Why We Need More Black Teachers

Young black students are in dire need of more black teachers and role models in schools. Here’s why:

While it’s not entirely on black teachers to take up the mantle of role model for black students within a school. The fact remains; ensuring young people have access to, and can visibly see role models that look like them or come from a similar background, is important.

What underrepresentation means for young black students in schools today

Representation matters. It’s no secret that a lack of black teachers (and as a result, the lack of black role models) can have a devastating effect on the prospects of young black people. The above statistics come from report by the Hamilton Commission. Its focus is on the barriers faced by young black Brits in recruitment and progression within the STEM industries. Yet, its message shines a light on all industries.

Seven time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, made a pledge in October 2021 to fund 150 black STEM teachers in the UK’s most disadvantaged schools. Lewis Hamilton began The Hamilton Commission alongside the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) after witnessing the lack of black people in engineering during his career in motorsport. Seeking to understand why underrepresentation exists in STEM, he reflects; ‘representation and role models are important…especially when it comes to supporting young peoples’ development’.

The shortage of black teachers and its devastating effect

Hamilton’s sentiments are echoed by teacher Natalie Jones in an article on the BAME teacher shortage. Born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, Natalie now teaches in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. In the article, Natalie explains the real challenges in becoming a teacher.

For instance, when she was growing up she ‘never saw a black teacher’. And The Education Workforce Council reports that only 7 out of 3,443 headteachers come from ‘non-white minority ethnic backgrounds’. Natalie goes on to say in the article that; ‘Sometimes in some careers, unless you see somebody who looks like you doing it, it doesn’t enter your head you can do it’.

In other words, young black youth stumble at the first hurdle because in some disciplines (e.g. STEM subjects) they can’t foresee how they will fit in.

Josiah Isles, a black Assistant Headteacher, found that of the 600 teachers he’d encountered in his career, just 14 were black. And of those, only one held a position at the most senior level. A February 2021 government report supports Josiah’s observations. It outlines that of all the teachers in England:

% of Black Caribbean teachers in England

% of Black African teachers in England

% of Mixed White Black Caribbean teachers in England

% of Mixed White/Black African teachers in England

Given these statistics, it’s not surprising that young black men like Josiah struggle to find role models within the education system. However, he goes on to express how formative the few role models he had were in shaping his own career; ‘[They] made a massive impact on my self-belief and drive. I can only hope that I can do the same for other young black men and all of my students, many of whom come from financially vulnerable households’.

A short history of British educational attitudes to young black people

Bernard Coard was one of the pioneers who first brought the problems facing young black people in the British education system to the country’s attention.

In his 1971 book, How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System, Coard highlights how black children were wrongly sent to schools for the ‘educationally subnormal’ (ESN) because they were believed to be of low intelligence. Coard identified the harm caused to black children by teachers who were ‘openly prejudiced…patronising’. With many having ‘low expectations of the child’s abilities’. Adding to this, educational campaigner Gus John, who came over from Grenada in 1964, said schools were ‘paralysing and killed any sense of self-confidence and ambition’. Not to mention, schools were doing nothing to challenge this obvious prejudice.

‘The education system fuelled and legitimised the idea that black Caribbean children were less intelligent than other children… It was rampant racism’.

Gus john

While things have definitely improved for young black British students today, prejudice attitudes were pervasive back then. As a result, many black children were sent to schools that hindered their growth and progression.

The ESN Experiences of young black students

In a BBC article, Noel Gordon, a pupil who was sent to an ESN school, describes his experience as ‘hell’.

Another pupil, Maisie Barrett, was sent to an ESN at the age of seven in the 1960s; because a teacher told her mother she was ‘backwards’ and ‘couldn’t learn’.

In fact, Maisie was dyslexic, a condition that was undiagnosed until she was in her 30s. She claims her experience in the ESN school ruined her life chances. While we can’t go back and change the experiences of pupils like Noel and Maisie, we can focus on the now; to support future black students and to improve their prospects.

Learning from the past to support the future

In January 2021, to celebrate the republication of Coard’s book, Hubert Devonish, Professor at the University of the West Indies, wrote; ‘people of non-White immigrant origin from the former Empire now living in the UK, hold the key to a better future for the British education system’.

In fact, a study conducted by the Institute of Education at UCL outlines how this vision might become a reality. The report recommends greater government support to retain minority ethnic teachers; advising the government to ensure that the teaching staff at state-funded schools were reflective of the diversity of the communities in which those schools were based. In addition, it outlines the necessity to promote minority ethnic teachers into leadership positions.

Finally, its overarching recommendation was that more and better empirical research be conducted; to explore why minority ethnic teachers leave the profession. Suggesting that the data be used to develop strategies to retain and recruit more minority ethnic teachers into the profession.

Building up young black youth for success

We believe that further research, much like the report conducted by UCL, and initiatives like the pledge made by Lewis Hamilton will give young black people the role models they need to boost their confidence in the value of education. And it’s this confidence that will improve all our futures; a future where more black people occupy positions of authority within our society.  Until that time, there’s a lot more work to be done. But we’re hopeful.

At Genesis Sun we focus on nurturing abilities and empowering belief systems in black people and underserved groups. Our goal is to inspire and stimulate fresh and existing talent, innovate thinking and encourage big personal and career aspirations.