There is a severe lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic leaders in UK education.
Data shows that only 7% of primary heads and 9% of secondary heads are BAME leaders and that a further 98% of top academy leaders are white.
My own journey to headship involved many challenges - including institutional racism, glass ceilings, too few role models, and a general disinclination to nurture people of colour into leadership roles. I went from being a meals supervisor and teaching assistant, to becoming a teacher and eventually headteacher.
At the start, I didn’t have enough self-belief, not least because I was raising four children alone, one of whom had a disability. Despite my enthusiasm, resilience and tenacity, I did not think I could ever truly contribute to education at the level of a teacher and especially not at the leadership level.
This lack of self-belief is something that is common in many BAME teachers who find it hard to work their way up the leadership scale due to the barriers they face.
There are, however, strategies being used to address the ‘ethnicity balance’ and treatment of BAME people within education. The Department for Education funds and advocates BAME leadership courses to develop resilience and readiness to undertake senior leadership roles.
The impact of such courses has been positive and many participants have gone on to secure leadership positions.
Further to this, I have found coaching and mentoring to be extremely empowering. It fills the void of representation and role models that I, and other aspiring leaders of colour, have experienced.
Investing in diversity
I undertook a course called Investing in Diversity that coached BAME teachers seeking promotion. It empowered me and others to build on our existing skills and challenge the status quo. Not only did it prepare us to apply for leadership roles, it supported us in breaking through the glass ceiling.
During this time, I was fortunate enough to work with a fantastic mentor who encouraged me to engage in quality-first continuing professional development, which underpinned my successful journey to headship.
Have an equalities policy
Another strategy that schools should consider is having a clear Equalities Policy that addresses the recruitment/ employment process.
This would help BAME leaders to develop, build their confidence and challenge the racial discrimination that is inherent to so many institutions.
During my time as head, I have endeavoured to appoint as many BAME teachers as I could possibly support, because it was that same guidance and mentorship that got me to where I am today.
What we do at Hollydale Primary
At Hollydale school, which has at least 70% Black minority ethnic pupils, we have a diverse leadership team that reflects the school community and encourages other BAME leaders to aspire to senior roles.
We have a coaching scheme for staff that facilitates learning and identifies strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to be the best they can be. This is at the core of what we do to support potential leaders at my school.
I have seen the powerful impact of this strategy and many BAME teachers from my school have successfully secured leadership positions. My current assistant head is, like many, a member of staff I have nurtured since she became a newly qualified teacher.
At my school, everyone has a voice – this ensures we have an inclusive workplace for both staff and pupils. Increasing BAME representation within education should be an objective that all schools strive to achieve.
However, the focus needs to be on enabling BAME employees to continue and advance their careers and progress into leadership positions.
Our approach is reflected in pupil attitudes, too. Children have said to me: “Miss Reid, I want to be a headteacher like you.” They see what is modelled and that it’s possible to be a teacher, or office manager, or head.
It becomes real when you can see yourself in the community that you are in every day.
Stepping into Leadership
In recent years I have worked closely with the Southwark Teaching Alliance, which runs an empowering course called Stepping into Leadership.
It aims to “equip ethnic minorities with the leadership skills, personal confidence and professional networks to make a successful application for promotion”, and offers high quality, relevant learning for BAME leaders.
Participants receive coaching, mentoring and shadowing opportunities and are rewarded with a wealth of experience.
I am privileged to be a keynote speaker on the course, and to be able to talk about my journey into headship in order to support BAME teachers striving for leadership positions is very rewarding.
I hope that my experiences, and those of colleagues, will encourage others. Barack Obama once said “Yes, we can!”. For me, this meant that I could achieve headship or a senior leadership position through resilience and determination - that I could overcome the challenges that institutional racism presented.
I also hope that, as time goes on, an increasing number of BAME people are promoted to leadership roles within education, proving themselves to be the role models and successful leaders that they deserve, and have the potential, to be.
Reema Reid is headteacher of Hollydale Primary School, Southwark, and Gold Award Winner 2021 of the Pearson National Teaching Awards Headteacher of the Year in a Primary School.