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

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Race equality

Racism is a structural barrier perpetuated by individuals that lead to discrimination against a person because of their race.

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Executive Summary

This report presents the findings of a survey and qualitative study of the experiences of Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BME) teachers in England. Commissioned by the National Union of Teachers (the NUT), the Runnymede Trust worked closely with the NUT to design, administer and evaluate the findings. The Centre of Dynamics and Ethnicity at Manchester University (Nan Zhang) also contributed to the preliminary analysis of the survey findings. The findings are predominantly based on the results from questionnaires and interviews with teachers but also draw on findings from previous studies evaluating the experiences of Black, Asian and ethnic minority teachers in the UK.

Overview of the research

Previous research (e.g. Cunningham and Hargreaves, 2007; Basit and Roberts, 2006; McNamara et al, 2009)¹ has highlighted the significant barriers for Black and ethnic minority (BME) teachers in schools and in relation to career progression. This research was commissioned by the NUT to explore the experiences and barriers for BME teachers within schools and to identify any factors relating to poor career progression for BME teachers.

This report brings together evidence and data from a range of sources, including:

  • research literature on BME teachers’ experiences within schools
  • a survey of around 1027 BME teachers
  • focus group interviews with 15 BME teachers from different geographical locations and stages of schooling.

The research project began in January 2016, fieldwork began in April and ended in July 2016, and the research project was completed in September 2016.

The questionnaire was designed by the NUT (after consultation with the Runnymede Trust) and placed live on the Survey Monkey website for seven weeks between 28 April 2016 and 17 June 2016. The survey link was sent to all registered BME teachers through NUT regional offices and Black members networks. A total of 1,027 BME teachers responded to the survey by the closing date, 17 June 2016.

The questionnaire was targeted at ‘Black teachers’ (NUT’s term for all BME teachers) which skewed the results in two ways:

  • while other minority ethnic teachers completed the questionnaire, the largest ethnic group of teachers was Black
  • there was no counterfactual (i.e. white teachers) to compare the results with.

This limited the analysis in terms of comparing the career positions and experiences of BME teachers with their white peers, but also means that differences amongst BME respondents in this survey appear relatively small (because of the size of each group).

Overall, the BME teachers’ survey and interviews revealed that there are large differences in perceptions and career progression among BME teachers, and that, more importantly, discrimination based on race is one of the more significant and deep- rooted factors that affect the experience of teaching and career progression for BME teachers. Differences in experiences in school and career progression are particularly marked for Black Caribbean and Black African teachers in comparison to other minority ethnic groups. Age, length of experience in teaching and geographical location were also important factors influencing the experience of BME teachers in primary and secondary schools.

Key findings

What did the findings from the survey and focus groups tell us?

Who are the respondents?

  • Overall 1,027 respondents completed the questionnaire. The majority of the teaching sample worked at secondary school level (51%). 35% worked in primary schools and the remaining respondents worked in nursery, post-16 further education colleges and pupil referral units.
  • Two thirds of the sample were class teachers, 11% head of year and 11 respondents at head teacher level. Black respondents were more likely to be in senior roles compared to their Asian counterparts. However, Asian respondents were on average younger than their Black peers; around half of the Asian teachers were aged less than 35 years, compared to around a third of their Black peers under the age of 35. Asian teachers were also less likely to have been teaching for 10 years or more than their Black counterparts.
  • Just under half of the sample had entered teaching through the traditional PGCE route, 14% through non-traditional routes and 6% had overseas training.

Inclusive and non-inclusive schools

  • 40% of the survey respondents taught in schools where less than 5% of the staff were from BME backgrounds. This is important to note because the survey showed that a higher proportion of BME staff in a school was associated with respondents feeling that the ‘school was an inclusive and welcoming environment for staff of all ethnic backgrounds.’
  • Conversely, the survey showed that a higher proportion of BME pupils in a school was associated with a lower proportion of respondents (teachers) feeling that the ‘school was an inclusive and welcoming environment for students of all ethnic backgrounds’. This was a prevalent view among primary school teachers as well as younger BME teachers and could not be explained by the data. But it may raise a bigger question about the equality of treatment of BME children in schools.
  • Younger (under age 35) BME teachers were more likely to have ‘positive experiences in school’ which included feeling valued by managers, feeling positive about the appraisal system and feeling that the school was an inclusive environment for them. This also manifested itself in ethnic differences in perceptions of career support, with slightly higher proportions of Asian respondents feeling supported by their managers in their career development and progression compared to their Black peers. In addition, Asian teachers were more likely to agree (compared to their Black peers) that staff in the school were more comfortable talking about race/racism.

Career progression

  • Black teachers in the survey were more likely to apply for promotion than their Asian peers; 40% of Indian and Pakistani teachers had never applied for promotion. Black teachers were also more likely to be successful in their career promotions. Some of these patterns may be explained by age demographics given the younger age of Asian respondents in this survey.
  • A third of the sample had never applied for promotion, and over 80% of this group were female. However, whilst males were more likely to apply for promotion, the survey revealed that they were more dissatisfied with the application process and outcomes, and less likely to agree, than their female counterparts, that they were treated equally in their career promotions.

Views and experiences as BME teachers

  • The focus group interviews revealed that the BME participants viewed themselves as important ‘role models’ for BME students – both in terms of protecting students from a ‘Prevent’/Islamophobic narrative, but also in terms of giving them positive role models to focus on.
  • Whilst there were many teachers who were positive and felt supported by the senior leadership teams in their school, there were also many BME teachers, who reported feeling isolated and lacking in management support with regards to incidences of racism and career progression. This was a stronger view among Black teachers (in comparison to their Asian peers) and was reinforced in the survey findings.
  • BME teachers from all ethnic groups complained about being given stereotypical responsibilities (e.g. behaviour responsibilities or Black History Month) instead of challenging intellectual Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) roles. Black teachers, in particular, spoke about being labelled ‘troublemakers’ or being viewed as ‘aggressive’ if they challenged any decisions.
  • There was unanimous agreement amongst BME participants that there should be more BME staff in the school workforce generally (and within their schools specifically) but reasons for BME staff representation varied widely. Most agreed that role models for students were desirable, but others went further to argue that it was a necessity to protect students from being stereotyped or misunderstood.

Structural and systemic barriers for BME teachers

  • Structural barriers such as racism, including assumptions about capabilities based on racial/ethnic stereotypes, were every day experiences for BME teachers. In particular, BME teachers spoke about an invisible glass-ceiling and widespread perception among senior leadership teams (SLTs) that BME teachers “have a certain level and don’t go beyond it”.
  • However, there were mixed views about the motivations of SLTs for excluding BME staff from SLT and career promotion opportunities; some BME teachers felt that this was premeditated to ‘keep them out of the game’; other BME participants felt that it was perhaps due to ‘unconscious biases’.
  • The damaging long-term outcome of many of the structural and systemic barriers (to career progression) was to lower the confidence and self-esteem of BME teachers.

¹ Cunningham, C. and Hargreaves, L. (2007) Minority Ethnic Teachers’ Professional Experiences: Evidence from the Teacher Status Project. DfE Research Report, RR853. McNamara, O., Howson, J. Gunter, H. and Fryers, A. (2009) Supporting the Leadership Aspirations and Careers of Black and Minority Ethnic Teachers, Birmingham, NASUWT

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