Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Education and Beyond

Before I begin this blog, I think it is useful to provide definitions of both race and ethnicity, as both subjects are discussed below. According to Merriam-Webster, race is defined as “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits” while ethnicity is more broadly made up of “large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.” These definitions do occasionally overlap and even become synonymous in some reports, leading to difficulties in understanding, but I try to use them as accurately as possible in this article.

A little over a year after the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report essentially concluded that systemic racism does not exist in Britain, two other reports came out with hard evidence of racial prejudice in the education and healthcare systems. The two reports, by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), respectively, looked at promotion and progression opportunities within the professions. They found major disparities in their data, suggesting that systemic racism does indeed exist in Britain, and is very evident in promotional practices – at least in education and healthcare.

The Royal College of Nursing reveals structural racism within the NHS

We’ll start with the RCN’s study, which surveyed almost 10,000 nursing staff. The study found that White nurses are twice as likely as Black and Asian colleagues to be promoted in the NHS. The difference is starkest among 35-44-year olds: while 65.9 percent of White and 64 percent of Mixed ethnic respondents reported a promotion, only 38.3 percent of Asian and 35.2 percent of Black respondents reported the same.

The structural racism had a “devastating” impact on minority ethnic staff, and Black respondents working in hospitals and community care even said they were more likely to report experiencing physical abuse. These findings echo those of a review commissioned by the NHS Race and Health Observatory published in February. That review concluded that racism, racial discrimination, barriers to accessing healthcare, and inadequate ethnicity data collection have negatively impacted Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people in England for years.

The National Foundation for Educational Research uncovers racial inequalities in education

The newer NFER report is proof that this systemic racism is not exclusive to the healthcare system – it also exists in education. NFER used the latest data from large administrative datasets from UCAS, Teach First, SWC, and the NGA survey of governance volunteers, along with the 2011 Census data to estimate the proportion of people in England from each ethnic group. The study measured inequality in both representation and progression opportunities. It found that all racial groups except White are under-represented at all career stages of the teaching profession, and that people from ethnic minority groups at most stages of the teacher career pipeline are less likely to progress than their White counterparts.

Representation at schools

Representation, which has long been an issue in schools in England, appears to get increasingly worse the further you look up the educational career path. Whereas acceptances into Initial Teacher Training are relatively equally representative, there is a large drop in non-White representation in the population of classroom teachers. Most groups, including Asian, Black, Mixed, and Other (indicating Arab or any other ethnic group) are around 50 percent underrepresented, while White classroom teachers are around 13 percent overrepresented. The gaps continue to widen among the senior leadership, with underrepresentation among headteachers anywhere from around 60 to 80 percent underrepresented and White headteachers and senior leaders around 20 percent overrepresented.

Career progression in schools

Looking at progression through the teacher career pipeline reveals a similar story. In this analysis, however, minorities are less likely to be promoted earlier on in their careers than their White counterparts, until they reach the promotion middle leader stage, where there is a spike in the data and all ethnic minority groups are slightly more likely to be promoted than their white colleagues. This may seem hopeful in the fight against racial disparity, yet it is merely an irregularity – after middle leadership, no other racial group aside from Mixed is more likely to be promoted than their White counterparts.

Analysis of representation by race in Haringey schools

Although HEP cannot replicate the scale of the NFER study, we decided to do some analysis of our own to see how schools in Haringey fared in terms of ethnic disparities when compared to England as a whole. In order to accomplish this, we took publicly available school data about job positions and ethnicities, classified it in almost the same way as the NFER report did (by converting ethnic data to broader racial groups), and then ran the numbers.

Unlike the NFER report, this table doesn’t neatly show the progression up the teacher pipeline, but it does nonetheless reveal interesting insights. The first and most obvious is that in the positions of head teachers, senior leaders, middle leaders, and even classroom teachers, White people are just as overrepresented in Haringey as they are in the rest of England. The second, however, is that in all school positions, and especially in leadership, ethnic groups other than White are much less underrepresented than they are at the national level. Though Haringey clearly still has a long way to go, it appears to be slightly less racially unequal than England as a whole.

Some other items of note from this analysis include the large disparities in senior leaders, head teachers, and to a slightly lesser extent, middle leaders. This reflects the disparities within schools’ leadership structures, and that these are slow to change (although the low underrepresentation of any ethnic group in middle leadership hints that this may be in the process of changing). Also, there is a very large underrepresentation of Black classroom teachers, as well as senior leaders and head teachers, which means that many Black children in Haringey are not seeing people who look like them in front of the classroom or leading the school. On the flip side of this, there is quite a bit of racial disparity in support staffing, especially concerning Black overrepresentation and White underrepresentation, which means Black children in Haringey are seeing people who look like them working in support roles, while White children are not. Finally, the role with the lowest disparity was Teaching Assistants, meaning that pupils in Haringey do have a diverse experience with the assistants in the classroom, if not with the teachers themselves.

Anti-racism action in Haringey and beyond

Together, armed with the right information, we can make Haringey schools more racially equitable. This will be a focus for the anti-racism work across the borough this year and beyond.

Have any comments or see anything interesting in the data that we missed? Please let us know. Email me at Luke.Kemper@haringeyeducationpartnership.co.uk.

Also, listen to the newest HEP Talks podcast, in which I interview Marva Rollins, a HEP School Improvement Partner and member of the Racial Equity Steering Group, about the NFER report and what actions can be taken to combat systemic racism in education. The episode is called “Taking action on racial inequality in education,” and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.

Special thanks to Chi Tsang for his work with the data analysis!

About the Author:

Luke Kemper

Luke Kemper is Insight and Intelligence Lead at HEP. He recently graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Education, Globalisation and International Development. Before that, he worked for seven years as a university lecturer and high school teacher in China and Poland.

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