Do our staff rooms reflect our communities?

7 Nov

On Monday I blogged on the gender imbalance that exists in our schools. 8 years since the GTCW highlighted how only 26.9% of the teaching workforce is male, that figure currently stands at 26.28%. It is hard to have much confidence that the gap is going to close anytime soon.

In that blog post I briefly touched on how our schools need to have diverse staffing arrangements that reflect our local communities. This article by GTCW Chair and NUT Cymru Executive, Angela Jardine, highlights the issue very well. You really get a sense of the size of the challenge we face in representing our communities when reading the content of the article.

Overall, less than half of 1% of registered teachers in Wales are from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, black African or Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. By contrast the census shows that around 3% of the Welsh population as a whole are from these origins.

If you are a young boy of any of the above ethnicities chances are you’re very unlikely to actually see a common connection looking back at you from the front of the class. Now that isn’t always a bad thing of course. We don’t want individuals of those backgrounds coming into the school system just to teach people of similar race, colour, creed or gender. Just as we do not want to see exclusively white females teaching a class of white school girls. It is equally important that our schools present different cultures as it is they reflect ourselves.

If you go into schools in Wales I’m sure you will see pupils and teachers embracing cultural diversity. Children in Wales are learning about the world and its different identities, regularly taking part in activities to embrace different religions; ethnicities; backgrounds and cultures. NUT Cymru have done fantastic work in supporting the excellent Show Racism The Red Card Wales in their projects raising awareness of cultural differences with children. I’ve attended one myself and can say it is inspiring to see the open-minded approach of Welsh students. However, while that excellent work is ongoing, and schools are aware that they are developing the social and emotional consciousness of their pupils as well as the academic, the make up of the workforce remains stubbornly ‘traditional’.

In her article Angela Jardine makes the point very well when she says;

Schools are a microcosm of society and, as society changes, schools need to do the same

The reality is that Wales, like much of the UK, is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. The way we embrace multiculturalism is actually something on a community level we should be proud of. But how reflective are we of it in public life? The truth is teaching may not currently reflect our population or communities but it does perhaps reflect general Welsh public life. There are only two black or ethnic minority Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay. There are no such individuals sitting in the House of Commons on behalf of a Welsh constituencies nor, to the best of my knowledge, leading any one of the 22 local authorities in Wales.

There is a need for much more work to be done on this issue amongst the public bodies of Wales. There’s no reason why that can’t start amongst the staffing of schools. The key barrier to break down is making teaching an attractive career choice for ethnic minorities who have traditionally not given it consideration. Respect for teaching as a profession needs to be given greater prominence across society in general and placing it on the same platform as medical, legal, financial and scientific pursuits for individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds is certainly an aspiration we should have.

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