Over lunch at the BAMEed Network conference a few weeks ago, I sat with a group of teachers and leaders.
Much ground was covered in conversations. One theme that emerged strongly was how it felt to finally be in a space where other people ‘just got it’, their experiences wouldn’t be refuted, and they could be truly heard.
One recently released paper was discussed, the findings of which particularly resonated with these leaders. The paper, which I’d read and shared with colleagues earlier that week, was a mirror for their own experiences in education, and though it may have been somewhat reassuring to feel less alone, the reflection wasn’t a pretty one.
The paper explores the factors responsible for and/ or contribute to BAME school leaders exiting the profession or accepting a junior role. It was commissioned by Ann Palmer of Fig Tree International, written by Professor Paul Miller and Roxanne Lashley, and is published by the Institute for Educational and Social Equity.
After I read the paper, I sought to gather the content that had stayed with me. This personal set of notes isn’t intended to be a thorough summary, nor a replacement for reading the paper yourself. Think of it as a gateway to getting curious.
The data is gathered from 16 Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic leaders who exited the profession, took a new role, or a more junior role over the last two years. The sample is evenly spread across primary and secondary settings, is predominantly made up of women leaders, and participants identified as either ‘Black’ or ‘Mixed heritage’.
As you’d anticipate, there are a variety of factors leading to their decisions to leave or change role. First and foremost is ‘quality of life’ (p.10). Against a backdrop of workload intensification for leaders and teachers more generally over this time period, this is perhaps unsurprising. There are factors that make this unique to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic leaders though, who may find themselves in more ‘challenging’ settings and roles (p.6).
When this factor is set against the other 5 factors experienced by these leaders, there is little wonder that quality of life is affected. The paper goes on to detail the cumulative effects of school climates where values clash, leaders bully, and curricula eradicates.
A report on factors responsible for and/ or contribute to BAME school leaders exiting the profession or accepting a junior role: Miller and Lashley, 2022
- 50% primary
- 50% secondary
- Exit: 12
- New role: 2
- Junior role: 2
Factors affecting the decisions:
- Quality of life
- Clash of values
- Bullying and toxic culture
Quality of life: workload, family life, finances, and self-care
- Increased work intensification for leaders generally.
- BAME leaders tend to end up, more frequently, in 'challenging' settings - leading to additional workload demands'
- "I had way too many responsibilities. And when I would tell people what I was responsible for, it was like, it was literally three people’s jobs" (p.10).
Conflict with other leaders: Usually, though not exclusively white
"I think that part of my fractious relationship with my Executive Head was associated with race" (p.12).
Clash of values
"Education has become too corporate for me. I think there’s a disconnect between being about profit, and education, especially for our most vulnerable pupils" (p.15).
There is "a consistent fight to not bring ethnicity or true black curriculum in place." "I don’t want to promote an education system that... is trying to completely eradicate my existence" (p.14).
Bullying and toxic culture
"I was asked whether my children have the same father" (p.14).
"Why do you need to be a senior leader when your husband is already?" (p.13)
"Like being somewhere you really don’t want to be, somewhere you don’t enjoy; something that you don’t feel fulfilled in. There’s nothing that excites you about it" (p.16).
Loss of agency
'The loss of agency experienced by some school leaders led them to question their fitness for the job and/or the choice of school' (p.19).
- 453,000 teachers/ 18,400 BAME
- 24,281 Headteachers/ 397 BAME
- 18,400 BAME teachers/ 950 Assistant or Deputy BAME leaders
- 1347 TOTAL BAME leaders
- (stats are approximate)
'Providers of DfE initiated training such as NPQs should consider the integration of ‘real-life experiences’ (e.g.: quality of life issues, conflict management, etc) into leadership preparation and development programmes' (p.4).
As a content writer for NPQs, there is a direct recommendation for me and colleagues to action in our exemplification of leadership activities, conversations, and challenges.
As you read these notes and then the full paper, you may find it helpful to consider your own actions. Some reflection questions have been provided below for you to select from. You may like to think of reflection questions of your own to suit your role and context. You may find it helpful to discuss your reflections with colleagues and leaders in your setting.
- What challenges me about what I’m reading and why might that be?
- What resonates with me about what I’m reading and why might that be?
- How might I explore these factors within my own setting?
- How might I better collect, monitor and share data related to the exit of senior staff, disaggregated by protected characteristics? OR How might I explore the possibility of this action with leaders in my setting?
- How might I promote,/encourage/secure coaching and mentoring opportunities for me and/or my senior staff and/or my colleagues, particularly where they are (or I am) under-represented in the system, and especially where they (or I) identify as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic? You might be interested in the pro-bono coaching on offer from the BAMEed Network.
- How might professional development programmes that I design/select/facilitate help leaders to prepare for/address some of the issues presented in this paper, including increasing racial literacy? OR How might I explore the possibility of this action with leaders in my setting?
- How might I connect and collaborate with leaders or colleagues in settings within my trust/region/network to reach a collective understanding of existing issues and potential responses?
Many thanks for this excellent representation of the paper. Let’s wait and see how far it’s contents reach.