Teachers open up on Discrimination in UK Schools
Teachers have opened up on the different forms of discrimination in UK schools, as figures show the small number of senior BAME staff.
Teachers have described the systemic and at times, overt racism they have suffered in UK schools as figures revealed the small percentage of BAME staff in senior roles.
Ex-professional cricketer turned teacher Adrian Rollins has worked in the UK education sector for nearly 20 years, teaching at nine different schools.
He is now a deputy headteacher in Nottingham and is among a small minority of black men who have managed to make it into senior leadership positions in his profession.
For Mr Rollins, the transition from cricket to education has not been easy.
He said that a pupil wrote a racial slur directed at him. Mr Rollins was teaching at the time and was alerted by pupils.
The boy in question was immediately reprimanded and faced a fixed-term exclusion, with his parents apologising and the local police setting up a restorative justice meeting.
However, what followed continues to disturb Mr Rollins.
He said: “I questioned the sanction the boy had received as the exclusion was very short – fairly minimal considering the absolutely horrific thing he had written about me.
“The next nine months were to be the worst of my career – I was made to feel like I was not allowed to be a victim.
“That, if I had not been there, then this incident would not have occurred. That it was somehow my fault.”
According to Mr Rollins, the school showed a general lack of diversity and in his opinion, its soft approach to punishing the pupil highlighted its unwillingness to tackle racism effectively.
During the months that followed, he alleged he was subjected to several microaggressions and his previously glowing appraisals became negative.
He explained: “They started to nitpick, whether it was an assembly that I had given that ‘wasn’t quite right’, or that I hadn’t made eye contact with a pupil.
“A lot of people in my position would have put in an official grievance because it all stemmed from that one incident.
“It felt because I was not happy with the way it had been dealt with I was treated like I had a chip on my shoulder.”
Mr Rollins eventually resigned but said the episode still resonates with him.
“My life became impossible for that period of time and it’s not something that I will ever forget.”
In Bedfordshire, an unnamed mixed-race teacher said she was forced out of her position because of the workplace racism she suffered.
She described the years of abuse she suffered in many different forms, including unconscious and conscious bias, leading to her career stalling, daily microaggressions and overt racist comments.
The teacher explained: “It started with the things that teachers would say about black students.
“A teacher once referred to a black male student as a ‘gorilla’ and another blurted out that ‘all of those black girls look the same. I can never tell the difference’.
“The fact that some teachers dehumanise black children by either referring to them as animals or failing to acknowledge them as individuals with unique features is a terrifying reality of the profession.”
She said other staff members would refer to larger groups of black students as “gangs”.
She alleged that one teacher told her to “keep my handbag close” when black students were approaching her.
Aside from the students, the teacher said she also experienced racism, much of which she decided not to report out of fear she would not be taken seriously.
Her race was continually noted and made the subject of inappropriate jokes or racial slurs.
She said: “Once when I was running a few minutes late to an after-school club, having just dealt with an incident, a staff member once asked: ‘What do you call this? Is this your African timing?’
“This comment was made in jest, but again, it is just a blatant disregard for my feelings as a black woman.
“I cannot imagine a white colleague’s lateness ever being attributed to their race.”
The government’s school workforce data shows BAME teachers are underrepresented.
According to figures, which cover state schools in England, just 4.7% of teachers were Asian, despite Asian people making up 8.4% of 16 to 64-year-olds at the last census.
Of those whose ethnicity was known, 2.3% of teachers were black, compared with 3.6% of the working-age population.
At a more senior level, the disparity is even more stark.
Just 1% of headteachers were black, and 1.6% were Asian. The majority of school heads, 96% of the total, were white.
Patrick Roach, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said some teachers described racism as being part of their daily lives.
He said: “Most schools have just been paying lip service to race equality and this comes from the top down – the blame lays with the government.
“If a teacher reports racism they are pretty much going to be committing career suicide and this is because institutional, systemic racism is very much still part of the school life.”
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it was important for children to have positive role models from all ethnicities to break down prejudice.
He said: “Education can play a pivotal role in tackling discrimination in society.
“It is through education that we can start to build a truly inclusive society.
“But as a profession, we also need to be prepared to hold a mirror up to ourselves. We know that our profession is not yet representative of the communities we serve and that this is a particular issue at senior leadership level.”
The anonymous teacher who hopes to become an assistant headteacher said there was no option but to leave her current school. She has real fears for the rest of her career.
She said: “I can only begin to imagine the racism that awaits me within an already systemically racist profession.”