Deja vu or progress – reflections of a retired HM Inspector of Education
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Cross-posted from Centre for Education and Race Equality in Scotland (CERES) – Blog post by Hakim Din

Every so often, we all have a reflective moment where we think about where we are and what are we doing. For me, it has been reflecting on my work in Education, in particular race equality, across almost four decades.

As retired Schools Inspector, I can recall some really good anti-racist practice in a number of schools that I inspected.  By anti-racist practice, I mean practice that does not avoid recognising the existence of racism in many forms both in the formal and hidden curriculum and then doing something about it via learning and teaching.

For example, in a Greenock school, a class teacher had organised activities about tackling stereotypes with a second year social studies class. It was a very well-handled discussion, with the teacher getting the pupils to talk honestly about the issues; and then in a very sensitive manner getting them to analyse their answers and ensuring that the pupils understood the hurtfulness of stereotyping. In a Perth school, a group of teachers had organised anti-racist workshops for the whole of the third year. The Senior Leadership Team strongly supported this work and allowed the year group off their timetable for the day activities. At the other extreme, there were times when I was approached by pupils and staff about the racism they faced or witnessed in their schools. In most instances, the pupils and staff did not want these reported.  They only wanted to let me know that the school was not what it appeared to be. This highlights the difference between those schools that have developed an antiracist ethos and those who assume that by adopting an inclusive approach, that that would automatically include anti-racist values.

In my time as Depute Headteacher of a secondary school, we did a lot in our school to tackle racism, to develop an antiracist curriculum across all subjects and to ensure that pupils and parents were involved in the developments. The key to this was having like-minded staff working together to learn and make it work. Again, the SLT supported the working group and ensured that all staff understood the importance of having an antiracist perspective and not multicultural. A multicultural approach recognises and celebrates diversity but can do so without acknowledging or addressing racism. An anti-racist approach would incorporate a multicultural approach. As a result of the strong SLT leadership and department heads knowing this was important, developments were easier.

As a result of ‘Black Lives Matter’, we are again addressing the same issues that we did almost 20 years ago – a curriculum that should by now be embedded with an antiracist perspective. The question has to be asked as to why an anti-racist approach has not been embedded?  We also see that the number of minority ethnic teachers in the profession continue not to reflect the pupil and wider population statistics. There remains a lack of promotion of minority ethnic teachers into senior positions; the robustness of schools willing to tackle racist comments and incidents remains ad hoc and inconsistent. As a now retired depute and school inspector, I wonder if we are doing enough to prepare pupils to live in a global, fair, just and international world. However, data from the PISA 2018 reports that Scottish pupils scored above average on attitudes towards immigrants and respect for cultures.

In the late 1980’s and the 1990’s, race was on the agenda, and many local authorities at the time and Scottish Government had tried to ensure a multicultural and antiracist perspective in education. They had succeeded with lots of training of headteachers about ‘race issues’ such as tackling racist incidents in schools. Black and minority ethnic teachers came together to help each other and to share the responsibility of the developments in antiracist education and not to leave it to one person or to a group of people. White teachers were allies and worked alongside black and minority ethnic teachers to ensure progress.

Standing where I am now, observing the system from the outside, we appear to have come round full circle. In Scotland, we started with high levels of complacency on issues of race equality and it would appear that in 2021, we might be returning to that position where we deem race to either be irrelevant or an issue we have dealt with.  With inconsistent and limited commitment by the majority of local education authorities  and teacher education institutions to support teacher development in issues like racial awareness over the decades has resulted in staff lacking the confidence to address issues of race. For example, why is it that BAME student teachers, probationers and promoted teachers are still subjected to racism?

There is also another factor which has been the role of black and minority ethnic communities.  It could be argued that the black and minority ethnic communities in Scotland have become somewhat complacent, unlike in America where being black and minority ethnic is an issue that needs to be confronted everyday. Here in Scotland, until the recent Black Lives Matter issues reignited, minority communities appeared to be prepared to let others do the work of holding institutions to account for addressing racism. I would argue that we are more fragmented today than we were then. While there are many black and minority ethnic groups, in my view, largely these groups are not working cohesively with common goals and objectives but instead as a result of competing for small grants and monies for funding, are intent on self-preservation rather supporting each other in the struggle. Many still do not engage with the language of anti-racism.

I am reminded of the struggle of the Black women who worked for NASA and how they worked for each other to make small gains for the struggle. I am also reminded of how some BAME teachers who have chosen to be activist teachers, speaking up on issues of racism and supported their peers who have suffered racism, have often seen their own careers curtailed to assist others to succeed.

So what about the future? I would like to remain positive but would have to be honest to say, I remain sceptical that it will be so.  There are still gate keepers out there and true power sharing is still ethereal. Black and minority ethnic teachers are still stereotyped in one way or another and will need to work harder than their white peers to be successful and to get onto just the first rung of the progression ladder. While there are many committed white anti-racist teachers and leaders in the education sector, they are often on their own and without critical mass.  This does sound bleak and I hope that I will be shown to be wrong. Unless we support each other more; unless we plan for the future as one group and ensure that we have allies that help us achieve this; unless we are confident in what we do and are brave to stand up for what we believe then the future is going to be the same as the past. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.