Black woman protestor with megaphone

Race discrimination

All teachers and educational professionals have specific protection from discrimination at work on grounds of race under the Equality Act 2010. 

Discrimination claim time limits

You are protected regardless of your race, colour, nationality, or ethnic or national origins. Discrimination because you are perceived as belonging to a particular racial group, or because you associate with someone who belongs to a particular racial group, will be unlawful. You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, supply or agency.

Your colleagues, managers and governors are prohibited from discriminating against you. If you are an agency worker on a day-to-day or longer term contract, your agency and the hirers for whom you are working are prohibited from discriminating against you.

What race discrimination is

Treating you less favourably than another colleague in similar circumstances on grounds of race, colour, nationality, or ethnic or national origins would be direct race discrimination.

An employer might apply to all staff a workplace policy or practice that you and other workers of the same racial group cannot comply with because of your racial group. This would be indirect race discrimination if it puts you at a disadvantage, unless the employer could justify the impact of the policy or practice.

Some discrimination is on grounds of religion and race. The courts extended the definition of race discrimination to protect workers who are Jewish, Sikh or Travellers. It is likely that workers with these protected characteristics will continue to be protected from less favourable treatment on grounds of both race and religion or belief. 

The definition of race has not been extended to protect workers who follow other religions such as Christianity or Islam. All workers, including Christians and Muslims, now have specific protection at work from discrimination at work on grounds of religion, religious belief, philosophical belief, or lack of religion or belief under the Equality Act 2010.

When are you protected

You are protected from race discrimination before, during and after your employment. There should be no unlawful discrimination in recruitment including advertisements, shortlisting and interview procedures; pay including pensions; terms and conditions of employment; access to training; opportunities for promotion; transfers; dismissals; and after your employment has ended, for example, in the provision of references. 

What is covered

Refusing to appoint a teacher of Pakistani origin to a deputy head post in an all-white school, due to concerns about parents’ racial prejudices, would be race discrimination.

Imposing a more severe disciplinary penalty on a black teacher than a white teacher for similar conduct in similar circumstances is likely to amount to direct race discrimination.

The disproportionate use of capability procedures against black or minority ethnic teachers could be indirect race discrimination. Workplace procedures must be applied to teachers objectively and consistently – processes and outcomes must be free from discrimination.

Overseas trained teachers would not be able to meet a requirement that all applicants for a teaching post have a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE), as it is a UK qualification. Unless an employer can objectively justify the need for a UK qualification, this would be indirect discrimination on grounds of nationality and race.

Subjecting a teacher or educational professional to verbal or physical racial harassment in the workplace would be unlawful. 

What is not covered

Treatment that is nothing to do with race, which the employer can show is wholly and genuinely for a non-discriminatory reason, or treatment which lawfully can be justified by the employer, will not be unlawful. Refusing you permission to attend a training course, because the course is considered too expensive and not relevant to your role, would not be unlawful provided the employer's decision was consistent with decisions made in respect of other workers in the same role as you. Treatment that you might feel is unfair will not necessarily be discriminatory.

Employers may use 'positive action' to encourage applications for vacancies from groups of people who are under-represented in the workforce or at a particular grade in the workforce. Employers may use ‘tie-break’ provisions to appoint an individual from an under-represented group if two candidates are as qualified as each other for a post. Contact the union if you need advice on an employer's use of positive action.

Employers sometimes specify that it is an occupational requirement that a post is held by an individual with a particular equality characteristic. This option is rarely used in the education sector but contact the union if you think that it has been used inappropriately to your disadvantage. 

What you should do

If you think that you have been discriminated against, gather all the written evidence that you have for example job adverts, letters, emails and relevant screenshots. Keep a diary of all incidents of less favourable treatment including dates, times, places, the names of any witnesses and your response to the conduct or behaviour.

It is not always immediately clear whether certain treatment is on grounds of race or for some other genuine reason, so it is sensible to record all the treatment you are concerned about. An employer may or may not intend to discriminate against you or may try to cover up discrimination against you. The employer should work with the union to find out the real reason for the treatment, to stop the treatment if it is discriminatory and to secure appropriate action, for example, to obtain a full written apology or to secure a pay award that you have been denied.

Ask your workplace rep or school or college office for copies of relevant workplace policies, for example, pay policies, capability procedures, redundancy policies. The union urges all employers to adopt policies and procedures that prohibit unlawful discrimination and which allow employers to identify and tackle any discrimination fairly and quickly.

Discuss your concerns with your workplace rep. Your colleagues may have made similar complaints and you may be advised to tackle the issue with them collectively.

You or your rep might decide to contact the NEU for further advice. The union will be able to advise what steps you should take. You may be advised to lodge a formal grievance or to lodge a collective grievance with your colleagues. This may resolve the issue. In rare cases you may be advised to take the matter to an employment tribunal. The objective in all cases will be to stop any discrimination and allow you to continue working in a professional environment free from discrimination.

Discrimination or harassment making you ill

Follow the advice above on gathering information and seeking advice. Keep a record of how you believe discriminatory treatment or harassment has affected your health, e.g., your symptoms and any absences from work. You are advised to see your GP and to let your employer know in writing that the treatment at work is affecting your health. 

The union can help you write this letter. If you believe that the stress of discrimination or harassment at work has led to depression, an anxiety disorder or psychosis, you may be suffering from a recognised psychiatric illness. If so, you should seek immediate advice from the union. See NEU contact details

What your employer or agency should do

Your employer or agency should investigate your complaint, stop any discrimination, take appropriate action and prevent it from happening again to you or someone else. Employers in the education sector should comply with the public sector equality duty to eliminate discrimination and advance equality.

If the employer treats you worse after raising the issue

You should contact your workplace rep if you are subjected to detrimental treatment in retaliation or as punishment for raising a complaint of discrimination. This is called 'victimisation' and is prohibited by the Equality Act.

What more you can do

Employers in the education sector have a statutory duty to be proactive in eliminating discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity for staff and pupils. They must assess the impact of their policies and procedures on the people affected by them, and take steps to remove any barriers that come to light where it is proportionate to do so. Contact your workplace rep, branch secretary or local equality officer if you want to get involved in reviewing the equality impact of policies and procedures in your workplace.

Make sure that you receive information about NEU equality events and conferences and about the equality constituency seat elections for the NEU national executive. If you have not told the union about your ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status, you may miss out on important information. Update your membership details to ensure you are fully informed. The information that you provide will remain strictly confidential. The data will form the basis of anonymous statistical reports which will help identify trends in workplaces and barriers to participation in the union's structures. 

You are not alone in this union

When you read through this document you may have questions about what happens in your particular school or workplace, and there may be collective issues that affect other members.

In most circumstances, you should initially discuss the matter with your workplace rep, as they will know whether similar concerns have been raised by other members. If you do not have a rep at the moment, it would be a good idea to get members together to elect one

Although you may sometimes feel that you are the only person affected by or concerned about a particular issue, in reality, this is seldom the case. Any difficulties you may experience are likely to be linked to wider conditions at your workplace and as a member of the NEU you have the advantage of being able to act collectively with your colleagues. This should give you the confidence of knowing that you have the weight of the union behind you. 

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Visible and Invisible Barriers: the impact of racism on BME teachers.

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