How we can create more diversity in school leadership

May 22, 2018
Nick Obie

Nicholas Obie

Headteacher at Brookside Primary School

I was never taught by a teacher of colour in all my time at school, but I know from my own personal experience that it would have had a very positive effect on me.

I grew up with the expectations that I would work in the local large factory where all my family worked. I did not know anyone at that time that looked like me that had gone into further education, let alone university.

As a BME teacher, I was always conscious of the lack of leaders that looked like me. Now, as a headteacher, on entering conferences, courses and headteacher meetings, it is my habit to always scan the room for others and consciously count.

I admit it has improved, but the fact that schools and trusts are bringing over people from the Caribbean (brilliant teachers by the way) to plug gaps shows that the teacher shortage is still a prevalent issue.

As a solution to this recruitment challenge, we need to be reaching out to more people from all backgrounds and cultures to join the profession.

We consistently talk about how diverse this country is, but then schools still do not have many leaders from BME backgrounds to represent this. BME teachers need to apply, get feedback and apply again and keep repeating it until they get the job.

I had my share of knock backs and rejections. You have to learn reflect and keep knocking on the door until it opens. It is not easy and discrimination because of names and accents still prevails, but you just need to keep having faith that one day a decision-maker desperately needs the personality, experience and skill-set you possess.

It is easy to lose heart in these moments, so make sure you have a strong support network to keep you going.

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My journey

I actually trained to become a teacher as I wanted to go back into youth work. I had worked for a number of years in America with children at risk and young offenders. When I returned to the UK, I had a chastening experience trying to get a job, despite having worked as a director on programmes that worked with hundreds of young people.

Without a social work or youth work qualification, I was consistently told I could not get a job. I thought after reading about the Graduate Teaching Programme that it would be ideal. I could learn and get paid on the job, obtain QTS and then go back into the field using my experience of my time in America.

As soon as I began my course, I loved what I was doing. I could already see the positive difference I had the potential to make. All the negativity and regret from my own failures and experiences at school dissipated and propelled me into making that difference.

I then joined a secondary school in a challenging context in Wembley and worked my way up to assistant headteacher. I kept an eye out for different courses to further my development. Getting on Future Leaders in 2010 was the step I needed. Sixty-seven out of 1,500 applicants were chosen after a thorough selection process, which I was proud to have withstood.

The course took me on visits to schools that helped to reinforce what I wanted within my own. We spent two weeks in intense training together getting us ready for the year-long residency. The year was not without difficulty and many mistakes were made, but I learned on the job and had a large network of outstanding coaches and colleagues that were available to chastise, cajole and support me throughout.

"I was never taught by a teacher of colour in all my time at school, but I know from my own personal experience that it would have had a very positive effect on me. "

Those contacts were invaluable when I began my search for a substantive role and I was helped when I got my first headship. I am now on my third headship in three different sectors (alternative provision, a studio school and now being headteacher of a primary) and I am always trying to have options.

Teaching is the hardest job I have ever done mentally, but the rewards are incredible. I love my job and I am glad I stumbled into this career. It has seen me invited to 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

The road in leadership is an arduous and lonely one at times, but it is such a joy when done right.

My article for the Guardian a few years ago gave me a platform to encourage others thinking about undertaking leadership. Some of those readers are now in leadership, and some have made it to headship. It is important that roles are given on merit, but that it is an even race.

Knowledge is key. You need to ensure that you get the knowledge through courses, shadowing and extensive reading. I cannot advise with the politics, just try to do right by your students and that will be seen. With a network of contacts and development programmes like Future Leaders, you can gain access to so many decision makers and leaders in education.

I gave an assembly once and asked the 5-7-year-olds what they wanted to be when they were older. Some of them came forward and said they wanted to be me when they grew up and I found it truly humbling.

Nick is a graduate from our 2010 Future Leaders cohort. Future Leaders is a two-year intensive leadership development programme for senior leaders who aim to become headteachers of schools in challenging contexts within three years.


This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.


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