Dominic Judge portrait

Written by Dominic Judge

Director of Governance Programmes at Inspiring Governance

The recent Diverse Educators series on Diverse Governance has got me thinking. The recurring theme is that developing the right culture in your governing board is the most critical step to getting equality and diversity right in your school. If you like… ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. But are there other ways of tackling racial inequality?

I’ve been a continuously serving governor for the last 15 years in a variety of school and catchment contexts. I’ve also been a Diversity Training Manager in the police after the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence and worked at the National College for Teaching and Leadership, not least leading a range of work to diversify senior school leadership. 

From what I’ve seen in all these contexts, culture is critical in successfully addressing racial inequality. A culture of leadership, personal commitment, brave discussion and a collective willing of boards and decision makers to educate and self-examine themselves in order to move forward. 

However, my experience has shown me that it is also about fundamentally ensuring race equality is elevated front and centre of organisational performance too. This means that race equality is on agendas, data is sought and scrutinised, actions are taken (and funded), and outcomes/ performance are scrutinised and challenged as forensically as any other element of performance. A good culture means this is easier to do but it can be done as the right culture is being developed.

In one of my roles I remember taking on a major programme to develop a pipeline of headteachers. One of this programme’s sub projects (the ‘diversity project’) was unfunded and described to me as an ‘influencing project’. Not surprisingly it was not under the same level of scrutiny as the others and consequently not achieving as much as them. 

This is exactly my point; we won’t make the progress we need to without the high scrutiny and funding of action that goes along with other areas of organisational/ school performance. Within months I ensured it was six-figure funded and scrutinised for its’ performance and progress by the overseeing programme governance board as keenly (if not more) as any other project we were undertaking.

So, if tackling race inequality in schools is to be scrutinised as forensically as any other area of school performance, what are some of the questions governing boards need to be asking themselves?…

7 main areas to consider:

  1. Pupil achievement/ attainment – Does the governing board regularly interrogate the school’s attainment data against ethnic category data. Are there markedly different SATs/ GCSE/ A-Level outcomes for different student groups? Why is this? What are we doing about it? How is the current Covid exam grading approach playing out across our diverse students? 
  2. Racism – My own experience of governance tells me that reported racist incidents to governing boards are very low, but a TES pupil survey last spring reported a third of pupils had seen/ heard racism in their school. So, behind the monitoring of RIs, how are governors assuring themselves that their school is tackling racism and educating students about it? Do all their students feel included, protected, and supported to achieve their academic best?
  3. Exclusions and behaviour The Timpson Review rightly shone the spotlight on pupil exclusions and if you have ever sat on an exclusion panel you will know the magnitude of the decision you are being asked to make. But as a collective board, governors need to monitor exclusions (and for that matter general behaviour sanctions) by ethnic category data – what is the pattern showing? how do they have safeguards/ checks and balances in place to understand and counter any uneven outcomes?
  4. School workforce data and approaches – Are governing boards reviewing their own composition? Are they reviewing the make-up of their SLT, their teaching staff, their ancillary staff? This is not advocating a call for positive discrimination but ensuring that the governing board is asking questions about the strategic approach to recruitment and development in the school.
  5. Broad and balanced curriculum – Governing boards have a strategic role to ensure the school is delivering a broad and balanced curriculum. So, are governors confident the school is offering a balanced curriculum, relatable and accessible to all students from all backgrounds? If an academy, how are they ensuring their curriculum freedoms motivate all pupil groups in the school?
  6. Policies (e.g. uniform) – How are maintained governing boards and trusts reviewing and signing off policies? Are these policies unwittingly leading to indirect discrimination in their outcomes and unevenly associated disciplinary action because of these – e.g. Black hairstyles
  7. Destination data – Governors of secondary schools should be strategically scrutinising the destination data from their schools. Where are their students from different race and ethnic backgrounds going after they leave school? What does the data say on those progressing to further or higher education, employment, what does our NEET data tell us?

Good schools and governing boards will already do much of the above and more. They will have developed their culture and have clarity for the school’s vision and ethos on race. But if some schools are working hard to develop their culture then it’s helpful to remember that part of the governing boards’ strategic role on race is to hold the school executive to account for the educational performance of all its pupils. For success and change, culture and performance scrutiny need to go hand in hand.

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