Shola Adewale Sandy portrait

Written by Shola Adewale Sandy

Shola is the proud author of the debut novel called ‘ICE, the trilogy’ which stands for I Can Explain, it’s her memoirs that follows her journey in the educational system as a black women professional and the importance of stopping systematic discrimination, unfortunately she has experienced and witnessed over the years in inner London schools.

When I first walked into a secondary school in inner London, as a black member of staff, I didn’t think anything of it, after all there were others there and they seemed to be doing fine on the surface… I rolled up my sleeves, I was committed, prepared and ready. To the best of my ability, I would do good by those students. I felt this was my calling in life…

I looked at the decorated reception and walked around the massive assembly hall. It was early in the morning, I was enjoying the silence, but excited at what was to come… this is where dreams and aspirations are developed for those young minds and maybe for me too…

Fast forward and they soon sprout up in Year 11, leaving to go out into the big wide world. Having gone through the school system knowing what equality, fairness and hard work really looks like. This is what we teach them, isn’t it?

So what happens, if you find yourself in a situation where you were not being paid the same as your white counterpart or given the same opportunities, despite being a dedicated and a hard working member of staff?

That was me! Can you imagine? I initially thought nothing more of it, after all we have laws to protect people like me in a work environment. I was not even in a union because I was so confident that fairness and common sense would prevail!

“This must be a minor mistake; it will get cleared up in no time!” I said to myself over and over again, as the years went by.

Before you all go for me, I am not generalising, but if you happen to be in a situation and the odds were against you like I was, being in front of such a cantankerous headteacher, what would be your choices? 

Remember, you are reminded daily by the micro aggressions towards you, grating away at your skin, getting right to the very core of you.  You are nothing more than a mere irritable speck on their shoe, that they can’t seem to get rid of. So where do you go from there, if you please…

Ignore and march on, hoping and praying things would improve – check

Informal discussion with line managers – check

Discussions with other school leaders – check

Union rep – check

Informal discussions and meetings with headteacher –check

Human Resources – check

Union rep again – check

School Governors – check

Formal meetings with headteacher – check

Headteacher’s Peers and other leaders in the community – check

Local Authority – check

Tribunal system – I can’t disclose everything here folks, you will have to read my memoir….

And all you can think of to do in-between!

What do I have to do to be treated fairly, was the question I kept asking myself? As I made my way through the above list. 

For most people, their response probably would be:

” I can’t deal with this; I would have been straight out the door!”

Yeah right, I wish it was as easy as that! I was invested in those students for better or for worse! (It’s an unwritten contract when you work in those types of inner city schools)

“No way! I would have to be dragged away in chains screaming and protesting, I would not leave those students by choice!” 

Anyway, it was the principle of the whole damn thing! After all, why did our forefathers sacrifice and suffer for, all those years ago, surely so we wouldn’t have too now!

Yes, leaving and getting a job in another school would have been an option, but that’s another conversation to be had. In reality, it is much harder to successfully achieve this, as we need that all important, crucial reference from your former headteacher! Could they be trusted to give you a glowing reference despite your differences, hmm, a lot of people might hesitate at leaving that in the hands of such a person! I know I certainly would!

When I look back, I realise that it is also the system to blame. Giving permission for gross misconduct to take place within Education, allowed that specific headteacher to have the confidence to treat me that way. Knowing profoundly, that they had the power and would ultimately get away with their treatment of me, especially with the support of their loyal allies. 

Thankfully, not all headteachers are like this, but you only have to come across one in your lifetime as a black person and trust me you will never forget the experience in a hurry!