Author: Dr Patrick Roach
Dr Patrick Roach became General Secretary of the NASUWT in 2020, following ten years as Deputy General Secretary and having worked for the Union since 1998.
The death of George Floyd in the United States, leading to protests in cities around the world, should mark a turning point in our national and global debate on the importance of action for racial justice. Regrettably, it is not the first such moment when racist murders have provoked widespread public concern, yet little has changed for many Black and Asian communities who feel let down and left out and who are subject daily to various acts of discrimination, abuse and violence on the streets or in their workplaces.
Windrush Day on 22 June was commemorated by the UK Government for the first time in 2018, despite years of campaigning, but only after the Windrush Scandal highlighted how innocent citizens, mostly of Caribbean heritage, were unjustly detained, denied their legal rights and deported by the Home Office as part of a deliberate policy to establish a “hostile environment”. Despite the ensuing scandal and the devastation wrought on their lives most are still waiting for any form of compensation from Government, and what little compensation has been paid has been paltry at best.
However, despite acknowledging this “mistake”, has anything really changed?
The “hostile environment” continues to persist, with deportation flights continuing to be chartered. There is widespread concern about racial disparities throughout all areas of social, economic and political life and, today, there are concerns about how racial disparities are being played out in terms of COVID-19 deaths and the use of stop and search powers during the Coronavirus emergency. Many NASUWT members are angry - anger that is not least as a consequence of a failure by Government to put racial justice firmly on its agenda in response to the pandemic. It is anger, too, that is fuelled by the failure of school/college employers to recognise the need to race equality proof their plans for keeping teachers and other school staff safe and to treat BAME teachers with sensitivity, dignity and respect. And, despite our calls for transparency, little has yet come to light to show how the Government’s actions for relaxing the lockdown in schools and colleges have been equality impact assessed. How can we say that we escaped the “hostile environment” if it is the case that, even during this public health crisis, Government appears reluctant or unwilling to take the positive actions necessary to demonstrate that black lives matter, too?
As statues and monuments to racism, colonialism and empire have fallen in recent weeks, many young people are now demanding action to build a curriculum in schools, colleges and universities that places black history and racial justice at its centre.
Schools can and should be supported in fostering a culture of equality among the pupils they teach. This work should start in the classroom by ensuring that all children follow a curriculum which is inclusive and which reflects both the lived experiences of all pupils and provides them with an understanding of the history, culture and thinking of all societies and peoples. And, if we believe that race matters, then this entitlement should apply to every child irrespective of where they are educated.
A National Curriculum that applies to every school and that reflects the lives and experiences of all communities that make up our country is essential. If the experiences and legacy of the Windrush generation are to be acknowledged, then it is essential that their contribution to society, and to keeping the country going during the Coronavirus pandemic, is also acknowledged and recognised within our shared national story of past, present and future.
But, action cannot stop there. Schools and colleges can only be said to be truly inclusive when the experiences of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic pupils and staff are also improved.
Today, pupils of Black heritages are three times more likely to be permanently excluded as White British pupils. Why do we have a system that fails to be inclusive of Black pupils and why is there no clear national plan to address this enduring disparity?
And, looking at the experiences of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic teachers, there are also stark differences in their treatment in schools.
BAME teachers experience lower pay, and fare worse when it comes to career advancement. They are more likely to experience rejection when applying for a job, and are also significantly less likely to be promoted into school and college leadership.
BAME teachers are also more likely to find themselves subject to disciplinary and capability processes, with the NASUWT’s latest Big Question survey suggesting that Black and Asian teachers are more than 60% more likely to have been placed on an informal capability process or ‘support’ programme by their employer in the last 12 months and three times more likely to be subject to formal competence procedures, compared to other colleagues.
And even within schools and colleges, Black and Asian teachers experience everyday racism of overt and covert prejudice, harassment and macroaggressions. 35% of BME teachers said they have experienced discrimination at work in the last 12 months, compared to 19% of Big Question respondents overall. Separate research by the NASUWT found that 55% of BAME teachers said that they had been described as ‘oversensitive’, ‘paranoid’ or ‘aggressive’ when they had challenged racially unacceptable language and behaviour in their workplace and one in three BAME teachers have told us that racism in their school/college had increased in the last 12 months. Little wonder that around two-thirds of BAME teachers say that schools and colleges are paying lip-service to racial equality.
The NASUWT's Act for Racial Justice campaign aims to challenge all forms of race discrimination and racial inequality in education.
There is much that need to be done and it is incumbent on all of us to play our part in bringing about real and tangible change. The NASUWT is working with teachers and schools to encourage action against racial prejudice and inequality. We are also challenging ministers to secure racial justice for all.