BME female secondary heads and senior leaders wanted for research so we can learn from their successes


by Sameena Choudry                   @EquitableEd

At #WomenEd one of our main aims is to ensure that we are an inclusive network that is open to women of all backgrounds regardless of their characteristics, whether this is in relation to age; ethnicity and race; sexual orientation; disability; religion and belief or marital status and pregnancy.  Indeed, we recognise that many women have more than one of these characteristics which at times can compound with gender to make it difficult for them to pursue and be successful in their leadership ambitions.

With regards to secondary education we know that only round about 38% of heads are female compared to over 70% of the teaching workforce overall. However, when we look at ethnicity we can see that the situation is even more dire.  DfE statistical release figures (June 2016) show that only 3.7% of secondary heads come from Black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds compared to 3.2% in primary and 3.1% in special schools.  Interestingly, there is a slightly higher percentage of BME females (4.5%) in secondary compared to males (3.1%)

There is a slightly better picture is emerging when looking at the aggregate for deputies and assistant heads. Overall, 6% of BME colleagues come into this category, compared to 5% in primary and 4.3% in special schools.  When looking at gender of BME colleagues at senior leadership positions in secondary, there is a slightly higher proportion of females at 6.3% compared to males at 5.6%.  

Meanwhile, due to the slow pace of change at the top, the gap between the diversity of our pupil population and our leadership in secondary education is rapidly widening.  Over time the proportion of pupils from BME backgrounds has been steadily increasing. DfE data for 2016 shows that in primary schools, 31.4% of pupils are of BME backgrounds which was an increase from 30.4% in January 2015. In secondary schools, 27.9% of pupils are of minority ethnic origins, an increase from 26.6% in 2015.  It is evident that unless concerted action is taken to close this widening gap the situation will continue to worsen. Furthermore, in these difficult times of Brexit it is important that all pupils see BME colleagues in positions of authority in society as a whole and in the education system in particular.

As a co-founder of #WomenEd one of my many interests is to delve deeper into the leadership journeys of successful BME female secondary heads and senior leaders, so that learning can be used to attract and support other females coming through the system to pursue leadership positions. We are unlikely to attract the best talent into teaching if there are little or limited career progression opportunities.  As a former senior leader in a number of secondary schools I have not seen much progress over the years.  I have many anecdotal stories from both BME female and male colleagues in the education system whose career aspirations have been thwarted. Sadly, their stories are borne out by the statistics that I have already shared in this blog which have been stubbornly the same for many years now.   

This has led me to want to raise awareness of the situation through #WomenEd, as well as undertake my own research.  I have been fortunate to have the support of Leeds Beckett University through their Carey Philpott Research Award to work in partnership with Northern Lights Teaching School Alliance, to firstly undertake a literature review of research as a starting point, as there is a paucity of research in this area. Secondly, I am in the process of finding out from existing successful BME female secondary heads and senior leaders, not only the barriers they have had to overcome but also the enablers that have led to their success.  Hopefully, we can learn from the experiences of these successful leaders to remove the barriers and encourage more enablers in the system as a whole.  This information is being gathered through a detailed questionnaire that has been composed and where required, short follow up interviews will take place. The intention is that the research will be published early in 2018 and will be an important resource that can be used to encourage and accelerate the number of BME female leaders in secondary education. 

So if you know of any colleagues you feel could take part in this research please let them know about this important project and ask them to get into contact with me either via Twitter @EquitableEd or by e-mail  ME HERE The questionnaire is simple and straight forward to complete and it is envisaged that that it won’t take longer than an hour to complete. The deadline for completing the questionnaires is 31st October. With half term taking place now I’m hoping that colleagues will be generous and give an hour of their time to this project.

I look forward to sharing the research findings with the #WomenEd community in the new year.  Hopefully, as our community grows, some members will undertake research into other important areas where there are gaps to build up our knowledge of what steps we as a network can take to ensure that our leadership is representative of the pupils and communities we serve.


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