is becoming far more personalised.

Networks are not just external, however. Within a school or college, having colleagues who can discuss and reflect on your shared experience is important and can generate fresh ideas for the whole school or college. They are the ones who will reinforce all of your positives and help to keep you going through the application process, especially if you have been rejected.

Scrutinise policy

Be on the look-out for policies that unintentionally put some groups at the margins. For example, talk to your chair of governors/ head about seeking ethnic diversity on recruitment panels. Explore why, despite the fact that students from some ethnic minorities are more likely to go to university, they are not choosing to teach when they graduate.

Sign up for courses

There are lots of diverse leaders’ courses being run now so sign up for one. You get the opportunity to explore leadership in all its facets through working with people who are in a similar position to you and it puts you in good stead to do a National Professional Qualification for Headership (NPQH) or a National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL). Those qualifications are important so prioritise it – don’t keep putting it off.

Work with the community

If you are in a community with a large proportion of families of an ethnic minority, find the opportunity to interact with parents so they start to see you as a leader as well. It may be standing at the school gate discussing their concerns with them or being a point of communication for some of the students.

I know some people look at that approach and say, “They’re using me because I’m the black teacher and they are sending all of the black kids to me,” but you need to be able to use that to your advantage.

Be proactive

Be aware of your strengths in leadership and ask directly to gain experience of those things that you have less knowledge of. Don’t be confined to, for example, the pastoral side; be willing to go in and say, “I need to run a project on something academic,” or, “I want to lead an external partnership,” so you are widening your base. State these things upfront in your appraisal. You have to be relentless about it in order to make progress. It’s uncomfortable but it’s an absolute necessity to put yourself forward.

While approximately 30% of pupils in the school population are BAME , the workforce of teachers and teaching assistants is around 14% BAME and around 7% for headteachers

For further information about BAMEed, visit www.bameednetwork.com

Allana Gay
Deputy Headteacher at Lea Valley Primary School in Tottenham.