Improving diversity among leaders

Written by: David Hermitt | Published:
Photo: iStock

A government scheme is helping BME teachers into school leadership roles – where they are currently sorely under-represented. David Hermitt explains

There are currently only 104 secondary school headteachers from Black Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds in the UK– that’s just three per cent.

With some schools seeing 70 per cent of students from a BME background, this means that the staff make-up simply does not reflect the student body.

Last year Congleton High School was selected as one of 30 UK schools to pilot a government-backed initiative aiming to tackle this inequality by providing professional development opportunities for BME teachers to help them to progress into leadership roles against the odds.

BME secondary leaders

Out of the 18,000 qualified BME teachers, only 1,000 are in leadership positions and only 104 are headteachers.

While numbers of BME headteachers in England are slowly growing – from 5.6 per cent in 2012 to 6.1 per cent in 2013 – the picture differs hugely regionally. The North West, for example, has only 27 BME headteachers in comparison to 99,910 BME pupils.

A total of 28.5 per cent of primary pupils and 24.2 per cent of secondary students are from BME groups, as are 70 per cent of all students in London.

The BME leadership statistics don’t look like changing anytime soon, as there are simply not enough BME teachers joining the profession in the first place.

If they do join, very few make progress to leadership positions and those that do are unlikely to progress to headship. I have been one of around 100 BME headteachers for over a decade.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Our own evidence shows that once in the profession, BME teachers still face discrimination, bullying and harassment which hold them back from career progression and may be a factor in the low take-up into the profession. It is an issue which needs addressing as a priority.”

BME students benefit hugely from seeing BME staff in leadership positions on an everyday basis. Role-models are essential in inspiring children to aim high and to view school as a place that welcomes them and where they could be successful.

Spending their school days with school leaders who appear to be unrepresentative of their views and with whom they appear to have little in common, may put BME students off a teaching career. The profession will then not increase its diversity, which will then deter the next cohort of students from becoming teachers.

This has become evident in the latest cohort of trainee teachers to pass through the School Direct scheme, where only eight per cent of participants were from a non-white background.

Having a leadership team from a range of ethnic backgrounds also helps to forge good relationships between students and staff.

It brings variation into the school, encouraging students to value different cultural traditions, creating a culture of tolerance and support. BME leaders can draw on their own experiences to engage with BME students by challenging racial stereotypes and making changes throughout the school to address any issues of discrimination harming students – who in turn will feel that their school leaders are looking out for them.

The leadership scheme

The government’s trial of the scheme aiming to increase the number of BME headteachers was a success, with 30 schools allocated funding to spend on diversity leadership projects which are set to benefit 1,000 teachers – all of whom are predicted a promotion within 12 months.

The project has been running since 2014, with 30 lead schools (20 secondary, 10 primary) having already received financial support for diversity leadership initiatives.

Due to the scheme’s success, the Department for Education announced earlier this year that all UK schools can now bid for up to £30,000 in funding to support their BME staff progress into senior leadership positions (projects to encourage more women into school leadership are also eligible for the diversity funding).

The grants are to come from the Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund, which is being driven by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL). The NCTL focuses specifically on local campaigns in order to put the power in the hands of schools and address issues that individual BME teachers may face in their area.

The key objective of the scheme is to support BME teachers to progress into senior leadership positions so the school workforce reflects the diversity of the pupils and staff it represents and so becomes an accepting environment for all cultures and backgrounds, ensuring that BME pupils across the country have strong role-models to inspire them.

I also expect that the scheme will expand the talent pool for senior leadership jobs and see more schools actively developing the skills of their own teachers.

What our scheme entails

For Congleton High School’s work under the diversity project, mentoring is a key component. I am able to use my experience to coach and support other BME teachers looking to move into leadership.

Mentors provide a critical perspective for their mentees. We will look at CVs, provide a sounding board for ideas and give invaluable advice from our personal experience.

Through the programme I have mentored Des Johnson, a BME assistant headteacher who, after receiving my support, was able to secure a promotion to a deputy headship in 2013. I also helped deputy headteacher Larry Davis take over the running of a large school in London for two weeks to help him gain the experience required to progress up the career ladder and become a headteacher.

Furthermore, former assistant headteacher Jennifer Morris has recently been promoted to deputy headteacher in Birmingham following her participation in the scheme.

Teachers are also set up with internships and placements in school senior leadership teams to gain practical experience and talk to headteachers about their roles and how they got there.

Additionally, testing assesses a participant’s aptitude for different aspects of leadership and to also help them identify any gaps in their knowledge. Free professional development training sessions are also available.

The mentoring, testing and practical training provided on the programme leads to the teacher gaining a rounded perspective of their readiness to take on a senior leadership position. With increased confidence and improved leadership skills it is easier for a teacher to plan their next career move.

Changing the future

All schools must assume responsibility for encouraging talented BME teachers into leadership positions. Headteachers should identify staff members with potential and do everything in their power to allow them to take up opportunities such as this scheme. They must see the wider situation and encourage staff progression. Job advertisements should also make it clear that under-represented groups are welcome and are encouraged to apply.

It is crucial for schools to recognise that having a diverse leadership team is hugely important for their students in creating role-models and removing stereotypes. School should be an environment which accepts and supports people from all backgrounds, encouraging attainment and ensuring that BME students are given an equal start in life.

  • David Hermitt is executive principal of Congleton High School in Cheshire.

Further information
For more information on the DfE’s Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund, visit


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