Removing barriers faced by teachers of colour essential for career progression

Press Release

Wednesday 31 January 2024

Teachers of colour* face barriers to the profession from entry to senior leadership level.  

This is highlighted in an evidence review, conducted by NFER and funded by Mission 44, a charitable foundation launched by Sir Lewis Hamilton. The review explores the barriers and solutions to achieving a more ethnically diverse teaching workforce from entry to senior leadership level.  

People of colour* are over-represented at initial teaching training (ITT) application level, but evidence suggests they have lower acceptance rates onto ITT compared to their white counterparts. 

Those who do begin ITT courses report experiencing isolation. This particularly occurs when there are few people of colour on their course. People of colour also report receiving poor preparation and support from ITT tutors and school mentors on the challenges of diversity and racism they may face in teaching.  

NFER suggests providers should have Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policies and training for teacher educators** and should consider EDI when selecting school placements.    

The review finds the main barriers to leadership and headship reported by teachers of colour are a lack of encouragement, racism and preconceptions linked to their culture and/or faith. 

Experienced teachers of colour say they are frustrated by a lack of opportunities for progression, due to an absence of support, unfair treatment and experiencing an ‘invisible glass ceiling’.   

The review also highlights another key barrier to career progression is that teachers of colour are encouraged or self-select into middle leadership roles that have limited opportunities for further progression, such as pastoral or behavioural responsibilities. 

A recommended approach from the review to improve leadership development among senior teachers of colour is having selection panels for senior posts to include people of colour.  

The analysis outlines the benefits of mentoring support being offered to senior leaders of colour, by suggesting that it should be available from same-race teachers and leaders, with mentors being trained and paid. It also finds that a positive institutional culture for racial equality is identified as the key enabler to encourage progression to leadership for teachers of colour.  

Based on this evidence review, NFER recommends attention is focused on making sure schools are supported in improving ethnic diversity among teachers and leaders. This long-term process of systemic change could usefully involve teacher and leader organisations, as well as ‘middle tier’ organisations, such as multi academy trusts (MATs) and local authorities (LAs).  

Jack Worth, School Workforce Lead at the NFER, said:   

“Concerns about the low representation of people of colour in the teaching workforce are not new but the issue persists despite policy commitments to address it.  

“Evidence shows there has been an increase in people of colour applying for ITT in the past decade, but retention and promotion gaps have widened. 

“There needs to be support and encouragement of career progression for teachers of colour, with a firm commitment from senior leaders to provide career advancement opportunities.” 

The research also indicates that negative experiences during ITT could help explain why fewer trainee teachers of colour achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). 

The review highlights other potential strategies to improve recruitment diversity, including offering alternative pathways to enter ITT for people of colour who do not have the currently required qualifications to apply or having name-blind applications. 

Jason Arthur, CEO at Mission 44 said: 

“To build a more inclusive education system that works for all young people, the teaching workforce must be representative of the communities they seek to serve. 

“Despite the positive efforts of many within the sector, for too long the issue of diversity in teaching has been overlooked within government. By highlighting the key barriers and enablers to a more diverse education system, it is our hope this report acts as a catalyst for change.” 

The evidence review makes further recommendations including: 

  • Schools and ITT providers should share learning and evaluate the impact of strategies to improve ethnic diversity. Cross-programme monitoring (for example of ethnic pay gaps) and evaluation of initiatives could be used to understand the career journeys of teachers of colour and identify areas for improvement as well as identify examples of best practice. 
  • There are currently no specific government targets, programmes or funding in England to improve the ethnic diversity of the teaching workforce. Key stakeholders should work together to campaign for government action, for example by referring to actions taken in Scotland and Wales. 
  • There may be a need for bursaries to enable teachers of colour, especially those from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, to undertake leadership development.

*People/teachers of colour is an umbrella term referring to anyone who is not/does not identify as White. Source: The Anti Racist Educator

** ‘Teacher educators’ is an inclusive term to encompass all who are professionally engaged in the initial and ongoing education of teachers.