NAHT logo

Written by NAHT

NAHT is the UK’s largest professional association for school leaders, representing more than 33,000 head teachers, executive heads, CEOs, deputy and assistant heads, vice principals and school business leaders.

At the end of June 2021, NAHT launched our You Are Not Alone: Leaders for Race Equality’ book. 

Originating from NAHT’s Leaders for Race Equality network, the book shares the personal experiences of 14 NAHT members from Asian, African, Caribbean and multiple backgrounds. It includes personal and challenging stories of the discrimination faced as both leaders and individuals through school, university, interviews and promotion, often having to prove themselves at every step on the way to leadership and facing both overt and covert racism from others. Common to many stories is the impact of the school environment and how vital the support and influence of role models can be.

The stories and experiences shared are powerful, challenging and at times deeply saddening. However, they are equally heartening, sharing examples of courage, determination and hope. 

Mayleen Atima, a Head Teacher in Suffolk and book author

“All I ever wanted to be was a teacher” is the first line to my chapter. I wanted to start from a point of ambition. Even now that line is tinged with many memories for me as the path to teaching was not as romantic as I imagined it would be. 

The below extract was the hardest part to write as I had to delve back into the emotions of that period of time.

“I realised at that point that, within that school, I had come to the end of my career progression, and I attended a deputy head teacher training course. I applied for several jobs and finally got an interview. The head teacher was shocked when he heard that I had an interview. He asked me for my personal statement so that he could write the reference. After reading the personal statement, he stated that it was full of grammatical errors and I should have let him read it before applying for the job. I was annoyed and my confidence was knocked. Deep down I knew that he did not want me to go, but still his words and actions hurt”. 

I want all readers to find confidence in knowing their value and worth. Not waiting for someone to echo your value but knowing your own worth. The extract above pin-points a pivotal point for me when I realised my worth and knew it was time to move on.

I am now an established head teacher in Suffolk, running a school that has improved from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’. All I ever wanted to be was a teacher and I have achieved that goal.”

Ruhaina Alford-Rahim, Executive Head Teacher in Devon and book author

I had never considered racism as an issue that affected me, yet in writing my chapter, I recognised that racism my parents had suffered decades ago had shaped me to be a person afraid to expose my difference. Suppressed memories of micro-aggressions I had witnessed through 20 plus years in education surfaced: colleagues mocking children’s names; comments regarding needing to be careful when interviewing a non-white candidate; a senior leader revealing that he would like to leave London to get his children away from its diversity; a colleague saying that the Indian sweets a teaching assistant had brought in would taste like sweet wall paper paste and the aggression I received from parents when I first started teaching – at that time my surname was ‘Rahim’ and I wore a hijab. 

Writing the chapter has helped me realise that by hiding my difference I am assuming everyone will react negatively and so I am doing them a disservice – not allowing the opportunity for others to learn, ask questions and develop their own understanding of cultures.

Diana Ohene-Darko, Assistant Head Teacher in Harrow and book author 

It is my hope that those who read the book take the time needed to immerse themselves in our stories, to spend time with us, walking in our shoes if only for a moment. And to take-away the need to create safe spaces, open up discussion and make everyone feel that they are a person, that they belong where they are. No matter what school you are in, you belong there.

Equality is everybody’s responsibility. It requires commitment. It requires hard work. It requires personal reflection from the offset. In order for the whole of the education profession to be an ally, to become allies, you have to delve into that personal reflection, you have to delve into your own biases (and we all have them in different respects). In terms of equality being everybody’s responsibility, actually we are protecting each other’s ‘protected characteristics’, those characteristics that are protected by law- that is all of our joint responsibility. 

Next Steps

NAHT hope that this book can play a part in igniting further conversation and awareness around the breadth and depth of discrimination within the sector. We know that the profession is not yet representative of the communities we serve, and that this is a particular issue at senior leadership level. NAHT are therefore proud to lend its support to amplify our Black, Asian and minority ethnic members’ authentic voices. 

NAHT also recognises the need to challenge ourselves – we know that as an organisation we have really only just begun on our own journey and we remain committed to using our power to work to actively help dismantle racism and the structures that perpetuate it, in all of its forms.

The book is freely available to download at https://www.naht.org.uk/NAHT-Edge/ArtMID/694/ArticleID/1018/You-are-Not-Alone-Leaders-for-Race-Equality

If you are interested in hearing more about the book then please contact policy@naht.org.uk

Supported by