Leaders Like Us

By Emily Norman, Head of Curriculum and Inclusion, Church of England Education Office

I wonder, how many leaders in your school are like you? Similar demographic in terms of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education, sexual orientation, age? It is very possible that the answer to that question is ‘quite a few’ since research tells us that leaders regularly and repeatedly recruit and promote leaders just like them. 

And when it comes to ethnicity, this is a serious problem, because data released just this year shows us that UK minority ethnic (UKME) teachers are not progressing into leadership at anywhere near the rate of their white peers. The recent National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) report Racial equality in the teacher workforce highlighted that teachers from UKME backgrounds are in fact becoming increasingly under-represented the further up the school leadership ladder you go, with no sign of improvement.

Vision for education
In the Church of England, we have a vision for the education sector – for human flourishing and ‘life in all its fullness’. This vision for all pupils requires flourishing staff and adults. Our UKME teachers and leaders should have every possible opportunity to progress, achieve and thrive in our schools. Equally, our pupils need to see themselves represented in their teachers and leaders. 

Currently, there is a ratio of one headteacher to over 7,000 UKME students (data from Professor Paul Miller, Institute for Equity). Yet research tells us that the impact of teacher and school leader representation on students is significant; their attainment and likelihood of progressing to tertiary education is exponentially higher. Their exclusion and suspension rates decrease. Their future aspirations are higher because ‘if you can see it, you can be it’ (a phrase used, for example to describe the impact Nichelle Nichols’ NASA campaign had on Dr Mae Jemison - the first black female astronaut in space).

Why is this so urgent and necessary? 
Data released this summer about school exclusions shows that pupils from Gypsy and Roma backgrounds, followed by those from mixed white and black Caribbean backgrounds, had the highest rates of exclusion in the country. This is much higher than the rates of their White British peers. 

Attainment in this country also shows similar patterns, with White British students attaining at national average in primary SATs tests (65%) and GCSE Progress 8 (50%) while Black Caribbean and mixed white/ Black Caribbean students are achieving below average (56% and 59% respectively for SATs and 44% for Progress 8). 

Knowing the significant impact that representation amongst teachers and school leaders can have (see, for example Villegas & Irvine), we have a moral imperative to secure significant increases so that the one third of pupils who come from UKME backgrounds see themselves reflected in the classroom, and in those making decisions about their education.

Leaders Like Us
In the Church of England, we know we have to address this issue with vigour and urgency. So we put together the fully-funded  ‘Leaders Like Us’ programme utilising the research around what we know works in the recruitment, progression and retention of UKME school leaders (from eg. Miller 2020). It was devised by successful UKME headteachers, currently in schools (some of the 3% of UKME headteachers nationally) and involves mentoring, networking, shadowing an existing leader and the opportunity to gain an accredited qualification. 

Headteachers have a huge role to play here. Professor Paul Miller’s work shows that one of the greatest factors in enabling the progression of UKME teachers into leadership is the encouragement and endorsement of their headteachers, courageous advocates who see the need for change and are willing to challenge the status quo. Nothing will change unless a committed group of leaders take steps to act differently and invest in their UKME staff, seeing them as possible leaders of the future. Leaders like the millions of UKME pupils in our classrooms.

They need leaders like them. 

Will you play your part? Leaders Like Us launches in January 2023. Applications are open now, and the deadline is 16 December 2022. 

Emily Norman is Head of Curriculum and Education at the Church of England
Posted: 12/12/2022 11:00:27