FE News | Removing barriers faced by teachers of colour essential for career progression


Teachers of colour* face barriers to the profession from entry to senior leadership level. 

This is highlighted in an evidence review, conducted by NFER and funded by Mission 44, a charitable foundation launched by Sir Lewis Hamilton. The review explores the barriers and solutions to achieving a more ethnically diverse teaching workforce from entry to senior leadership level. 

People of colour* are over-represented at initial teaching training (ITT) application level, but evidence suggests they have lower acceptance rates onto ITT compared to their white counterparts.

Those who do begin ITT courses report experiencing isolation. This particularly occurs when there are few people of colour on their course. People of colour also report receiving poor preparation and support from ITT tutors and school mentors on the challenges of diversity and racism they may face in teaching. 

NFER suggests providers should have Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policies and training for teacher educators** and should consider EDI when selecting school placements.   

The review finds the main barriers to leadership and headship reported by teachers of colour are a lack of encouragement, racism and preconceptions linked to their culture and/or faith.

Experienced teachers of colour say they are frustrated by a lack of opportunities for progression, due to an absence of support, unfair treatment and experiencing an ‘invisible glass ceiling’.  

The review also highlights another key barrier to career progression is that teachers of colour are encouraged or self-select into middle leadership roles that have limited opportunities for further progression, such as pastoral or behavioural responsibilities.

A recommended approach from the review to improve leadership development among senior teachers of colour is having selection panels for senior posts to include people of colour. 

The analysis outlines the benefits of mentoring support being offered to senior leaders of colour, by suggesting that it should be available from same-race teachers and leaders, with mentors being trained and paid. It also finds that apositive institutional culture for racial equality is identified as the key enabler to encourage progression to leadership for teachers of colour. 

Based on this evidence review, NFER recommends attention is focused on making sure schools are supported in improving ethnic diversity among teachers and leaders. This long-term process of systemic change could usefully involve teacher and leader organisations, as well as ‘middle tier’ organisations, such as multi academy trusts (MATs) and local authorities (LAs).  

The evidence review makes further recommendations including:

  • Schools and ITT providers should share learning and evaluate the impact of strategies to improve ethnic diversity. Cross-programme monitoring (for example of ethnic pay gaps) and evaluation of initiatives could be used to understand the career journeys of teachers of colour and identify areas for improvement as well as identify examples of best practice.
  • There are currently no specific government targets, programmes or funding in England to improve the ethnic diversity of the teaching workforce. Key stakeholders should work together to campaign for government action, for example by referring to actions taken in Scotland and Wales.
  • There may be a need for bursaries to enable teachers of colour, especially those from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, to undertake leadership development.

Sector Response

Katherine Aston, NFER research manager, shares the findings from NFER’s latest evidence review

Jack Worth, School Workforce Lead at the NFER, said:  

“Concerns about the low representation of people of colour in the teaching workforce are not new but the issue persists despite policy commitments to address it. 

“Evidence shows there has been an increase in people of colour applying for ITT in the past decade, but retention and promotion gaps have widened.

“There needs to be support and encouragement of career progression for teachers of colour, with a firm commitment from senior leaders to provide career advancement opportunities.”

The research also indicates that negative experiences during ITT could help explain why fewer trainee teachers of colour achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

The review highlights other potential strategies to improve recruitment diversity, including offering alternative pathways to enter ITT for people of colour who do not have the currently required qualifications to apply or having name-blind applications.

Jason Arthur, CEO at Mission 44 said:

“To build a more inclusive education system that works for all young people, the teaching workforce must be representative of the communities they seek to serve.

“Despite the positive efforts of many within the sector, for too long the issue of diversity in teaching has been overlooked within government. By highlighting the key barriers and enablers to a more diverse education system, it is our hope this report acts as a catalyst for change.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The under-representation of teachers from Black communities in the workforce has been discussed many times without being effectively addressed. Improving representation means changing school cultures. Black teachers and black school leaders are less likely to feel that they can participate in school decision-making. They are more likely to be dissatisfied with their levels of pay.  Rates of teachers quitting the English state-funded system are higher among Black teachers than among white teachers. In the midst of a deepening crisis of recruitment and retention, these are issues that the government should not be overlooking.”

Natalie Arnett, Senior Equalities Officer at school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“We are well aware that racial inequality continues to exist within the education sector, and that this can create barriers to progression. Many of the findings of this report echo what we hear from our own members, especially those within our Leaders for Race Equality network.

“Research highlighting the continued barriers to progression in education for Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals is valuable, and can contribute to the ongoing debate, but research alone is not sufficient to tackle the inequities and barriers in the system.

“What is needed are tangible actions, that support everyone in the system to feel empowered to play their part. That’s why we have repeatedly called for mandatory anti-racism training for all staff. This needs to go further than simply being aware of racism – anti-racism requires action to change and create policies, practices, and procedures to actively promote racial equity.

“This must be coupled with sustained, and concrete support from the government, who remain silent on support to improve representation in the profession, despite recognising the benefits this brings to children and young people. As this report points out, there are currently no specific government targets, programmes, or funding in England to improve the ethnic diversity of the teaching workforce. As a minimum the Department for Education should re-instate or replace the EDI hub funding it discontinued in 2020.”

Margaret Mulholland, Inclusion Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“It is pretty depressing that teachers of colour continue to encounter barriers to leadership and headship such as lack of encouragement, racism and preconceptions linked to their culture or faith. It’s not good enough that there is not a single government initiative to encourage and to nurture teachers of colour to ensure a sense of belonging and success within the teaching profession. This has to be a priority, particularly at a time when recruitment and retention is so challenging.

“A diverse workforce enriches pupils, schools and colleges, and wider society and we support NFER’s call to make sure schools are supported in improving ethnic diversity among teachers and leaders. We’re committed to making school and college leadership more diverse, and have set up equalities networks to help members in these groups to support and empower each other and raise the issues affecting them. However, this report starkly demonstrates that there are problems throughout the pipeline from training onwards and all of us with a stake in education, including the government, need to redouble our efforts.”

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said:

“The findings should be a reminder to the Government that greater action is needed to tackle the causes and effects of racial discrimination in the teaching profession.

“Black teachers still face barriers to pay and career progression, as well as covert and overt racial discrimination throughout their careers.

“Research by the NASUWT has also found that Black teachers are paid less than their white colleagues, are more likely to be employed in temporary posts, less likely to be promoted and are more likely to be disciplined or dismissed from their jobs.

“All teachers deserve to be treated fairly, and with respect and dignity at work.

“The Government could and should be taking immediate action to tackle racialised inequalities, but Ministers have shown their true colours by failing to do so.

“We will continue to argue strongly in support of concerted action to tackle the race pay gap in teaching by requiring school and college employers to publish this data annually. If the Government was serious, it would act to introduce this requirement immediately.

“Systemic racial discrimination is holding back the talent and dedication of teachers and is also denying progress on ensuring that the teaching profession is inclusive and diverse.

“Employers and the Government cannot continue to afford to ignore or disregard the wealth of talent that exists.

“Greater urgency is needed to advance equality, diversity and inclusion in our schools. Taking action would also contribute significantly to ending the teacher recruitment and retention crisis which the Government has so far failed to fix.”

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Education, Employability, Social impact, Work and leadership, Featured voices


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *