One extreme example of the “imbalance” is in the London borough of Westminster where there are only 37,9% of BME teachers while a full 85% of pupils belong to ethnic minority groups.
The teachers’ union NASUWT is calling for an additional 68 000 BME teachers “to reflect England’s school population”. According to the union, only 13% of teachers in government schools “come from a BME background, compared to 27% of pupils”.
NASUWT has also played the race card by stating that “ethnic minority teachers face discrimination and prejudice when applying for jobs”. The English Department of Education (DfE) has defended itself against this charge by showing that 68 000 government teachers out of 510 000 are already BME (black and minority ethnic). But for teachers to reflect the ethnic composition of schools, the number of BME teachers would have to double.
One reason being advanced for the lack of BME teachers is that ethnic minorities in England prefer other professions such as pharmacy or medicine to teaching.
One teacher from Leeds, Tayyab Ditta, told the BBC in an interview: “Teaching was never on my radar when I was younger. A lack of BME teachers meant I had no role models so I never envisaged becoming a teacher. I remember seeing people from my community who’d become successful doctors or engineers but I never saw someone who was a teacher and that is a barrier we need to break down.”
The profession of pharmacist in Britain is already dominated by BME candidates. In 2012, a report by the General Pharmaceutical Council in Britain found that “there had been a five per cent increase in the number of pharmacists from a black or minority ethnic background on the register between 2010 and 2011, from 34 per cent to 39 per cent”.
The Pharmaceutical Council also found that up to 70 percent of new entrants to the profession were BME:
“Pharmacists from Asian backgrounds now represent over a quarter of pharmacists (27 per cent), with pharmacists from black, Chinese, and other minority ethnic communities representing a further 12 per cent. This represents the percentage of pharmacists for whom information on ethnic group is available. Ethnicity data is not available for 11.6% of pharmacists on the register. This upward trend is likely to continue, as just under 70 per cent of new entrants to the register in 2011 were from a black or minority ethnic background.”
Janet Sheriff is the only BME secondary school head teacher in Leeds, an area which is already 30% multicultural. She wants more BME teachers to be appointed as a matter of urgency, saying there is “an unconscious bias towards white candidates:
“This is an enormous challenge for the whole education system. It’s vitally important that as our communities become more multicultural our schools reflect the areas where our children grow up.
“I do feel that when schools appoint teachers, there is an unconscious bias where white teachers are often the preferred candidate.”
Official figures show that the proportion of BME teachers in England has only been rising slowly, from 11,6% in 2012, to 13,4% in 2016 (see graph below).
However, despite the steady increase in BME teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) expressed its outrage in a report and claimed that such teachers “still faced deep-rooted, endemic and institutional racism”.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, complained: “BME teachers are, on average, paid less than their peers, commonly face discrimination and prejudice when applying for jobs.
“Schools and pupils are losing out on the talents and skills of BME teachers who are unable to advance their careers or who opt for a different profession due to the barriers being placed in their way. We cannot afford to continue to let this happen.”
Based on the official data, only a single town, Halton, Cheshire, had a slightly higher proportion of BME teachers (4,7%) than pupils (4,5%).
In the rest of the English boroughs, BME teachers are still underrepresented, compared to the percentages of pupils, as the graph underneath shows.
% of BME pupils % of BME teachers
A spokesperson for the DfE said: “There has been a steady increase in the proportion of minority ethnic groups starting teacher training and in the teaching profession in recent years.
“We also provide a range of support to teachers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds such as the Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund. This fund supports schools to increase the representation of BME teachers in senior leadership roles as well as providing coaching and mentoring for BME teachers.”