Growing up in London, my parents raised me with the motto ‘education is the key to success’.
This meant that from an early age, there was really no excuse for poor results or a poor attitude to learning. Growing up in the Caribbean, my parents had a totally different perspective on education in general and the importance of respecting teachers and adults in the community. I had to succeed- no matter what. I knew all my times table off by heart aged eight.
During my education, I never experienced being taught by a BAME teacher. There was never the opportunity to share a common cultural experience, reflect on what life was like for me and other pupils or to celebrate difference.
Being black was never really spoken about and I had a mixed experience at school. The teachers that left a positive impact on me inspired me to want to help children develop their creativity, sense of worth and to achieve their dreams.
So, I decided to train and become a teacher to help make a difference to others. When applying for my PGCE I was the very aware that no-one in the room looked like me. Out of the 30 students interviewed for a place on the course, I was the only BAME student.
Diversity in the school community
I am stunned that in the twenty-first century there is still disparity between the ethnic diversity of pupils and the ethnic diversity of teaching staff, let alone senior leaders. Research by The Runnymede Trust reveals that 30.4% of primary students and 26.6% of secondary students in state schools are from minority ethnic groups. In contrast, only 6% of teachers in primary and 9.9% teachers in secondary identify as BAME according to a new report from the youth employment charity Elevation Networks.
I have had some negative experiences as a BAME leader: once someone thought I was the classroom helper, I’ve been subtly undermined by staff or questioned further on subject knowledge by colleagues much less experienced than me, and my views have been dismissed. That’s what I find most damaging: when people assume that I don’t have adequate experience or professionalism.
I find parents to be the most supportive, and not just the parents of BAME pupils. Several parents have approached me over the years to shake my hand or just to say welcome. One parent told me they had been waiting for someone like me, which made me feel sad as it highlighted how underrepresented they felt in their school community.
Diversity in leadership
Years later, despite studies, in-depth research and more openness about the lack of diversity in teaching, particularly in leadership, I still experience obstacles. In the last three years I have been extremely close to securing a senior leadership post. None of the feedback I received was particularly alarming; I just didn’t quite fit what they were looking for. Despite work on cognitive bias, there was no getting away from the fact that no-one on the interview panel was from a BAME background.
Sometimes it has felt as though I have been shortlisted because I am black, then it could appear as though there has been an attempt to a recruit BAME leader.
Due to these continuous setbacks, I decided to apply for Ambition School Leadership’s Teaching Leaders programme. Previously, I completed an Outstanding Teacher Programme (OTP) course and really wanted some up-to-date training to submerge myself in a programme which had a leadership focus. That way, I felt there could really be no reason for me to continually question myself.
I must admit, I was very surprised at the diversity of teachers from all over the UK that attended the Residential last August. I networked with everyone from all backgrounds, but was able to bond with aspiring BAME leaders from all over the UK that had had similar experiences to me.
Now I feel that it is my duty to be a role model to pupils and show them what they can aspire to be. I encourage them to start taking the steps towards their dreams and try and instil resilience in all pupils that I teach. My passion is to ensure that all pupils aspire to be the best that they can be regardless of their economic or ethnic background.
Without wanting to sound corny, this leadership course has given me the timely lift I needed to keep going- I see certain things from a different perspective and build on my positive experiences.
Recently, I applied for a deputy headteacher post. Armed with up-to-date training, knowledge of research and pedagogy, a superb PowerPoint and enthusiasm, I did exceptionally well.
This time when the interview panel – all of whom were white British – decided who to appoint…they chose me!
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.