Emily Norman portrait

Written by Emily Norman

Emily Norman is the Head of Curriculum and Inclusion for the Church of England’s Education Office. She was formerly a headteacher in central London, an RE consultant and SIAMS inspector.

Our plan to improve representation in school leadership – Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership

“I really do think that it’s critical that teaching is an inclusive profession. Schools and their leadership teams should reflect their communities and their pupils and I’m absolutely determined to see improvements. I think we need inspiring teachers to represent and motivate pupils from all walks of life.” 

Nadhim Zahawi, previous Secretary of State for Education (9.10.21)

This autumn, the Church of England’s Education Office is embarking upon an ambitious project to radically increase the representation of school leaders from UKME backgrounds over the next five years. It is called ‘Leaders Like Us’.

Currently, there are less than 400 headteachers in English schools from UKME backgrounds although there are close to 3 million students. That is a ratio of 1 headteacher to over 7,000 UKME students (data from Professor Paul Miller, Institute for Equity). The effect of this is that the children and young people in our education system are not seeing themselves reflected in the leadership of their schools. This affects their ability to view themselves as future teachers or school leaders, and decisions about the curriculum they study, pedagogical approaches applied in the classroom, how their behaviour and wellbeing are supported and/or managed are all made by teachers and leaders without their lived experience. 

Research tells us that the impact of teacher and school leader representation on students is significant; their attainment and likelihood of progressing to tertiary education is exponentially higher. Their exclusion and suspension rates decrease. Their future aspirations are higher because ‘if you can see it, you can be it’. (A phrase used, for example to describe the impact Nichelle Nichols’ NASA campaign had on Dr Mae Jemison – the first black female astronaut in space).

And why is this so urgent and necessary? 

Data released this summer about school exclusions shows that pupils from a Gypsy and Roma background (18 in every 10,000), followed by those from mixed white and black Caribbean backgrounds (12 in every 10,000) had the highest rates of exclusion in the country. This is much higher than the rates of their White British peers (5 in every 10,00). Permanent exclusions and suspensions in England, Academic Year 2020/21 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

Attainment in this country also shows similar patterns, with White British students attaining at national average in primary SATs tests (65%) and GCSE Progress 8 (50%) while black Caribbean and mixed white/ black Caribbean students achieving below average (56% and 59% respectively for SATs and 44% for Progress 8). https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/ 

Knowing the significant impact that representation amongst teachers and school leaders can have, we have a moral imperative to secure significant increases that result in the 1/3 of pupils who come from UKME backgrounds seeing themselves reflected in the classroom.

Is this only about improving outcomes for pupils?

The Church of England’s vision for schools – a vision for human flourishing and ‘life in all its fullness’ – is absolutely for the pupils in our education sector. Each and every one of them. But it is also a vision for flourishing staff and adults. Our UKME teachers and leaders should have every possible opportunity to progress, achieve and thrive in our schools. 

Data, however, shows that teachers from UKME backgrounds are much less likely to progress to senior positions within their schools than their white peers, becoming increasingly under-represented the further up the ladder you go. The recent NFER report highlighted these issues, showing that rather than improving over the last few years (given all the DEI initiatives taking place), there has in fact been a decline in representation: Racial equality in the teacher workforce – NFER

We must do all we can to nurture the ambition and confidence of our UKME teachers, whilst intentionally removing the barriers and obstacles in their way, so that they can develop into leadership roles that enable them to flourish. We must proactively create school cultures which enable progression, the ability to excel and shine and be seen, places of true belonging. That goes far beyond mission statements, slogans and DEI action plans; it is about living and breathing diversity and inclusion – rooted in the core belief that we belong together and until everyone is flourishing, no one truly does.

Furthermore, research shows us what we probably already know – that diverse teams drive up effectiveness, creativity and innovation within their organisations (see Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter (hbr.org)), which can only be good for the education sector. Our pupils need to be taught by diverse teams. Our schools need to be led by diverse teams. Our society needs to be transformed by diverse teams.

So what can we do about it?

We know we have to address this issue with vigour and urgency. Our ‘Leaders Like Us’ programme seeks to double the existing number of headteachers from UKME backgrounds over the next five years. It utilises the research around what we know works in the recruitment, progression and retention of UKME school leaders (from e.g. Miller 2020), as well as our extensive networks of schools (the Church of England represents 22% of the sector nationally and up to a third when combined with the Catholic sector, with whom we now deliver the NPQs) from which we aim to recruit both participants and mentors to host and support those participants. 

This isn’t to say it is just a church school programme for church school people! Like with all our programmes and networks, ‘Leaders Like Us’ is open to anyone who would like to learn and develop within a values-led environment which is built upon Christian foundations and is utterly committed to serving the common good. 

The programme has four strands: access to accredited training (such as an NPQ or the excellent Aspiring Heads programme), shadowing an experienced headteacher in another context, mentoring to support progression and networking together as a cohort of leaders. It has been devised by successful UKME headteachers, drawing upon their own experience to devise a programme which is grounded in research.

Professor Paul Miller wrote in 2019: Doing race equality in schools is serious business that requires courage and the moral use of power that extends beyond sympathising to taking actions.’

‘Leaders Like Us’ is our call to action for schools, dioceses and trusts all round the country to sponsor an applicant, talent-spot a future leader, apply to become a host and mentor and to commit to long-term culture change. To have the courage to go beyond sympathy and actually take action!

Leaders Like Us’ launches in January 2023. Applications are open now, and the deadline is 11th November 2022. www.cefel.org.uk/leaderslikeus/