BME new teachers… are you there?

I go to hundreds of universities, colleges and training centres and meet thousands of student and new teachers, but hardly anywhere do I see a proportion of BME students and new teachers that reflects the diversity of modern Britain.

This may not be a statistically valid perception but it’s what I see, and I see a lot of students at a lot of training providers.

Given that the proportion of BME people in the population as a whole is about 9%, one would expect to see around that proportion entering the teaching profession each year – at least one would hope so. Indeed one might argue that the target should be set higher given that the national proportion of BME pupils in school is currently about 15%.

Just to give you an example of the last few weeks, I’ve been to five towns and cities in England with large BME profiles. In one place, I spoke to about 45 students of whom 5 were from ‘visible minority’ backgrounds – that’s not bad I suppose. But at another there were over 70 new teachers, and only four visible minorities. In a third, a large city, there were over 200 students who were about to become teachers and there was not a single black or minority ethnic face in the audience.

Are BME young people not interested in becoming teachers?

Is teaching not perceived as an aspirational profession by BME communities?

Are BME teaching applicants somehow disadvantaged in the increasingly competitive selection criteria?

Are BME students and teachers meeting racism in teaching that isn’t apparent in other professions?

There are many questions but answers are frustratingly patchy. For example, we know how many BME students are entering the profession but don’t know accurately how many teachers currently define themselves as BME. Some researchers have estimated the total is less than 4% out of a teaching population of over 500,000.

And then there are other issues for BME teachers that need considering – like career progression, access to cpd, promotion opportunities and seniority.

And what about the other minorities in teaching?

Men for a start…

What’s your take on this?

Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and as a teacher trainer and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in February 2014.

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8 thoughts on “BME new teachers… are you there?

  1. My question is which job sectors do BME tend to choose in the areas being referred to?

    In the Greater Toronto Area, the following are the stereotypes: Philippino females go into nursing; Koreans are known to own the majority of variety stores; Italians dominate the construction business; Asians in general go into engineering. I’m not sure which jobs Blacks tend choose however. At some point in time, these job sectors were trail blazed and paved for these ethnic groups which made it easier for future generations to follow.

    Teaching jobs are typically are held by caucasians but in the Hamilton area, there are many Italians both in the administration and teaching positions. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of Italian students in the B. of Ed program in Hamilton. The reason why there are not many BME in teaching could be attributed to the fact that there are not many (if any) of them in administration. Even in teacher’s college they told us that landing a teaching job after graduation is largely dependent on who you know (i.e. principals). As humans, we tend to take are of our own.

    I went to the Hamilton Wentworth School Board meeting to write a report for our law class and my first observation was that I did not see one visibible minority represented. I strongly believe that having positive role models with whom we can connect on an ethnic level helps to inspire younger BME to pursue similar paths.

    One of my faculty advisors, who is black woman with a phD, took me aside and told me that I have to work twice as hard in this B of Ed course than the rest because I’m a visible minority. There are not many of us at the top to look out for us. I strongly agree with her.

    I do see her as a strong role model and even though she’s Black and I’m Asian, I’m inspired by her achievements.

    I suspect that BME teaching applicants are at a disadvantage when it comes to the highly competitve selection criteria for teacher’s college.

    1. That’s such an interesting response AJ and an interesting contrast with the UK experience, where in recent years the government agency responsible for recruiting teachers has succeeded in meeting its targets for recruiting BME teacher students (or candidates as you call them). We have about 9% BME groups in the UK (that’s from the 2001 census, though the pupil/student profile in schools is now higher, around 15%). When I refer to ‘Black’ in the UK context I’m referring largely to groups from African-Caribbean & West African backgrounds; for ‘Asian’ I’m referring to groups from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage.

      I wrote my blog because over the last three years I’ve met tens of thousands of students all over England but I don’t see anything like that figure sitting in front of me in the talks I give. I accept that mine is not a scientific sample, but it’s my evidence for what it’s worth – and it has often made me wonder if colleges in the UK are bumping up their “BME profile” by including the numbers of ‘non-visible minorities’ (as you call them) – in the UK, this might include Irish and other European students.

      Here in the UK we have some evidence that some BME groups traditionally do not think teaching has a high enough social / economic status and therefore steer their children and young people in to professions like law, medicine, finance, business etc. There’s also some evidence that aspects of ‘institutional racism’ affects career promotion and progression – so BME teachers, once in teaching are finding barriers to progress – and this may be especially true in parts of the country away from the large urban areas where most BME teachers reside and work.

      I agree with you that there should be no reason why BME students are not attracted to teaching – clearly as you and some of your colleagues are – but it’s a complex issue, both here and in North America and it’s worth exploring and discussing. Thanks very much for your very considered and interesting response.

  2. I am a black teacher and have about 7 or 8 fellow black friends that are teachers, none of which made the decision to want to be a teacher when applying for university. All live and went to an inner London school and had the experience of both witnessing and being apart of behaviour issues, being disrespectful to teachers etc. We recall what we were like to teachers, so wouldn’t want to put ourselves in that position.

    BME or looking at it on a wider issue because I’m sure if you looked at the statistic white working class teachers are severely under-represented in teaching recall their experience and often is never a decision to go into teaching as a 6th form leaver. This definitely seems to be the feedback I’ve received when students discuss with my decision to go into teaching.

    From what I witness more BME go into education later in life, after having some industry experience or experience with working with children in other areas.

    1. Thanks Gadget – that’s interesting and helpful, and it fits with my own experience of training BME teachers in the 1990’s. Then, we would recruit a lot of BME students (nearly all women) who would come to train as teachers after having had children of their own or had unsatisfying careers elsewhere and wanted to change their lives and do something positive. What I’m seeing these days are very few BME students among the thousands of PGCE and GTP trainees I speak to every year – and certainly less than the targeted figure of 9% overall. Nevertheless, I’m (slightly) encouraged that you are suggesting that many are making a conscious decision to consider a career in teaching later – though I think there are concerns about that too, especially if it means that BME teachers may then face other issues about career progression as late entrants. But your testimony is interesting and useful – thanks very much.

  3. I have been thinking about this a lot since first reading/ retweeting the link – but have only just noticed the date of the orginal post and the wealth of related posts – challenging the make up and behaviour of the profession.

    I guess my most own experience only partly informs my view – but I think the statistics – on behaviour and standards only tell half the story.

    The culture of schools (and this is a very hard thing to measure or describe) is very white, middle class and ‘prefect’ish’… All of which we know. I am not suggesting that there is anything ‘wrong’ with this, but that is is often very exclusive.

    What we don’t know is how to allow for difference. We find conflict where there is only a different cultural approach to to disagreement, we find awkwardness where we should model acceptance to the kids, and we make assumptions when we should allow relationships to develop and evolve a place.

    I say this as a mostly white – mixed race male ex- primary teacher with a Jewish/Indian heritage. I am now very impatient with the consensus of staffrooms and my lovely middle class, lefty, white friends and neighbours and have become increasingly confrontational – if only to burst bubbles of comfort. This does not always change things but it makes me feel better.

    I hope that those in ITT will push harder to challenge their intakes of students to prepare them better for the richness of a more diverse profession – rather than maintaining the status quo.

    thanks again for this – and other stimulating posts.

    1. Thanks for that Eylan.

      You cover a lot of ground there and some of what you say is extremely complex – as race and class issues always are. But one thing I’d like to focus on is the ‘culture’ of schools as organisations and institutions you refer to. Today I spoke at a university where the tutor reminded the students that “teaching is a values led profession” – and I agree with him – but I did stand there thinking “yes, but whose values are we talking about”

      You touch on this, though I think you (and I ) need to unpack this more – perhaps through more blogs. One problem is that “the culture of schools” is a difficult thing to put your finger on and we have to fall back on rather inadequate references (no offence) to “white, middle class and ‘prefect’ish’” or the behaviour and attitudes of our “lovely middle class, lefty, white friends”. It’s difficult to describe isn’t it? But we know there is more to this than just the so called evidence of statistics and data that refer to raw “achievement”.

      But try we must – so on the back of this I will write another blog about this shortly, and I suggest you do the same – start yourself a blogsite…!

      Thanks again Eylan

  4. Don’t know! A lot of young people don’t come out on the other side feeling confident individuals of the society. Schools are institutions run by white people so teachers try their best but don’t always understand how to meet the needs of some of these children and young people. I have worked with young people, I did go to college here in the UK, and also worked closely with some incredible teachers during my role as a TA. So if you’re growing up not seeing someone that looks like you, or has some understanding of your background then it’s not going to be an easy ride for both parties. Look at Tough Young Teachers. Charles is a great example, I’m sure he means no harm but his energy and his attitude, “leave my class”, for every little thing, (although I am no fan of that pathetic Caleb child), I hate to admit it, at least Charles is a trainee teacher, there are experienced teachers who have that attitude where they can’t see beyond themselves and seem to have forgotten that at the centre of all the teaching is the student.

    On the flip side Alan I also know so many black people who can’t be arsed (excuse my French) to teach and would rather spend that time complaining about white people and racism and how universities select the trainees. I get it these issues still do exist but I’m a firm believer that if you took control of your life and wanted better you could have it your way and turn things around.

    I see a relatively good number of ethnic minority groups in my course, so give it a few more years, I’m sure we will see a rise in the %.

    1. Hi Sara,

      that’s a very thought-provoking and measured post – thanks for sharing it. You raise a lot of issues. The first is how important is it (or how important it is) to have black and Asian teachers to reflect the diversity of our society and for young people to see their role-models as a reflection of themselves. Personally I agree – but i think there are also complexities. For example, you raise one of them yourself about Charles in Tough Young Teachers – if he turns out to be a brilliant teacher and connect with Caleb in a way that turns round his attitude to education, then I’m sure even Caleb wouldn’t be stupid enough to say he’d rather have a black teacher reflecting his ‘culture’ and ‘background’ than the ‘best’ teacher he can get.

      The primary purpose of a teacher is not to be a reflection of a culture or background but to be a good teacher – which is what everyone wants. But I take your point, and it’s perhaps just as important for white kids to see brilliant black teachers as role models as it is for black kids to see them – perhaps even more so.

      You raise another important point about teachers who “can’t see the student at the centre of the teaching” (I’m paraphrasing you). I agree that teachers should always try to do this – but as you have no doubt found out or will find out with experience, teachers are human too – and if they can’t do their job with 29 kids because one is ‘kicking-off’ all the time, it’s very easy to lose your focus and end up failing everybody.

      I can’t speak for why black people or indeed Asians and other groups are reluctant to become teachers – I ask out of genuine dismay and curiosity – but I really do not believe the figures of recent years that BME groups are being attracted into teaching in sufficient numbers. I see it with my own eyes at universities, colleges and training centres up and down the country (with very few exceptions) – they simply are not there.

      I used to work at what was then the University of North London (now London Met) in the 1990s and we had initiatives to attract BME teachers by designing teaching training courses that required a second language to gain entry and by targeting our advertising to BME groups. We weren’t discriminatory but we were targeted. Our courses achieved the highest % of BME trainees in the UK which reflected not just national proportions, but London proportions of BME population – which is much higher of course. So it can be done with the right ideas, effort and will.

      Thanks again for a very honest and balanced post, I enjoyed reading it.

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