The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Aldaine Wynter

Representation in teaching

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. Aldaine Wynter discusses why representation in the classroom is an important way to role model for students.

In my previous piece I spoke of the importance of representation in education at every level. So far, we have explored representation at school leadership level. With this piece we will look at representation among classroom teachers.    

  • Does representation matter amongst classroom teachers?
  • Why should a school care about a representative teaching workforce?

To be able to talk about representation in teaching, it is important to understand what the current workforce looks like, how it has changed and the possible implications that this can have on the school community. The government’s ethnicity facts and figures give invaluable insight into the makeup of the workforce. 

Representation

When thinking about representation, for me the protected characteristics come to mind.

  • Age
  • Disabilities
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

These give a clear idea as to the groups most likely to be negatively impacted by a lack of representation in any sector, including education. For this piece I will focus on race, sex, LGBT+ and disabilities.

Race

Of all the statistics gathered based on ethnicity, the only ethnicity that saw an overrepresentation of teachers when compared to the working age population was white British and white Irish. White British represented 85.7% of schoolteachers compared to 78.5% who are of working age in the population. White Irish represented 1.5% of schoolteachers compared to 1% who were of working age.   

  • When you consider your school do the figures above ring true?
  • Does the overrepresentation cause problems in your school context?
  • Does your staffing body represent the students they teach?

When I think about the figures, it brings my mind to figures around the exclusion rates for black students. The Guardian reported that Caribbean students in England are six times more likely to be excluded than those of their white peers. Do you think this number is due to a lack of black classroom teachers?

Sex

You can see from the government’s figures an overrepresentation of females (75.8%) and this was true for every ethnicity group. In my previous piece on representation in leadership, it was noted that there were far fewer females in leadership positions in most schools, despite more females that are classroom teachers.

LGBT+

Frontier in sociology found that 50,000 teachers in Britain identified as LGBT+. The article goes on to talk about how teachers do not all feel that they can be open about their sexuality. Stonewall found that 42% of LGBT+ school students were bullied in school, twice (21%) that of non-LGBT+ students.

While I do not think that we are not talking about LGBT+ issues in schools, I feel that the focus is on students in relation to the culture of homophobic and transphobic abuse that could be happening. We should think about the impact that increased visibility could have on peer-to-peer bullying. Outside of LGBT+ history month and Pride Month, when do you hear the voices or experience from those in the LGBT+ community?

Disabilities

In 2012, DfE figures suggest only 1% of the teaching workforce has a disability. More reliably, the government’s 2016 census suggested 0.5% of the teaching workforce self-reported as having disabilities, compared to 16% of working age adults. (The figures do not consider schools in the independent sector or sixth form colleges and FE schools and colleges.)

It is important to consider the visible and/or hidden disabilities that teachers may have. Regardless, it must make a difference when considering CPD that aims to ensure a more inclusive outlook with students in mind. The facts and figures explored all seem to point to the idea that the current workforce lacks representations in areas that would have a significant impact on the lives of their students.

Visibility

Whether you consider yourself a role model or not, as an educator you impact hundreds of students in your care. Whether you are a female maths teacher inspiring female student in your class, or an openly trans teacher teaching art, students will connect to identities that are presented in front of them. As such, it is important to think about the environment we build for our students.

Marian Wright’s famous quote that most resonated with me was 'You can’t be what you can’t see'. And while not every student in your class is going to want to be a teacher, what is important is that students see success, and that you are.

Representation makes the idea of success tangible for many students, especially when seeing themselves in others. More than yourself, we can make an impact by diversifying the curriculums we teach, ensuring that students have a range of role models.

Recruiting diverse teachers

Schools must take responsibility for the representation of teachers in school. It is not enough to talk about the lack of representation in school. It is important to reflect on the hiring processes that occurs and whether that is having an impact on the lack of diversity in school.

Many schools will comment on a small pool to pull from in the first place. When reflecting on the hiring process schools should consider their job ads and whether that is having an impact on who is willing to apply in the first place.

Have you considered whether your job ads would have more responses from male applicants versus female? There are many interesting tools available that seek to help identify and minimise racial bias. Artificial intelligence may be an invaluable way of eliminating bias that occur at the very beginning stages of the recruitment process.

Hiring talented diverse teachers and being a role model are just two very simple things that will ultimately make an impact on students.

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