Our mission is to work towards an education sector that is a reflection of our society and tackle racial inequality in education in the South West

Thursday 22 April 2021

What's it like to be a mixed-race Gen Z-er in the English countryside?

Flora Henry

This article first appeared on https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/whats-it-like-to-be-a-mixed-race-gen-z-er-in-the-english-countryside-5lc7xlnfl on 3 July 2020. With kind permission of Flora Henry to reuse it here.

Flora Henry is an assistant at Quiet Storm creative agency and freelance writer of all things Gen Z. She was born in South London, moved to Somerset when she was ten, and spent her university days in Manchester. As part of her job she works for Create Not Hate, an organisation which seeks to diversify the creative industry. As a mixed-race woman who grew up in a predominantly white rural area she feels especially inspired by events over the last year, to champion diversity and inclusion wherever she can. Flora shares her story below.

In 2007 I moved from South London to a rural Somerset village. My parents chose to move their mixed race family from a hub of multicultural diversity to a predominantly white community. I was ten years old, and my brother was eight. We went to a small primary school where we were two of four non-white students. This was a stark contrast to the school we attended in London, where both staff and students were of multiple different heritages and backgrounds. I do not regret moving to Somerset. I would not have the unbreakable bond with my brother had we not shared the experience of navigating adolescence as minorities. However, the study of Black British history as part of my degree has made me realise how my school experiences could have been different had the curriculum been more inclusive of non-white voices and histories. How our young minds could have been taught that Black British History, is British History. How the microaggressions may have been less frequent if more discussions about race and identity had been normalised and encouraged.

I had not thought about how it would feel living somewhere where there were not many people who looked like me. I don’t think that is something you can prepare for. Prior to moving I don’t recall ever really being seen for the colour of my skin. Why would I living with a white mum and a black dad, in one of the most multicultural cities in the world? Many of my new peers found the idea of living in London both cool, and terrifying. Sharing stories of how it is riddled with gang crime and stabbings and drugs. I found this quite amusing at the time, and still do to an extent. However, it is problematic in that there’s an equating of London with crime, crime with gangs, gangs with blackness. If you grow up in a monocultural village, have not been to a city, and only have TV programmes to base your assumptions and build your knowledge, I can understand this logic. It is not the fault of the young person, but it is problematic. And it is a stereotype that needs to be challenged. By parents, friends and teachers.

I remember the first time someone described me as being ‘half-caste’. No one batted an eye lid. ‘You can’t say that!’ I told them, shocked that it had been said so casually. I realised there had been no malicious intent but I suddenly felt so completely and utterly isolated. Othered. Why were none of my friends backing me up? Instead of apologising and moving on, the boy who had said it told me that yes he could use it, his parents had told him so. Reflecting upon this now, I’m conflicted between laughing at the absurdity that he tried to argue with me over an offensive term he had used to describe me; or screaming at the fact he thought he could tell me how he could describe me. I always found it especially ironic – and poignant – that many of my peers felt no discomfort using words like ‘half caste’ or ‘Paki’ but would feel uncomfortable describing a black person as black.

When told I would definitely encounter racism at secondary school by a friend, my mum and dad organised a meeting with the secondary school headteacher. I was warmly welcomed and introduced me to a mixed-race student a couple of years older than me. He reassured me I had been sold a lie that was a result of both ignorance and innocence. He reinforced the same message my parents have always taught me: if someone says something odd or upsetting to me about the fact I look different, it is their problem, not mine. And sometimes it is ok to laugh through these experiences too. We often use humour to defuse anger we have felt. Like when people think I am related to every black person; from Usain Bolt to the lone black man in the next village.

In Year 9, I was part of a cultural exchange programme to Zambia. The application process was hard and competitive, and I was so excited to be chosen as one of the fourteen students who got to spend three weeks in Mufulira, Zambia. In year eleven I was Head Girl. Again, the process was hard, but I was so proud when I was told I had got the position. On both occasions I was told by my peers, including friends, that ‘obviously’ I was going to be chosen for these positions. Obvious because it makes the school ‘look good’, painting a picture of diversity and inclusivity. Again, I do not think this was necessarily said with malicious intent, but it hurt. Because the implication is that regardless of the effort I had put in, or quality of work I produced, the outcome was already written. Looking back, I feel sad for myself. The fact that I did not question this denigration of my own merit and ability. In fact, on occasion I played along with the notion that I was the token black girl who was used to make the school look good. I am guilty of being compliant in my own deprecation.

My mum recently told me that when she and dad used to come to our parents’ evenings, she always felt like teachers would address her as opposed to my dad. She said she would look at dad to try and redirect their gaze. This made me want to cry with anger. Did my dad ever feel this? He must have. Perhaps gender played a role in this too, but something as small as eye contact could have made both my mum and dad feel at ease. For me, it is these micro-aggressions – so small and subtle and often subconscious – that can be the most damaging.

History has always been my favourite subject. I graduated with a history degree from the University of Manchester last summer. My secondary school history teacher played a huge part in my love of history. She just got it so right. However, the curriculum itself was not inclusive of black histories or voices or narratives. My knowledge and understanding of the British Empire, and everything it did – the good, the bad and the ugly – did not really come to light until A Level/Degree level learning.

My school days hold some of my most treasured memories. I made friends for life and was given some incredible opportunities. The occasional racist incident or comment built in me a resilience that forms part of my character as a young adult. But it shouldn’t have been that way. The history I learnt at school was selective and largely white washed. I know this is something that is being addressed in schools and the national curriculum today, but the narrative needs to change so that young girls like me can celebrate their successes without feeling embarrassed at the idea of being used as a token of diversity. And so that the next generation of young people understand why we live in such multicultural society, and why that is something to be celebrated.

Thursday 17 September 2020

The Empire Windrush

Rodeane Henry-Grant

National Education Union’s black delegate for the South West

This blog post first appeared on https://neu.org.uk/blog/empire-windrush on 24 June 2020. With kind permission of Rodeane Henry-Grant to reuse it here.

In 1948, those arriving on the Windrush to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War and fill the gaps in health and transport were subject to explicit crude and violent racism and this hostility was not limited to personal prejudices. (Chouhan and Nazroo, 2020)

Migrants arriving in the first wave of mass migration endured verbal and physical abuse both within and outside the workplace. White trade unionists resisted the employment of migrants and imposed a quota system. Within the NHS, concern that importing overseas workers was likely to create tensions was recognised in a 1949 Home Office memo: “It has been found that the susceptibilities of patients tended to set an upper limit on the proportion of coloured workers who could be employed either as nurses or domiciliaries.” (Jones, E. and Snow, S., 2011)

Britain’s schizophrenic approach to migrants wanting them to work where ‘natives’ wouldn’t or couldn’t, and not wanting so many living and working in Britain continues to this day.

Five years later Powell gave his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, in which he not only proposed stopping immigration but further proposed that there should be re-emigration. The content and tone of the speech was overtly racist, referring to wide-grinning piccaninnies and Negroes as offensive and noisy, and White people as being strangers in their own country who were unable to get access to hospital beds. In contemporary Britain, at the same time as the NHS needs to recruit from overseas and ruing the staff shortages caused by Brexit and Covid-19, we are once again being presented with hypocritical arguments about ‘migrants’ being a drain on the NHS. (Chouhan and Nazroo, 2020)

The Windrush Scandal exposed a systemic and deep-seated thoughtlessness on the issue of race.

The long-awaited review published in March 2020 confirmed that hundreds of were wrongly and unjustly told they were in Britain illegally, detained and deported. The Williams report says that this was a "profound institutional failure" turning people's lives upside down, even causing the deaths of many Caribbean people.

Diane Abbott MP said: “For those affected, it isn't necessarily the money, the inconvenience or the tragedy of being deported, it is the insult to people who always believed they were British.” (Windrush scandal: Home Office showed 'ignorance' of race) These people had come in their thousands to help rebuild the motherland and its economy after the wars and beyond.

The author of the report Wendy Williams stated that “race clearly played a part in what occurred”, adding that “some failings could be indicators of indirect discrimination and the factors identified demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation.”

After PM May's public apology and the mis-characterisation of so many detainees more than 12,000 people have been given documentation confirming they are living in the UK legally. Out of these only 60, however, have received compensation, totaling £360,000 from a fund that officials envisaged paying out well over £200m.

The fact that Britons have just finished paying the debt to slave owners in 2015 before considering giving reparations to the Windrush generation and their descendants which have been brutalised by the state is heinous.

As the NEU pays tribute to the people of the Windrush generation and their descendants on the second annual Windrush day, marking 72 years since the arrival of the Empire Windrush – we call for the full implementation of the Windrush review report recommendations to the Home Office and we are requesting that the recommendations are applied across all government departments. These include:

  1. the Home Office must acknowledge the wrong which has been done;

  2. it must open itself up to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and more extensive Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in human dignity.

Independent review by Wendy Williams

In Ms Williams review into Windrush, it is clear that officials should be actively educating themselves. “These failings clearly demonstrate deeply systemic issues of race and the history and the public's and officials' poor understanding of Britain's colonial history, the history of black Britons,” she said.

The Windrush generation deserves justice and reparations for the pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of a country who desperately needed their help.

One of the cases is that of Anthony Williams. Anthony made the journey from Jamaica to Birmingham in 1971 at the age of 7. He attended primary and secondary school before joining the army and serving with the Royal Artillery for 13 years. After having a successful second career as a fitness instructor until 2013, he suddenly found himself classified as an illegal immigrant and dismissed from his job. He spent five years destitute as the DWP had categorised him as an unlawful resident. He was not able to work or claim unemployment benefit having no money to heat his flat and spending most of the time in winter, keeping warm at the local library. To eat, he could only get 35p tins of sardines and pasta.

In 2018, when the Government apologised for mistakes made and promised compensation, the damage was already irreparable. Williams hoped he could start to rebuild his life and applied for compensation when the scheme was announced in April 2019.

In January he was told the matter would be resolved in a few weeks. Six months later, and still waiting, he is still living with the consequences of five years of fear, his physical and mental health battered and enforced unemployment in a flat that he cannot afford to furnish accurately.

Thursday 10 September 2020

Connected: over-representation of white teachers in schools and #BLM events in Bristol?

Claire Stewart-Hall

Level 7 Coach at Equitable Coaching, PhD Researcher

This blog post first appeared on https://equitablecoaching.com/ on 4 September 2020. With kind permission of Claire Stewart-Hall to reuse it here.

Do #BLM protests mean change has happened already?

Nationally, 14.3% of teachers are from minority ethnic groups (DfE, 2020). Statistically, fewer minoritized teachers are teaching in Bristol schools than white teachers: 9% of teaching staff and 15% teaching assistants are from ‘non-white minority ethnic backgrounds’ (DfE 2019). Elahi, Finney and Lymperopoulou, (2017) identify low numbers of minoritized teachers in Bristol schools and there is an emerging local media narrative of fewer minoritized teachers (BBC, 2018) than nationally. The population of Bristol is 463,400 people and it is the largest South West city, one of the ten ‘Core Cities’ in Great Britain. The white population is estimated as 84%, with 45 religions, 187 countries of birth and 91 main languages spoken (Bristol City Council, 2020).

Bristol became a focal point after the removal of the statue of Edward Colston in summer 2020. Bristol enters critical stages in its history by accepting and owning up to the ways it has benefited from its legacies of exploitation of human labour and its leading role in a mass genocide of thousands of human beings, further impacting on the oppression and disempowerment of generations of communities. The protest has prompted the removal of the name Colston from various venues and elicited statements of intent including, The Merchant Venturers, Colston’s former company, and responses from local schools about their contribution to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Arguably, the event is a ‘big bang’ happening, ripping off a plaster in order for Bristol to begin to question and talk about (rather than ignore) supremacist interpretations of its history.

The protest can be interpreted as an act of interest convergence (Bell, 1987): both removing the glorification of a slave-trader whilst simultaneously dismantling and jettisoning shameful evidence of white supremacist history. Thompson Dorsey & Chambers (2014) further problematise interest convergence, demonstrating a pattern in legal contexts that following convergence (C) is C-D-R (pronounced Cedar): divergence (D) and finally imperialistic reclamation (R), from Harris’ property functions of whiteness (1993). This suggests temporary convergence will likely be followed by divergence then reclamation.

#BLM events will likely impact on the ways race is understood and talked about in Bristol schools. Renewed agency for anti-racism with senior teams publicly considering impacts of race may deepen. Senior leadership teams may seek to understand existing situations and institutions might already be developing discourse about whiteness. Counter stories may have been reflected upon and voiced. There has to be a shift in the ways we talk about race – that not only do we recognise that our structures disadvantage groups and that structures have to rebalance contextually, but also that discrimination will continue until white people learn to talk about their whiteness and act to change systems that benefit white people first. It seems an ironic act of white supremacy that the dismantling of whiteness through the #BLM movement relies on white people in positions of authority to act.

However, signs of divergence are already visible, including local Bristol counter protests around monuments considered ‘white property’ (Harris, 1993) and death threats targeting Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees. Whilst protests reignite agency they do not provide institutional processes or support emotional investment that Matias (2016), Swanson and Welton (2019) postulate is necessary to sustain, dismantle and counter whiteness. Without such direct processes, Frankenberg (1993) argues, for some white people anti-racism becomes an ‘act of compassion’ (p.6), optional and not intrinsically linked to identity. It remains relevant therefore for schools to develop processes and examine to what extent senior leadership teams interconnect whiteness to role enactment.

There is an opportunity to change but the change must be deeper than a curriculum change or an optional half day inset training on #BLM. The summer’s events erupted because there has been such a lack of discourse about whiteness and its impact on everyday situations. We must find ways of talking about the cause of racism – why do white people consciously and unconsciously enact racism? Unless we are on the lookout for how and why this happens, we cannot evolve. I have argued in the past this root and branch paradigm shift is similar to the duty of care shown to safeguarding after the murders of so many children that could have been prevented. It changed how and who walked into school buildings, it changed when we safeguarded and with whom. It changed our school processes. If we want to talk about race, we need processes to do so.

As a former Headteacher in Bristol, it is important because, as Picower (2009) notes, it is crucial to understand relationships between whiteness and schools in a hegemonic school workforce predominantly educating children of colour. In Bristol in 2017, 38% of primary and 34% of secondary students came from ‘minority ethnic groups’; 91% of Bristol teachers identify as white British (DfE 2019). However, structural racism will not change until whiteness is examined by white people themselves (Baldwin, 1963) therefore it is necessary to create processes for becoming cognizant of whiteness with educators of children of any racial background in order for wider society to become equitable. That means in majority white schools this deepening of discourse about whiteness is critical. Children in our schools, and the staff who influence them, will go on to be police officers, work for local authorities, work on public transport – enacting cultures they have learned at school. Let it be that they understand and can see how white supremacy functions, know and are confident about the ways to counter it and name it.

Without processes to develop discourse about whiteness the profession lacks and ignores fundamental knowledge and professional learning about race and its impact thereby institutions continue to enact and perpetuate dominant colonial ideologies causing damaging, emotional harm. I anticipate this lack contributes to systemic frameworks preventing more black and brown teachers accessing teaching and positions in school leadership teams.


  • Baldwin, J. (1963), The Negro and The American Promise in Baldwin, J. and Peck, R. (2017) I Am Not Your Negro, Penguin Classics: UK

  • Bell, D. A., (1980), Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma, Harvard Law Review, 93: 3, pp. 518-533

  • Bell, D.A., (1987) And We are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, Basic Books; Reprint Edition: USA.

  • Bristol City Council (2020) The Population of Bristol, April 2020, Bristol City Council Available from: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/33904/The+population+of+Bristol+April+2020.pdf/e8fff118-2d83-f9c4-a7eb-dc443b469256 (accessed on 14 April 2020)

  • Elahi, F., Finney, N. and Lymperopoulou, K. (2017) Bristol: A City Divided? Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity CoDE/ The Runnymede Trust (online) Available from: https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/CoDE%20Briefing%20Bristol%20v2.pdf(accessed on 09 January 2020)

  • Frankenberg, R. (1993) White women, race matters: the social construction of whiteness, Routledge, London.

  • Harris, C (1993) Whiteness as Property, Harvard Law review, 1707.\

  • Matias, C.E., Henry, A., Darland, C. (2017b) The Twin Tales of Whiteness: Exploring the Emotional Roller Coaster of Teaching and Learning about Whiteness, Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, 1:1.

  • Picower, B. (2009) The unexamined whiteness of teaching: How white teachers maintain and enact dominant racial ideologies. Race, Ethnicity and Education 12:2, pp. 197–215.

  • Reay, D. (2017) Miseducation: Inequality, education and the working classes, Polity Press: Bristol.

  • Swanson, J. & Welton, (2019) A. When Good intentions only go so far, Sage, Vol. 54(5) 732-759.

  • Thompson Dorsey, D. & Venzant Chambers, T.T. (2014) Growing C-D-R (Cedar): working the intersections of interest convergence and whiteness as property in the affirmative action legal debate, Race Ethnicity and Education, 17:1, 56-87.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Structural racism in education: lessons from Bristol's past

Councillor Ruth Pickersgill

Councillor for Bristol City Council, Easton Ward

I have been asked to write a bit about what I have seen works, in terms of race equality strategies in education over the decades –probably mainly because I am old, been around a long time, and tend to harp on about when things were better! I have worked on equality issues since I was appointed the first Equal Opportunities Officer in Avon Council in 1988. I have been privileged to hold a number of posts where I could influence Council policy –Inclusion Officer and the Equality Manager for the Education Department (and more recently as an elected Councillor), but also to be able to implement anti-racist policies in practice - initially as a teacher in schools, and more latterly as a senior leader in FE colleges in Bristol and Leicester.

This is not any pretence at an academic paper-it is my own personal views, which are clearly subjective, and give the perspective of a white professional (and the privilege that goes with that) who has been working in the system trying to tackle inequality.

1970s and 1980s

In my view, despite the Race Relations Acts of 1968 and 76, in the 1970/80s there was very little understanding of racism as a structural issue. 1966 had seen the introduction of Section 11 funding given to Local Authorities to support pupils ‘from Commonwealth countries with language or customs that differ from the rest of the community.’ This led to the introduction of Ethnic Minority Achievement Services (EMAS) in Local Authorities who went into schools, mainly to support children with EAL work. Over those years, the predominant theories were of multiculturalism and ‘celebrating difference’, and progressive schools started having international feasts and introducing some diversity into the curriculum. In my opinion, not a lot changed, and it started to become clear there was a need to go ‘Beyond Samosas and Reggae’ (a phrase used by Nasa Begum) and tackle institutional racism.

Also during that time Bernard Coard wrote the pamphlet ‘How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System (1971)’ which raised concerns about discrimination and the over representation of African Caribbean Pupils in special schools and being classified as having SEND needs, identifying the euro-centric nature and bias of IQ testing. In 1977, the Select Committee on Race Relations then looked into the increasing concerns being raised by African Caribbean parents, and their campaigns to improve their children’s achievement, but took several years to report back. In 1985, the Swann Report eventually concluded that, ‘whilst racism, whether intentional or unintentional, cannot be said alone to account for the underachievement of West Indian children, it can and does have an important bearing on their performance at school’. The report finally discounted differential IQ levels, and urged teachers to examine their attitudes and behaviour, to challenge all manifestations of racism and to play a leading role in changing the attitudes of society as a whole towards minority ethnic communities.

This seemed to me to be the start of a major shift in thinking , and was widely discussed in schools and initial teacher training, but it focussed more on changes to behaviour and attitudes under the theme of ‘Education for All’ rather than targeted anti-racist work. However, the report was a useful start, as it recognised the additional impact of disadvantage in terms of employment and housing, provided evidence of the stereotyping and lower expectations of teachers of BAME pupils, and started a discourse about institutional practices It also recommended a wide range of actions for Local Authorities, like making commitment to tackle racism, appointing a lead on Minority Ethnic pupil’s achievement , improving EAL support and multi-cultural understanding , and for schools to have policies to combat racism. For the first time, it officially recognised the lack of BAME teachers, and required teacher training colleges and LAs to start to collect ethnicity statistics.

What is incredible is how little these recommendations have progressed in 35 years if we look at outcomes today.


In the 1990s, ‘equal opportunities’ started to feature in Local Authority and school thinking, but it was mainly in relation to employment issues, in terms of fair recruitment processes being developed, and basic equalities training being put in place. More forward-looking institutions had Anti-Racist training, but it was very focused on attitudes and, in my view, did not lead to significant change.

The horrific murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 brought racists incidents to the fore. It took until 1998 for the Labour Government to launch the Macpherson Inquiry which highlighted institutional racism in the police and defined it as "The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour that amount to discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people" .IT also made 70 recommendations to tackle it. To most people, this was a new concept, but it was first coined in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. They pointed out that individual racism is often identifiable because of its overt nature, institutional racism is less perceptible because of its "less overt, far more subtle" nature. Institutional racism, they said, "originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than [individual racism]".

For some reason, this year, when the horrific murder of George Floyd led to the Black Lives Matters protests, and they shone the light on structural racism, 53 years later, it was seen as a new revelation by many educationalists!

What made the difference in the early 2000s?

Many people may disagree, and it probably depends which school or Local Authority you were in, but I believe that things did start to change for the better in Bristol between 1999 and 2008 for several reasons:-

  1. Money: In 1999 a new Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant was given to LAs to narrow the achievement gaps for BAME groups, which meant they were able to employ specialist staff as part of the Ethnic Minority Achievement Services to work with schools. In Bristol there was a shift from working with individual EAL pupils to supporting schools to tackle institutional racism. We had an Equalities Team in the Education Department , who were able to use the funding to produce guidance for schools on reporting and tackling racism, holding conferences for Heads on raising BAME achievement , and producing curriculum materials like the Black Bristolians Project which resulted in 8 schools putting on performances centring round the stories in the pack. There was also regeneration funding available, and the Equalities Team and other organisations put in bids for a variety of initiatives like a community cohesion twinning scheme run by Barnardos linking schools in the South and Central areas. A series of conferences and training courses were developed e.g. for dual heritage young people and their parents, and a multi-faith conference for pupils. In addition, good practice visits were made to Birmingham and other London authorities and schools to identify best practice in raising BAME achievement, which was then presented to a Heads’ conference. A video was made highlighting the views of Bristolian Black young people on identity, why they thought there was underachievement, and they were clear, highlighting lack of role models, low aspirations of teachers, lack of CEIAG etc. The Education Action Zone also brought money into Central and East schools to use for parent engagement work, training etc. and a lot of anti-racist and multi-cultural resources were developed and stored on the BREAZSHARE website, which has sadly disappeared over the years.

  2. Ofsted focus: Probably the most important impetus in the early 200os was that Ofsted said that it would specifically inspect equality, and made it a ‘limiting grade’ along with safeguarding, so you had to be ‘good’ in both areas to be seen as ‘good’ overall. Suddenly Heads across the City were asking for help, and money was being invested in getting specialist support!.

  3. Targets: The Council agreed Key Performance Indicators to narrow particular achievement gaps (e.g. Key Stage 3 Black boys’ achievement in English) for which officers were held to account, and this provided schools with a focus, and the LA employed BAME staff to run summer schools and support schools to close their gaps and reduce exclusions. A comprehensive Equalities Audit was done each year and published detailed analyses including ethnicity employment stats, as well as outcomes data for each key stage and also showed the results for all schools. Heads were then all made aware, not just of their ethnicity gaps, but also which of the schools needed to do more work.

  4. Community partnerships: Funding was also secured to recruit a Supplementary Schools’ Coordinator and to develop their directory and network, and to pay for their training. Schools started to learn from these community led schools on how to engage with BAME parents and several schools started to review their curriculum to make it more diverse. Research showed that the supplementary provision at City Academy at that time, which employed BAME staff to work alongside the existing teachers, had a significant impact on GCSE results.

  5. Recruiting BAME Governors: It was identified that the best way to challenge schools to up their game in terms of race equality was to have more BAME governors. Positive action was taken and 65 were recruited over two years, and they went through a training to help them identify the key issues on race equality and the sorts of questions they could be asking their schools to keep up the momentum. In addition, a new BAME governors’ network was set up to provide support and exchange best practice.

  6. Equality Framework: Schools were encouraged to work towards the Bristol Inclusion Standard, which required them to have policies and actions in place to tackle any underachievement etc., which included requirements to address race equality and have a plan of action to close any gaps in outcomes. They had to have a Steering Group to lead the work and to keep the momentum going.

So, where did it all go wrong?

So… I do believe a lot changed in this period, and the seeds of improvement were sown, but it was not embedded and sustained. From 2008 austerity started to hit and then the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant was subsumed into the general Dedicated Schools Grant in 2011,and no longer ring-fenced, so gradually the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service and Equalities Team members lost their jobs, and without that focus and constant challenge on equalities, race equality in particular slipped down the agenda. Then Ofsted decided they would no longer grade equality-it would be mainstreamed (supposedly underpinning all areas, but in practice not even discussed in subsequent inspections I was part of).

The other major difference was academisation. As so many schools in Bristol converted to academies, the LA no longer held their data to identify trends, and could not act strategically to improve outcomes across the City, or direct them to do anything, and School Improvement Officers were no longer able to comment on their equality work. Specialist roles were lost as the last of the EMAS Team were made redundant, and the Traveller Education Service closed. I believe that Ofsted inspections, league tables and Multi-Academy Trusts shifted the focus to a neo-liberal ‘post-racial ‘and ‘colour blind’ approach, deliberately shifting the focus to ‘white working class boys’, as though Black working class children were not doubly disadvantaged and racism had miraculously disappeared. I believe many schools have drifted away from identifying and tackling ethnicity gaps and tackling structural racism, and so now need to start again.

I notice that where individual schools have continued to tackle racism, to diversify their curriculum and take positive action to recruit BAME staff, it has been due to there being good parental engagement and individual key members of staff with an understanding of equalities and a passion for change. However, often nothing has been embedded in their policies and governance structures, so as individuals leave and move on, schools lose focus and move backwards.

What works in practice?

I was lucky after 2008 to have senior leadership roles in Further Education colleges where I was able to put into practice some of the things that I had seen had worked in schools. What I found was most successful was:

  • Working in partnership with BAME organisations to take positive action to recruit more BAME staff and governors

  • Senior Leadership Teams being signed up to challenging racism and closing achievement gaps and having it on every agenda

  • A diverse governing body (including race equality expertise) who are well trained on equality issues and have regular specific items on their agenda

  • Equality Impact Assessments on every key decision and policy which include consultation with BAME parents and communities

  • A relentless focus on data and making sure every department is aware of any gaps in outcomes, over-representation in exclusions, lower sets, disciplinary processes etc.

  • All faculties being aware of their data and gaps and being given targets to close gaps and being required to put in place actions to address them

  • Independent audits of exclusion files to highlight any unequal treatment

  • BAME student voice being central to the work, constantly checking with BAME students as to what is working and what isn’t- in my experience, they can always identify the issues before the staff!

  • Heads of Faculty meeting each term with a senior leader to account for the progress of their BAME pupils

  • Mandatory race equality and cultural competence training for all staff

  • Annual Equality Scheme with specific race equality actions agreed by the Governing Body

  • Visibility of race equality in the college-in displays , tutorials , newsletters etc and race equality being a regular discussion point in staff meetings

  • BAME roles models coming in as speakers, visiting lecturers, external consultants etc. and modelling community cohesion e.g. having adults from different backgrounds working together on projects

  • Equality challenge in peer reviews with other colleges

  • Good links with BAME community leaders and bringing them in to discuss key messages (attendance, CEIAG etc,) and working in partnership with BAME VCSE groups – e.g. commissioning them to audit recruitment practice, train staff etc.

  • Faculties required to review their curriculum with BAME community members using a template to consider how to decolonise

  • Race equality as a standing area of the College Improvement Plan

  • Diversity Champions in each faculty and support area who can constantly raise the issues

  • Anti-racism running through all tutorial programmes, PSHE etc.

  • Libraries on board with regular displays, review and promotions of BAME writers etc.

  • Targeted pastoral support –for BAME students in groups or individually if required, with a diverse staff group

Where are we now?

I like to be a glass half full sort of person, and am hoping that the clarity of the BLM movement, with its relentless focus on structural racism and not just looking at individual racist attitudes and unconscious bias, may lead to us being able to pick up the pieces and build on what we know works and make a difference again. I am so pleased that the narrative is making it clear that this is everyone’s responsibility, and is not just down to BAME staff and parents to take responsibility. However, this time as academies manage their own policies, data, recruitment, curriculum etc.so it is going to be community members and parental campaigns who will need to keep up the pressure on governing bodies , MAT Boards and LAs.

Monday 10 August 2020

Disrupting the status quo: beyond a reactionary response to race discussions in schools

Sharon Porter

Educational Consultant and PHD Researcher, Bristol

In a recent meeting with a group of BAME educators, we were discussing concerns about the current situation that we find ourselves in – the coronavirus pandemic. Talk was of being seen, being heard, challenging the status quo, as well as talk of those who hold power ‘allowing’ educators a space to discuss issues of race. I cannot remember my exact words, but I raised the question:

…are they ready to have a discussion about race?

Responses from the group varied but the overwhelming response was that leadership teams must be ready. How do we know that those in authority are ready to have such conversations?

How can discussions on issues of race be approached safely?

In having conversations about race in the context of education, and an understanding of how discussions can be approached safely needs to be considered. Alternative points of view can be presented to leadership teams, and those interested encouraged to change their curriculum and locate alternative resources. But, how does this disrupt convention, and impact upon the bigger picture? How does it ensure there is a true willingness to listen, plan and act, particularly when policies and processes currently in place maintain the status quo? There is no one size fits all, off the shelf, solution.

What follows is a (brief) critical reflection that will hopefully encourage you to reflect, discuss and challenge.

How can a reactive approach to planning a new curriculum be conducted without harming the future chances of students?

As I write, educators at different stages of their career are entering discussions on how to adapt and create a new curriculum. This is a fantastic opportunity but writing a curriculum is an onerous task requiring expertise. Think about your setting, how many educators (teaching assistants, classroom teachers, middle leaders, etc.,) have been released for training on how to develop a curriculum? How many BAME educators in your setting have been asked to work with Senior Leadership Teams in developing a culturally appropriate curriculum?

Initiatives such as the One Bristol Curriculum, and The Black Curriculum, focus on incorporating Black History into the curriculum. These are good starting points for leaders to gain an understanding of how much change is needed, as well as recognising the depth of experience required to create these curricula. It is important to note that discussions on these initiatives started at least two years ago and involved many educators. This suggests current reactive approaches may not be as effective. However, we must start somewhere. With changes to the History curriculum continually gathering momentum, and with a steady flow of ‘new’ resources being created for History lessons, parity is required in other parts of a schools’ curriculum. The discussion must therefore shift towards learning from the approaches taken when incorporating Black History into the curriculum and encouraging similar thought leaders’ involvement in school conversations.

Where is the next area for improvement, and who makes decisions about this?

Further to global ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, a wealth of resources aimed at children have been circulated via Local Authorities, Multi-Academy Trusts in England, and across Social Media platforms. Resources are also directed towards adults in the hope that a documentary will be watched or, a book read, and minds changed overnight. Information is everywhere: Netflix collections, updated booklists on issues of race, social media #BLM, to name just a few.

With a heightened level of attentiveness due to current issues, educators (and many others) are taking the time to listen. Listening may in part be borne out of curiosity but this is a ‘captive’ audience who will face further changes, and their conversations/contributions to their field will be influenced by previously unheard actors (educators, academics, poets, film makers, musicians). In addition, recognition of a need to align with the increasing BAME student population makes this an issue requiring a fresh approach. It is an opportunity to highlight new resources from different voices and to hear different perspectives. Through initial discussions of these and other resources, educators will collectively contribute to the contemporary conceptions of content that students will study in the future. Depending on the school, clarity may already exist in how to identify areas (resources) for improvement, with recommendations for change being proposed, but who has the final say? Who makes decisions about this?

Why has it been this way for so long, and what is getting in the way of action?

Allocating time to be proactive in the review and creation of school policies is a challenge. Identifying who is best placed to lead, and who is responsible for implementing and monitoring policy presents difficulties. Also, whether allocations may need to be further reduced to accommodate this as part of a role, hinders progress. These are vital considerations before policies at the school level can be changed and approved. Thus, it becomes clear why it has been this way for such a long time; it impacts on a myriad of processes.

Questions such as, ‘What are our policies on Equality & Diversity, Religious Observances, Pupil Behaviour & Discipline….Radicalisation…?’, ‘How can we show that we have reacted to change?’ and variants of these questions have probably been raised in meetings in recent weeks. The fact that a school is being reactionary in relation to a major global issue speaks to how they potentially address policy. Are policies reviewed regularly, only introduced further to Ofsted inspections, are they truly a part of the golden thread that binds all parts of a school together? How these questions are answered will vary depending on the type of school, where it is in its development journey and what policies are already in place.

So, what is getting in the way of action being taken? One could argue there is a lack of ethnic minority leaders in place to affect change. But how do we increase these numbers when we have so few minority teachers? (Runnymede Trust, 2017) Even with ethnic minority leaders in place, policies are likely to remain unchanged, which leads to ethnic minority leaders perpetuating the status quo through outdated policies.

To conclude, I urge you to think about the conversations that have happened and will happen in your settings. Some schools are being naive, taking advantage of BAME staff for various initiatives. Some will continue to follow directives from ‘the top’, but equally, there will be many that embrace an approach that places the student at the centre of change.

Change is required, so amidst the discomfort and sideways glances in meetings, we must discuss these issues and contribute to a transformative change in education by confronting bureaucracy, highlighting outdated policy, and challenging reluctance to overhaul the educational system.


Runnymede Trust (2017) Bristol: A City Divided? Ethnic Minority Disadvantage in Education and Employment Ethnic Diversity and Inequality in Bristol

Measuring Local Ethnic Inequalities. Available at: www.ethnicity.ac.uk (Accessed: 17 October 2018).

Nationally, 14.3% of teachers are from minority ethnic groups (DfE, 2020). Statistically, fewer minoritized teachers are teaching in Bristol schools than white teachers: 9% of teaching staff and 15% teaching assistants are from ‘non-white minority ethnic backgrounds’ (DfE 2019). Elahi, Finney and Lymperopoulou, (2017) identify low numbers of minoritized teachers in Bristol schools and there is an emerging local media narrative of fewer minoritized teachers (BBC, 2018) than nationally. The population of Bristol is 463,400 people and it is the largest South West city, one of the ten ‘Core Cities’ in Great Britain. The white population is estimated as 84%, with 45 religions, 187 countries of birth and 91 main languages spoken (Bristol City Council, 2020).