Why we need more BAME teachers

Image of Sandra Kerr OBE



Sandra Kerr OBE,  Director, Race for Opportunity


The National Union of Teachers has called for headteachers to recruit more teachers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. But there are still things the education sector can learn from business about increasing BAME representation amongst teachers at all levels.

Our Race at the Top report found that whilst public administration, education and health is one of the top three sectors for BAME people in management positions, this doesn’t seem to have translated to the teaching profession. In November 2013, only 6.7 per cent of all teachers were from ethnic minority backgrounds, and the equivalent figure for headteachers was 2.5 per cent – both of which have barely changed in the last five years. Previous research by Race for Opportunity has also found that 16 per cent of BAME people said they were ‘turned off’ by the prospect of a career in education, with many saying there was a lack of opportunity for progression.

This not only suggests that education is failing to attract BAME candidates to teaching roles, but also that there is a lack of role models – something which is likely to be particularly significant for young people in particular, as one in four primary school pupils now comes from a BAME background. So what can the education sector learn from business in both attracting talented BAME candidates and ensuring they are able to achieve their full potential?

Firstly, the sector needs to ensure that potential future teachers are engaged with the profession early, such as through using a wide range of recruitment channels to reach diverse candidates. This is particularly key for recruiting graduates to teaching careers, as BAME students are most likely to be concentrated in universities which conventional ‘milk round’ graduate recruitment may overlook. Our 2014 Gender and Race Benchmark shows us that organisations where the rate of conversion from application to being hired are similar between BAME and white candidates are more likely to run ‘pre-application’ events for diverse groups and to target diverse candidates at events, and I would encourage education sector employers to use this approach to increase BAME representation within their organisations. Our Race for Opportunity Award winner Teach First also offers best practice on how employers can attract and recruit more BAME candidates.

But just attracting and recruiting BAME candidates is not enough; they must also have opportunities to progress in their careers. However, our Benchmark found that BAME employees are less likely to be identified as ‘high potential’, which may hold them back. Education sector employers therefore need to ensure that their progression and appraisal processes are ‘equality-proofed’, including core leadership competencies, assessing criteria for achieving ‘high potential’ and ensuring selection criteria are fully transparent.

If we are going to create a teaching profession that reflects the communities it serves, we must ensure that it is seen as a career with real opportunities for progression and leadership, particularly for BAME candidates. This will require engagement from the sector and ensuring that recruitment and progression processes are fair, ensuring that all candidates can reach the top of their careers regardless of their background. If employers take steps to do this, they can help increase diversity amongst teachers – who can in turn inspire the next generation.