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Significant ethnic disparities in teacher career progression in early career stages

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New study shows that the most significant ethnic disparities in teacher career progression occur during early career stages

  • Report says issue must be addressed to tackle under-representation of ethnic minorities at senior leadership level
  • Research highlights positive impact diverse school leadership teams have on the retention of ethnic minority teachers
  • Acceptance rates to postgraduate ITT courses are 21 percentage points lower for applicants from black and other ethnic backgrounds, compared to white counterparts

New researchreveals that the most significant ethnic disparities in teacher career progression occur during early career stages, especially in postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT). It also highlights that applicants from white ethnic backgrounds have higher acceptance rates to ITT courses than every other ethnic group.

The quantitative research was conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), in partnership with education charities Ambition Institute and Teach First.

It reveals that people from Asian, black and other ethnic backgrounds are over-represented among applicants to postgraduate ITT, suggesting there is no lack of interest in entering teaching among these groups. However, compared to their white counterparts, acceptance rates to postgraduate ITT courses are nine percentage points lower for applicants from mixed ethnic backgrounds, 13 percentage points lower for applicants from Asian ethnic backgrounds, and 21 percentage points lower for applicants from black and other ethnic backgrounds.

The research also reveals substantial disparities in the progression of teachers from ethnic minority groups throughout the teacher career pipeline, resulting in significant under-representation at senior leadership and headship levels.For example, middle leaders from Asian ethnic backgrounds are three percentage points less likely to be promoted to senior leadership than their white counterparts, and middle leaders from black ethnic backgrounds four percentage points less likely.

The research suggests there will continue to be an under-representation of ethnic minorities at senior leadership level unless these disparities are addressed. The research finds that ethnic disparities in teacher retention rates are smaller in schools with diverse school leadership teams and larger in schools with all-white leadership teams, reinforcing the importance of how the actions of leaders and decision makers are central to understanding why ethnic disparities exist within the system.

A diverse workforce is likely to promote greater cultural understanding and inclusion when educating pupils from diverse ethnic backgrounds, including white. The Department for Education’s policy paper Diversity of the teaching workforce: statement of intent references that racial diversity within the school workforce is valuable in ‘fostering social cohesion and most importantly, in supporting pupils to grow and develop in an environment of visible, diverse role models’.

The report includes recommendations to:

  • Encourage ITT providers to review their application and selection processes to pinpoint the extent, nature and causes of the lower acceptance rates experienced by applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds and to act to address inequalities at this crucial first stage of entry into the profession.
  • Encourage leaders of ITT providers, multi-academy trusts (MATs) and other large educational organisations to commit to publishing institutional data on diversity and acting to address disparities. This would be particularly relevant for larger organisations, where there are sufficient numbers to make the data meaningful.
  • Regular monitoring to assess where progress in reducing and eliminating disparities is being made.

The report’s co-author and NFER’s school workforce lead, Jack Worth, said:

“Our report shows that we currently do not have a teacher workforce that reflects the ethnic makeup of wider society and that opportunities to enter and progress within the teaching profession are not equal. 

“The evidence in the report adds detailed and analytical insights into where ethnic disparities in progression within the teacher career pipeline are greatest, which will support the sector to make improvements and lasting changes in the areas where they are most needed.”

Sufian Sadiq, Director of Teaching School, Chiltern Learning Trust, said:

“Teacher recruitment and retention has been an ongoing crisis within our sector for a number of years. Yet in this report, we see evidence of interest in teaching – from black and ethnic minority candidates – and a pool of potential talent that is not currently being tapped. Addressing the racial disparities that exist within teaching is therefore not only a moral imperative, but increasingly necessary if we want to tackle teacher supply problems, and ensure every child has a qualified teacher standing before them.

“The positive number of applicants from ethnic minority communities shows that the issues and challenges around diversity in teaching are systemic, and not down to a lack of interest or something we can shift onto those from under-represented groups. The report highlights to me that the onus is on organisations in all points in the career pipeline to take responsibility and act now.”

Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First, said:

“Ethnic diversity and representation in the teaching workforce are key goals if we want an education system that is truly inclusive and allows every young person to thrive. We know that a diverse teaching workforce has a positive impact on outcomes for pupils from under-represented backgrounds – but it is also beneficial to all pupils, bringing different perspectives to the classroom and enriching their education experience as a whole.

“This research shows that we are not achieving that goal – with ethnic minority teachers underrepresented at all stages of their careers. We are determined to do all we can to play our part in changing this. We believe that the recommendations we have made – both in this report and in our manifesto launched last year – could ensure significant steps towards giving every child the education they need to succeed.”

Hilary Spencer, Chief Executive of Ambition Institute, said:

“This important new research is a strong addition to the evidence base about racial equality amongst teachers and school leaders. If we want to improve ethnic diversity across the school workforce, then – as this report shows – we need to tackle the disparities that occur right at the start of people’s careers, and keep focusing on diversity at every stage of the school system. Alongside the personal experience of thousands of teachers and leaders, this report will help all of us focus on the key points in people’s careers where we can improve diversity.

“At Ambition Institute, we strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential, no matter what their background, and we are pleased to have worked in partnership with NFER, Teach First and the expert panel to support the production of this report.”

NFER, Ambition Institute and Teach First have been supported in this work by an advisory group, including the Chartered College of Teaching, Confederation of School Trusts and a panel of practicing teachers and school leaders:

  • Nav Sanghara (Woodland Academy Trust)
  • Sufian Sadiq (Chiltern Learning Trust)
  • Claudenia Williams (Teach First Ambassador)
  • Nabila Jiwa (Richmond Park Academy).

The full version of the report can be found here.


Sector Response

Natalie Arnett, senior equalities officer for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“The value of a diverse workforce for pupils, staff and the wider community is well-known; positive role models from a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities helps to break down stereotypes and prejudice, and encourages children to broaden their horizons and ambitions and fulfil their educational potential.

“However, we know that our profession is not yet representative of the communities we serve, and that this is a particular issue at senior leadership level.

“There has been a welcome improvement in discussing the barriers people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds face, including in education. But there is still much more work to be done. Research like this is important in facilitating this conversation further, helping us understand where the barriers are – though not why.

“We would encourage this research to be considered alongside qualitative research and lived experiences, such as our ‘You Are Not Alone: Leaders for Race Equality’ book, which shares the personal experiences of 14 NAHT members from Asian, African, Caribbean and multiple backgrounds, and their journey into leadership.

“NAHT is committed to playing its part, and alongside other key organisations working in the sector, will shortly be releasing an updated ‘statement of action’, outlining our commitments to help furthering equality, diversity and inclusion in education.

“Whilst a sector-wide approach is essential if we are to see true progress in this area, this really must be matched by effective support from Government. If the Department for Education is serious about improving recruitment and retention of educational professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds, then it is vital that this is embedded across all facets of its work, and is backed by appropriate funding.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“At a time when Black teachers especially in senior positions are so under-represented, it is unacceptable that the pipeline to teaching careers is blighted with racial disparities.

“Additionally, in research supported by the NEU in 2021 and conducted by the University of Newcastle and Leeds Beckett University into the content of initial teacher training (ITT) courses, it was found that attention to anti-racism was woefully lacking.

“The NEU is calling for a complete review of ITT from access to curriculum with particular focus on enabling and empowering Black teachers and preparing all teachers for creating inclusive and anti-racist classrooms.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“It makes uncomfortable reading to learn that, despite a very clear and obvious interest in becoming teachers from people from Asian, black or other ethnic backgrounds, there is a significant drop in acceptance rates when they apply for postgraduate Initial Teacher Training courses.

“There is obviously something wrong when figures show that acceptance rates for black candidates onto ITT courses are 21 per cent lower than for their white counterparts. There is still clearly more work to be done in making acceptance into teaching a level playing field for all applicants.

“It is also of great concern that there are substantial disparities in the progression of teachers from ethnic minority groups throughout the teacher career pipeline, resulting in significant under-representation at senior leadership level. It is crucial that we work together as a profession to address these disparities both in the interests of fairness and equality, and in terms of the message we send to children and young people.

“What’s more, we can ill afford to lose anyone from the teaching and leadership workforce at the moment. At a time when we are hearing growing anecdotal evidence about teachers and leaders becoming disenchanted with education to the point where many are considering leaving the profession early it is crucial that we do not place unnecessary and unfair barriers in the way of talented people wishing to begin or progress their careers.”

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