July 2013


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    Changes to how teacher performance is rewarded present some complex challenges and appraisers will need to tread carefully. Ensuring objectives are linked to impact is essential, says Duncan Baldwin. More
  • Mobile generation
    Rather than banning mobiles, some schools are now designing lessons around the technology in young people’s pockets. Liz Lightfoot reports. More
  • Race to the top
    The reasons as to why so few black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers achieve promotion to headship are easy to understand yet difficult to solve, but a new study shows that targeted training programmes do have an impact. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Focus on change
    Change is a given in a turbulent world but not everyone will readily accept the need for it or will act on your plans for it. John Bennett offers some insights into how to overcome resistance and make change happen. More
  • Growth industry
    A professional development programme developed by teachers, has helped turn around the teaching and learning standards of one school, as Sharon Simpson and Louisa Gooch explain. More
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The reasons as to why so few black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers achieve promotion to headship are easy to understand yet difficult to solve, but a new study shows that targeted training programmes do have an impact. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.

Race to the top

A lack of role models meant that Carvey Francis had never aspired to senior management or headship. That was until she attended a weekend-long course to encourage more BME teachers to become school leaders.

“I always had a sense that I could achieve whatever I wanted to, but the problem was that I didn’t think about being a leader because I didn’t see people like myself in those roles,” she says. “But meeting black and minority ethnic heads on the Equal Access to Promotion (EAP) course [formerly run by the National College] and hearing their own stories about how they got to where they are, gave me the push I needed and made me realise that this was something I could do.”

Carvey, who has been teaching for eight years, was recently promoted from head of faculty to join the senior leadership team as an associate assistant head at Forest Gate Community School in East London. The move was designed to give her senior leadership experience before she embarks on Future Leaders, the development programme for aspiring heads, in September.

BME teachers are consistently underrepresented in senior leadership roles so Carvey’s negative impression is hardly surprising. Separate estimates from the Department for Education (DfE) show that, on average, less than 2 per cent of all appointments to headteacher posts in the past decade have been BME candidates, even though BME teachers make up about 5 per cent of the workforce and 9 per cent of the UK population.

Figures published by the DfE in May showed that 95.3 per cent of heads in maintained schools were British white, while among deputies and assistant heads the proportion was 93.1 per cent. Black-Caribbean headteachers made up 0.4 per cent of heads, the same proportion as those of Indian origin, while for Pakistani and Bangladeshi heads the figures were 0.2 per cent and 0.1 per cent, respectively.

The problems with recruiting and retaining BME teachers, and then encouraging them into leadership, are not new but it has been a struggle to find effective ways to address them, says 

Dr Dolapo Ogunbawo, of the London Centre for Leadership in Learning (LCLL) at the Institute of Education (IOE). The reasons as to why so few BME teachers achieve headship are easy to understand but difficult to solve, she says. 

Few role models

Studies have shown that BME teachers often feel isolated, and they encounter a lack of support and career progression. They can also lack self-confidence because they see few role models for inspiration. As a result, they are more likely to leave the profession earlier than their peers.

“The problem really lies on both sides of the coin when it comes to career progression,” says 

Dr Ogunbawo. “We know from speaking to BME teachers who seek promotion that they often begin the process with a lack of self-confidence and a fear of rejection.”

It is normal, she points out, if people have experienced long-term prejudice and discrimination at work that they will develop a low self-esteem and a low self-confidence.

Dr Ogunbawo has written a report to encourage BME teachers to consider leadership roles. Her study, Developing Black and Minority Ethnic Leaders: The case for customised programmes (2012) looks at how courses designed specifically for BME teachers can support progression.

It presents the case that courses like the EAP and the Investing in Diversity (IiD) course, delivered by the London Challenge Initiative, are key to increasing the numbers of BME senior leaders and heads. But not all heads encourage their staff to undertake such customised professional development.

“I have seen situations where there is no encouragement offered to BME staff to progress and these courses are seen as positive discrimination,” Dr Ogunbawo says. “They believe that if you are good enough, then you are good enough and you don’t need additional support. I call this a one-size-fits-all fairness and it does not work. It is not social justice neither is it equity.”

Carvey can identify with negative attitudes. “My previous acting headteacher had refused to allow me to attend the EAP course, claiming that it would tell me that I couldn’t achieve some things because of the colour of my skin. But actually discussion about race was about becoming comfortable with your own identity and recognising the value-added.”

In fact, both EAP and IiD are no different from other generic leadership programmes. Any variations lie in the approaches taken.

“What is different is the make-up of the class,” says Dr Ogunbawo. “Participants feel they are among friends and can say what they feel in a more relaxed environment and without worrying that they are being judged. The courses aim to build confidence and develop skills.”

On their return to schools, participants should lead a project from the school development plan, she adds. “Having gained self-confidence, this can be easily lost when headteachers or line managers don’t offer any further support or the person is given a challenging task that is likely to set them up to fail.”

According to Dr Ogunbawo’s study, participants felt the courses had a positive impact on their self-perception and awareness; some described them a as life-changing. They reported improved self-confidence, a ‘can-do’ attitude from the opportunity to reflect on beliefs in education and a chance to work on important skill areas. Crucially, there were opportunities to see and meet role models – existing heads and leaders from BME backgrounds – and to share common experiences with others in similar situations.

‘Society and etiquette’

For Carvey, the turning point came when a newly promoted headteacher allowed her to go on the EAP course, after she approached him with the idea. “On the course we spent time discussing different situations and how we would deal with them, and we had to make a presentation and got feedback on how we’d performed. Any issues that we needed to be aware of during interview, such as the way we were sitting or gesticulating, were pointed out.

“One thing that was made very clear is that we should not blame racism for not being promoted. In fact, it might well be the case that you need to take a long hard look at yourself and ask yourself why there was no career progression. We were also taught about society and etiquette. Even those of us born here were raised in homes with a different culture and values which we take with us into the classroom and may be misunderstood.”

The whole exercise was about gaining confidence and having courage to stand up and say what you think, she adds.

“But the one thing I cannot stress enough is how important it is to have a supportive head. On my return from the course I was raving about how great it was and he encouraged me to apply for the head of faculty job and the Future Leaders course.”

Simon Elliott, the head of Forest Gate, says there was an element of self-interest in encouraging Carvey to do the course. “If you see people with talent, as I did with Carvey, then you look for ways to take them forward because those are exactly the kinds of people you want to keep in your school.

“She was clearly someone for the future, and it was important to encourage her, given there are so few female BME school leaders. The problem was that she lacked self-confidence having come into the profession late. Carvey was someone who should have been aiming for the top all along, but she just didn’t see it.”

Carvey says that the EAP course has changed her career aspirations. “Before EAP I didn’t have any great ambitions to be a headteacher, as they always seemed to me to be stressed and having a tough time. But being told that I had the potential to be a school leader sowed the seed in my mind that this is something I should now consider.”

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer.

Developing Black and Minority Ethnic Leaders: The case for customised programmes by Dr Dolapo Ogunbawo is available via online subscription at http://ema.sagepub.com/content/40/2/158