Adrian McLean portrait

Written by Adrian McLean

Education leader | Former Headteacher | Governors for Schools Trustee | Positive Disruptor

Diversity and equity is something that anyone reading this, I am sure wholeheartedly believes in, visualises and works towards creating in our education system and society. I am an advocate of all of the protected characteristics, and work to challenge the systemic prejudices we all face. My views are through the lens and experiences of a Black male in the English education system. For clarity, when I refer to Black in this blog, I am specifically talking about my Black Caribbean and my government defined White/Black Caribbean heritage. This blog shares some thoughts and musings on why there are so few Black male teachers. 

 

Firstly, we need to examine some statistics to understand how stark the reality is. The latest School Workforce data statistics (2019) show there are approximately 500,000 teachers in England. Using my Black Caribbean descendancy as a marker, the stats say there are 4889 teachers who identified in this category. Using the more accurate descriptor for my background – White/Black Caribbean- this figure comes in at 1741! 

 

When interrogating further, there is no breakdown of how these figures are then represented by gender. What I can tell you from the data provided, is there are approximately 379,000 female teachers compared to 121,000 male teachers. 4889 Black Caribbean teachers… 1740 other White/Black Caribbean teachers… 6630 (quick maths!) people who identified as appearing similar to me, of a population of 500,000 across 23,323 schools? Additionally,  that figure represents both male and females! What? Really? I am not a genius, however, it points to the probability of there being very few male Black Caribbean or White/Black Caribbean teachers. Couple this with my 20 year career in West Midlands schools where I have worked alongside less than a handful of males who look like me. 

 

If you have heard me speak, you will have heard me talk about the importance of visible role models to our young people and ‘usualising’ the presence of all people from protected characteristics in positions of authority. Representation matters. It matters to all children! My #DiverseEd Pledge  from 14/06/2020 is to continue to help, support and grow the number of Black males (from all denominations of Black) in teaching and Senior Leadership. However, 7 months on, the realisation struck me… are we treating the symptom rather than the cause? 

 

The London Development Agency commissioned a study (2004) on the educational experiences and achievements of Black boys in London schools 2000-2003, the authors of the report called for an increase in the proportion of ‘Black Minority Ethnic teachers within the educational system’. Logically, this makes sense… except right now, this is, in my opinion, a pipedream. Let me explain my theory. The experience of Black Caribbean and White/Black Caribbean male students in school is well documented. We all know about the vast over-representation of these young men in being permanently excluded (latest figures are 0.25 and 0.24%, respectively) are only exceeded by students from a Gypsy Roma background (0.27% which is also a travesty!). To me, it is obvious that the lack of Black Caribbean and White/Black Caribbean males in the profession directly correlates to the negative school experience countless reports and reviews have revealed. It is part of one big negative cycle which drives Black males away from education. 

 

From Bernard Coard’s (1971) study of how the British education system failed Black boys or the government sponsored Rampton Report (1981), which recognised the existence of racism in the British education system, through to the work of Maud Blair (2001), is that a high proportion of Black boys find their educational experience to be negative. All of these studies’ findings were perfectly brought to life in Small Axe: Education by Steve McQueen, where he made the audience feel the very real process of placing Black Caribbean children into special schools because they were disruptive or had not scored well on a ‘I.Q. test’. Education has been doing the same thing for 50 years. I’ll say that again… FIFTY YEARS! Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

 

Ofsted (1999) stated Black boys in primary school achieved close to the average on entry to secondary school. However, by the end of year eleven they became amongst the lowest achievers. This mirrors my own experience at secondary school… labelled with low expectations, despite being smarter than your average. Frustratingly, we are still no further along a quarter of a century later! So what changes? Is 11 the age when Black males transform from being capable, engaged students, into troublesome tyrants? Or are other factors at play?

 

Trying to specifically recruit more Black male teachers is going to be difficult when the school, and education experience is, on the whole, not a pleasant one for this demographic. When I ask my school friends and acquaintances about school, they tell me it was the worst time of their life. They didn’t fit. Told they were trouble. Told they were stupid. Labelled. Written off. Put in their place. They say ‘Why would I want to be anywhere near a system that does that to our people?’ The roles offered in schools to this demographic are stereotypically of a pastoral nature. Roles that often leave you helpless in being able to help those you set out to. 

 

You may ask, well how do we improve the educational experience for these young people? There are many tributaries that are required to come together to form the ocean that is Diversity and Equity. Diversifying the curriculum, real measures being put in place to address socio-economic disadvantage, acknowledgement and extensive work on unconscious bias to address misconceptions of behaviour and attitude issues. Work with our communities around toxic masculinity, a stereotype that is persistently put forward and perpetuated in Black communities. This is not an exclusive list, there are many more tributaries that also flow into the mix. 

 

My Jamaican grandfather would always say “Heel nevah go before toe”, and as usual, his wisdom seems apt in this situation. For us to be able to walk tall and true, we must place the heel first (school experience) before we place the toe (more Black male teachers in the profession).  Improve the school experience, the perception of education for Black males will change. Once the perception changes, education becomes an opportunity rather than a threat. The realisation of that opportunity is what I believe will be the change I, and so many others, so passionately work to see. 

 

On that note, I will leave you with 2, some may say rhetorical questions, and a third to ponder more deeply: 

 

Are we trying to treat the symptom rather than the cause? 

 

Do we need to remedy the experience of school for these young people to break the cycle? 

 

How can you be part of influencing this change?

 

References:

 

Blair, M. (2001), Why Pick on Me? School Exclusion and Black Youth, Stoke on Trent, Trentham. 

 

Coard, B. (1971), How the West Indian Child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system: the scandal of the Black child in schools in Britain, London, New Beacon for the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association.

 

London Development Agency, (2004), The Educational Experiences and Achievements of Black Boys in London Schools, London, LDA. 

 

OfSTED, (1999), Raising the Attainment of Minority Ethnic pupils, London, Ofsted publications.

 

Rampton, A. (1981), West Indian children in our schools: interim report of the Committee of inquiry into the education of children from ethnic minority groups, London, HMSO.

 

School Workforce In England, Reporting Year 2019. [online] Available at: <https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england> [Accessed 16 January 2021].

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