Uncomfortable and disturbing: Report reveals substantial disparities in career progression for ethnic minority teachers

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Children entering school today have a “high probability of rarely or never being taught by a teacher from an Asian, black, mixed or other ethnic minority group”.

A disturbing and uncomfortable new report shows that teachers from black, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds are notably over-represented in applications to postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) and yet less likely to be accepted onto courses.

Furthermore, teachers from these backgrounds are also less likely to be promoted from middle to senior leadership and are under-represented at “all stages of the teacher career pipeline”.

In fact, 86% of publicly funded schools in England have all-white senior leadership teams, 96% of headteachers are white, and 60% of schools in England have an all-white teaching staff.

The uncomfortable findings have come in new research undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), Ambition Institute, and Teach First (Worth et al, 2022).

They show that while people from white backgrounds are under-represented in applications to ITT, they are over-represented at all other stages – from achieving qualified teacher status through to entering senior and executive leadership.

Meanwhile, people from Asian, black, and other ethnic backgrounds are hugely over-represented among ITT applicants but are much less likely to be accepted.

Compared to their white counterparts, acceptance rates to postgraduate ITT courses are 9% lower for applicants from mixed ethnic backgrounds, 13% lower for those Asian ethnic backgrounds, and 21% lower for those from black ethnic backgrounds.

And then, if they are accepted, they are much less likely to progress through the “career pipeline”. The problem of representation also exists among governance volunteers.

The report states: “By the time applicants have enrolled, completed their training and achieved QTS, Asian, black, mixed and other ethnic minority groups are under-represented compared to the wider population.

“Teachers from all ethnic groups other than white are also under-represented at each subsequent stage of the profession from NQT through to headteacher, compared to their representation in the population in 2021.”


Uncomfortable reading: The representation of ethnic groups in the teaching profession in 2020/21. Over-representation of black, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds in ITT applications quickly turns into under-representation across “all stages of the teacher career pipeline” (Source: Worth et al, 2022).


The authors warn of “substantial disparities” in the progression of teachers from ethnic minority groups, resulting in “significant under-representation at senior leadership and headship levels”.

Middle leaders from Asian ethnic backgrounds are 3% less likely and those from black ethnic backgrounds 4% less likely to be promoted to senior leadership than their white counterparts.

The under-representation is most pronounced at senior leadership and headship levels. The report reveals that 96% of headteachers are from white ethnic backgrounds – compared to 83% in the wider population.

The report states: “These trends contribute to schools having senior leadership teams that are predominantly white: 86% of publicly funded schools in England have all-white senior leadership teams. We also find that 60% of schools in England have an all-white teaching staff.

“Although secondary schools have a more diverse teaching staff than primary schools, children entering school today have a high probability of rarely or never being taught by a teacher from an Asian, black, mixed or other ethnic minority group.”

The report says that these disparities need to be actively addressed. Notably, it finds that ethnic disparities in teacher retention rates are smaller in schools with diverse school leadership teams and larger in schools with all-white leadership teams – showing how “the actions of leaders and decision-makers are central to understanding why ethnic disparities exist within the system”.

It adds: “Decision-makers, including governors and trustees, are crucial to promoting the action that is required to make progress towards achieving racial equality in the teaching profession.”

In 2018, the Department for Education published a “statement of intent” for the diversity of the teaching workforce (DfE, 2018) in which it stated: “The value of a diverse workforce and school leadership is clear. Diversity within schools is valuable in fostering social cohesion and most importantly, in supporting pupils to grow and develop in an environment of visible, diverse role models.
“We want to see a teaching profession that prides itself on promoting a diverse workforce, that supports the progression and retention of all teachers, and that builds an inclusive environment for teachers and pupils where they can be themselves.”

The NFER report’s recommendations include more regular monitoring to assess where progress in reducing and eliminating disparities is being made and it also wants to see ITT providers, multi-academy trusts, and others publishing institutional data on diversity.

And of course, a key recommendation is for ITT providers to “review their application and selection processes to pinpoint the extent, nature and causes of the lower acceptance rates experienced by applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds”.

It wants to see more support and the sharing of best practice to help ITT, schools, and MATs to make “equitable workforce decisions”.

It adds: “The significant disparities in progression rates between ethnic groups identified in our analysis typically arise during specific processes within organisations, such as recruitment, selection, and promotion.

“More generally, decision-making by leaders can potentially influence ethnic disparities in, for example, rates of retention within ITT and teaching. A critical measure for addressing ethnic disparities is therefore to support leaders to make equitable workforce decisions and create an environment where teachers from diverse backgrounds are equally able to thrive.”

Jack Worth, co-author of the report and the NFER school workforce lead, said the findings show that our current workforce does not reflect the ethnic make-up of wider society and that “opportunities to enter and progress within the teaching profession are not equal”.

He added: “The evidence in the report adds detailed and analytical insights into where ethnic disparities in progression within the teacher career pipeline are greatest, which will support the sector to make improvements and lasting changes in the areas where they are most needed.”

Commenting on the findings, Sufian Sadiq, director of teaching school at the Chiltern Learning Trust, said: “Teacher recruitment and retention has been an on-going crisis within our sector for a number of years. Yet in this report, we see evidence of interest in teaching – from black and ethnic minority candidates – and a pool of potential talent that is not currently being tapped.

“Addressing the racial disparities that exist within teaching is therefore not only a moral imperative, but increasingly necessary if we want to tackle teacher supply problems, and ensure every child has a qualified teacher standing before them.

“The positive number of applicants from ethnic minority communities shows that the issues and challenges around diversity in teaching are systemic, and not down to a lack of interest or something we can shift onto those from under-represented groups. The report highlights to me that the onus is on organisations in all points in the career pipeline to take responsibility and act now.”

Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First, added: “Ethnic diversity and representation in the teaching workforce are key goals if we want an education system that is truly inclusive and allows every young person to thrive.

“We know that a diverse teaching workforce has a positive impact on outcomes for pupils from under-represented backgrounds – but it is also beneficial to all pupils, bringing different perspectives to the classroom and enriching their education experience as a whole. This research shows that we are not achieving that goal.”

Responding this week, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, admitted the findings made “uncomfortable reading”.

He added: “There is obviously something wrong when figures show that acceptance rates for black candidates onto ITT courses are 21% lower than for their white counterparts. There is still clearly more work to be done in making acceptance into teaching a level playing field for all applicants.

“It is also of great concern that there are substantial disparities in the progression of teachers from ethnic minority groups throughout the teacher career pipeline, resulting in significant under-representation at senior leadership level. It is crucial that we work together as a profession to address these disparities both in the interests of fairness and equality, and in terms of the message we send to children and young people.

“What’s more, we can ill afford to lose anyone from the teaching and leadership workforce at the moment. At a time when we are hearing growing anecdotal evidence about teachers and leaders becoming disenchanted with education to the point where many are considering leaving the profession early it is crucial that we do not place unnecessary and unfair barriers in the way of talented people wishing to begin or progress their careers.”

  • DfE: Policy paper: Diversity of the teaching workforce: Statement of intent, October 2018: https://bit.ly/3MCE9KY
  • Worth, McLean & Sharp: Racial equality in the teacher workforce: An analysis of representation and progression opportunities from ITT to headship, NFER, May 2022: https://bit.ly/39BL1tO


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