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Diversity in School Leadership (Part 2 - Digging deeper)

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Diversity in Leadership (Part 2 - Representation in Governing Bodies and at NAHT)

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Carly Chynoweth explores the issue of the representation of ethnic minorities in governing bodies and at NAHT. 


Classrooms are far more diverse than staffrooms in most schools in the UK; the number of black and ethnic minority people in leadership positions is smaller still. But what is the picture like on governing bodies and in the NAHT itself?



Making Governing Bodies More Relevant

The first part of this question is important for a number of reasons, says Steve Acklam. He’s the chief executive of a small charity called the School Governors’ One-Stop Shop (SGOSS), which helps schools and local authorities to recruit governors. For a start, and perhaps most obviously, governors have important responsibilities; they appoint the head teacher, look at the school’s finances and shape its future. This requires people who bring relevant skills and who can represent staff, parents and the community more broadly, he says.


“Then, particularly in multicultural schools, it’s really important that there are people who understand those cultures,” he says. “I don’t understand how you can manage policies on race and faith and sex education unless you understand some of the issues.” This means finding a broad range of people of different ages, faiths and cultural backgrounds rather than simply expecting one black governor to represent the views of the entire non-white community, or one woman governor to represent all women. “It’s not about token gestures, it’s about the ability to take decisions that accurately reflect children in the school,” he says.


Traditionally, however, governors tend to be older, middle-class white men – not unlike Acklam himself, as he acknowledges – who are often recruited from a group of people who are involved in a number of different community activities. He has no desire to discard their experience, but he does want to get help to overturn the stereotype that they are the only only sort of people who can become governors. “People think that you have to be like that, or you have to have children, or know about education, or give up your day job,” he says. “There are all sorts of preconceptions.” Overcoming them will help people from a much wider range of backgrounds consider becoming governors.


While around a fifth of pupils come from a black or ethnic minority background, the same can be said of only some 7 per cent of governors. However, SGOSS has helped local education authorities some inner city areas to recruit up to 24 per cent of governors from these backgrounds. This work, which he describes as expensive but effective, includes building links with local employers and working with community groups.


It can sometimes be hard to convince people to give it a go. “Young people and those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds often feel that they don’t have anything to add”, but a good governing body will welcome the support of anyone who shares the school’s aspirations and has the energy to help to make them real. Unfortunately not all governors are entirely open to newcomers. “We sometimes run into resistance because the school or the chair says ‘I don’t know this person, what is their connection with the school?’ and we say ‘this person is interested in education and coming to your school to help’,” he says.


Practising What We Preach

Finding people who have the expertise, experience and – crucially – the time to help is a challenge for any organisation that relies on volunteers. The NAHT is no different; like many other organisations, it also wants to increase the diversity of those who help to run its branches, committees and events. To a certain extent, however, the degree to which it can do that is affected by the diversity of its membership; that in turn is shaped by the diversity of school leaders.


It is not possible to give an exact breakdown of the NAHT’s membership by ethnicity, as it only began collecting this data a couple of years ago. However, of the 4,500 or so members who have joined since then, less than 3 per cent come from non-white backgrounds. On the other hand, almost the same percentage of new members declined to give their ethnicity; equally, this cohort of new members represents only about 16 per cent of the total membership and may not reflect the overall position.


Tim Benson, who chairs the NAHT’s race and cultural diversity committee, believes that diversity at the union will increase over time as more ethnic minority teachers rise through the ranks. “There are a lot of very skilled black and Asian young teachers coming through,” he says.


He and Mick Brookes are keen to encourage more of the union’s ethnic minority members to take an active role in its work so that the NAHT – and thus its membership – benefits from their experiences and perspectives. “The problem is that there are so few [people] who are able and willing … that they get asked to do everything,” Benson says. This can overload individuals “and it can be seen as tokenistic, that we only want them because they are black and not because they have lots of skills.” And relying too heavily on a handful of individuals, whatever their background, does little to bring a diversity of views in its broadest sense.


What the union really wants is a high number of members from all backgrounds to be involved in its activities so that they can offer their perspectives on whichever issues most concern them, he says. No members should feel that their sex, faith, culture or disability pigeonholes them into joining particular committees; their involvement is sought in whatever areas they are passionate about, whether that is education policy or IT. “What we need is experts from black and ethnic minority backgrounds to help us with our thinking and with the design of our organisation into the 21st century,” Brookes says.



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Carly Chynoweth

Carly Chynoweth is a freelance journalist who writes about leadership and management in both the public and private sectors.


Next: we take a look at some of the ways in which schools are supporting diversity in their staffrooms and governing bodies.


If you would like to highlight the work that your school is doing in this area, email Carly Chynoweth


What do you think about this issue? If you would like to share your experience, or that of your school, you can post your comments below. 



Page Published: 17/09/2008
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