I was delighted to be asked to contribute a post for the launch of BAMEed.
If we wish for the best teaching profession possible for the children of our society, it is essential we consider the diversity within our staffrooms. The best profession we could achieve would be made up of individuals with the specific combination of skillsets needed for an age group and/or subject area. To have sufficient subject knowledge, understanding of human development and the ability to maintain effective professional relationships is relatively rare and therefore we need to maximise aspiration to the teaching profession across all communities regardless of characteristics or identities. Where barriers are created that prevent potential teachers from aspiring to, or accessing, the profession, we diminish the quality of teaching upon which educational outcomes depend. A diverse workforce at all levels and across all roles in education is therefore about promoting the highest quality professional practice.
Promoting diversity is also about social justice. Too many highly qualified people from Black and Asian communities are not becoming teachers because of discriminatory practices within institutions. These practices can persuade people who have the potential to be excellent teachers to either not aspire to the profession or lead them into having to deal with unfair rejection on application. As attainment gaps in schools have begun to close, the level of discrimination in the jobs’ market becomes more obvious. Whilst the issues of access to the graduate labour markets are much wider than teaching jobs, schools are part of the issue and therefore need their employment practices reviewed in order to find solutions. Hoping and working for a more diverse workforce is therefore linked to hoping and working for a more just society.
My hopes for a diverse profession are also part of a desire for an outward looking education system that benefits from different perspectives and understandings. In a situation where schools are encouraged to “grow their own” teachers, middle leaders and headteachers, there is a danger that our institutions become more insular and tied to a narrow understanding of the evidence base. When the gate-keepers to the profession are in schools, they are more likely to be risk averse and favour people already known to a specific institution. The desire to employ people “like us” in schools is part of the introduction of enterprise and business practice into education. Across the world employment in private companies is influenced by family connections and prior relationship and this development in schools creates an additional barrier to fresh thinking, understanding and creative problem solving. A significant amount of powerful professional development occurs through informal contacts between teachers. Where teachers are disproportionately from one, narrow group within society, the professional capital in the country’s staffrooms is undermined to the detriment of children’s learning.
An education system is only as good as its teachers. If we want the best for our children, we need to hope for a more diverse profession.