Issues of race in Secondary Education: Breaking through the concrete ceiling

Dwain Brandy


Black Asian Minority Ethnic (abbreviated to BAME) practitioners are disproportionately under-represented in leadership positions in Secondary schools in England. There is a lack of inclusivity within the literature supporting the Distributed Leadership (DL) theory; power is currently distributed using the literature as a guidance which has implications due to a colorblind approach (Mabokela and Madsen, 2003) that fails to address issues of race and diversity. This study argues that institutionalized barriers within the recruitment process contribute towards the lack of BAME practitioners in leadership positions, examines the barriers for entry and discusses how the DL structure requires a new outlook in order to become inclusive for all practitioners. This paper concludes with the critical analysis of leadership development programs that are used to support BAME practitioners.


There is increasing concern that Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) teachers are under-represented in all levels of education in England. Furthermore, they are less likely to be promoted into leadership positions compared to their white counterparts (Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2013; Coleman, 2010; Bush et al, 2006; Steel, 2015; DfE, 2015b). BAME practitioners appointed in leadership positions in secondary schools are only 3.6%, whilst BAME learner numbers have increased since 2006, 27.9% of learners in secondary schools are now from BAME origins (Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2013, DfE, 2016c). There is an urgent need to address the diversity of teachers in leadership positions within schools to highlight the changing demographic of the student population (Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2014). A diverse leadership team represents the expectation of equality for learners and creates positive stereotypes as opposed to the subordinate roles that are often associated to staff from BAME origin as discussed by Lumby (2008: 2,19). The statistics present a major concern; the ratio of BAME leaders to BAME students is disproportionate compared to that of their White counterparts.

This report will critically investigate the systematic barriers in education that prevent BAME teachers from attaining a leadership position in secondary schools. The first section of this assignment identifies barriers that a BAME group faces throughout the recruitment process, focusing on labelling, characteristics and discrimination. It will then go on to critically analyse barriers relating to inclusivity associated to the Distributed Leadership framework. It will then proceed to identify the gaps and areas of disregard when addressing issues of equality for BAME groups. Finally, it will analyse dedicated leadership programmes and the use role modelling used to support BAME practitioners.

Barriers and Limitations

Ethnicity and labelling


BAME is the latest terminology used to summarize ethnic groups in England. The main characteristic that people associated to the BAME group have in common, is that they are non-white British within the UK (Lumby and Coleman, 2016; Gillborn, 2008). Aspinal’s (2002) work on collective terminology is complemented by Richardson (2006). The research argues that using the label BAME could present limitations as the term Minority has connotations of inferiority, whilst the majority, being white people, belong to a single dominant group. Whilst the use of Black and Asian does not imply that the two ethnic groups belong to a minority. Ethnic grouping does not cater for the individual needs of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, issues of islamophobia as discussed by (Shah, 2010) is typically directed at Muslims commonly from an Eastern Asian origin may not apply to other ethnic groups within the BAME group. Therefore, issues need to be addressed independently rather than being placed in ‘ethnic groups’ (Corrigan, 2013; Gunter, 2004; Lumby, 2013) as it fails to cater for particular needs of individual ethnic groups.

Conversely, labels can be useful in highlighting areas of discrimination that ordinarily may be missed. If ethnic groups were not differentiated through the use of different labels, it would be more difficult to identify disparities within the education system for different groups of people. Together the studies from Aspinal (2002) and Richardson (2006) provide important insights into the limitations associated to terminology used to label collective ethnic groups. By adopting a more specific labelling system to cater to the needs of individual ethnicities, this might be a possible solution to break the stigma and negativity associated to the existing labels. This is further justified by the diversity of pupil demographics within the school sector in the UK. This view is supported by Lumby and Coleman (2016:108) who draws on the work of Campbell Stevens (2009), who has proposed the new appropriate term, Black and Global Majority (BGM).

Discrimination: Negative vs Positive

Various forms of discrimination (subtle and overt) could negatively impact the progression of BAME teachers going into leadership position as argued by Steel (2015). Studies by Bush et al (2006), Coleman & Campbell Stevens (2010) and Steel (2015) calls our attention to negative discrimination experienced by BAME senior leaders. The practitioners experienced discrimination through racism, negative stereotyping, isolation (Ogunbawo, 2012), low expectations and marginalization into roles relating to ethnicity. Positive discrimination has enabled some BAME practitioners to progress into leadership roles, and have found it advantageous Bush et al (2006). This has been supported by Ofsted Chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw who states in an interview; –

‘If I had two people applying for a job of equal merit and I felt we needed to increase the number of teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds to the staff then I would apply positive discrimination – as long as the two people were of equal merit’ (BBC News, 2015: unpaged)

Cases of positive discrimination are rare compared to the negative discrimination yet has a negative impact on BAME practitioners Ogunbawo (2012). Similarly, Coleman & Campbell Stevens (2010) study with BAME leaders in education concludes that positive discrimination is generally resented as it is counterproductive and has been used to benefit BAME practitioners on an individual basis. A long term solution has been suggested by Lumby, (2016) by schools creating and inclusive ethos that is reflected through training, policies and leadership structures.


Research confirms characteristics relating to race gender, religion and ethnicity have become barriers for progression for BAME (NASUWT and National College 2009; Steel, 2015; Coleman, 2010). Examples of barriers for progression related to characteristics is documented in the early work of Bass (1990), who outlined characteristics that are advantageous to becoming a successful leader. Social background and physical characteristics are two examples documented within the literature that are desirable attributes in increasing a leader’s chances of success.

Not all characteristics are accessible, resulting in inequality as agued by Di Tomaso and Hooijerg, (1996: 173-4) cited Gunter (2006) who states that native born white males have an advantage over other ethnicities in regards to higher paid jobs and promotions. Females in leadership positions are also disproportionately under-represented when compared to white males as discussed by Lumby and Coleman (2007), Fitzgerald (2003), Grant (2005) and Davidson (1992). However, complications arise for BAME females as further implications arise relating to gender and breaking through the concrete ceiling (Davidson, 1997) as biological characteristics relate to gender, whilst race also contributes to the additional discrimination (Coleman and Campbell Stevens, 2010). Leithwood, (2009) reviews traits and cognitive characteristics that are synonymous to leadership in education, but fail to mention characteristics that affect individuals of BAME origin. This is an example of a neutral race free pattern that is common in published literature focusing on Educational leadership. This fails to address characteristics that could be subjected to discrimination as argued by Lumby (2013). It includes ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religion; presenting additional barriers for entry before even starting the application stage as discussed by (Coleman & Campbell Stevens, 2010).


Barriers within the recruitment process impact the progression of BAME teachers. Cultural barriers (Steel, 2015), Age (Bush et al, 2006; Coleman, 2010), Gender (Davidson, 1997), Ethnicity (Wilkins & Lall, 2011), Self-Confidence (Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2013), Isolation and exclusion (Ogunbawo, 2012) are common barriers that prevent BAME practitioners from achieving a leadership position in education, explored by NASUWT and National College (2009). This combined with intersectionality, the focus of multiple characteristics (Lumby and Coleman, 2016), presents a complex picture for BAME practitioners to become appointed into senior roles in education.

During the recruitment process, Intersectionality (Lumby and Coleman, 2016) combined with unconscious bias (Beattie, 2012) is a recipe that could impact BAME applicants through negative discrimination. BAME practitioners are more likely to be stereotyped and profiled during a pre-selection process when applying for a role (Tillman, 2012). In a study by Bertrand and Muller (2004), a thousand resumes with a range of identities with the same credentials were sent out. The resumes contained Caucasian American sounding names and traditional African American names. The study found that White Americans had a 50% advantage of being selected over African Americans.

An example of good practice for encouraging diversity exists at the University of Manchester (University of Manchester, 2016), during the recruitment process they use an Implicit Association Test Beattie (2012), which measures unconscious attitudes to create a fairer employment procedure. A similar system in the secondary education recruitment process would be beneficial to promote quality and diversity. Similarly, the government funded charity, Teach First (2015), has restricted the occurrence of unconscious bias within their own recruitment. Through the ‘Name Blind’ process, a cohort of BAME trainee teachers has increased to 15%. This is evidence that similar ‘nameless’ systems should be considered as policy across the UK workforce as it promotes diversity and reduces discrimination.

Distributed Leadership


Previous research has established that literature supporting the Distributed Leadership (DL) Theory has failed to acknowledge potential issues relating to inclusion, such as race, gender or religion, therefore creating barriers within the structure preventing BAME practitioners being appointed into leadership positions (Lumby 2013). Lumby has also argued that content in leading literature concerning DL, has failed to address fundamental issues of race and gender. Instead, the literature has been designed for practitioners with a unified identity, creating a delusional stance of inclusivity that ultimately excludes members of the BAME community (Gunter, 2004; Lumby, 2013; Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2013).

DL has become the normative Leadership model in Education (Preedy, 2016; Spillane, 2006; Gunter et al, 2013). Functional approaches attached to the theory were designed to remove dysfunction (Gunter, 2013), so if problems occur, there is a system implemented to distribute responsibilities through to secondary leaders. This has eased the pressure for Headteachers/Principals (Hartley, 2010). Theoretically, this structure is designed to be inclusive, as the label insinuates, and is at the ‘cutting edge’ of thinking about leadership activity in schools’ (Harris, 2003:125). Ultimately, this is not the case. Lumby argues that theories that fail to address or to remain silent regarding barriers in educational leadership, have a detrimental impact on the progression of equality and inclusion (Lumby, 2013; 2016). Therefore, it has been categorized as barrier research as discussed by Johnson & Campbell Stevens, (2014). Inclusivity is an important factor and needs to be clearly defined as one of the core principals within a leadership framework.

Power and Distribution

The distribution of power is categorised under ‘Functional- Descriptive’ where it is focused on the ‘functioning processes’ of schools as discussed by Gunter (2013:6). With DL, the power remains with the Headteacher or Principal through design Spillane (2006), where leaders could decide individually or collectively on how responsibility could be distributed. Gronn (2002) citing Wenger (2000:429) suggests that a multiple leadership structure allows everyone within an organisation to contribute and progress into a leadership position, which is not always the case. In secondary schools, roles are commonly compartmentalized under the distributed leadership framework, with multiple layers of hierarchy. In many cases, power is distributed through subsumption, a hierarchy where each layer of responsibility has incremented power as discussed by Gronn (2002).

The DL theory used as a framework has major implications. The theory is still undefined therefore it is subject to the leader’s interpretation (Lumby and Coleman, 2016b; Harris, 2016). How leaders implement the DL framework relies on the functional roles stated in leadership literature, which typically focuses on how to perform its functions (Storey, 2004). This paradoxically has caused a hierarchical structure where power could be interpreted as delegation rather than distribution, contradicting the inclusive ethos associated to the framework (Lumby, 2016; Harris, 2003; Harris, 2016; Mifsud, 2015). From a leadership perspective, Coleman & Campbell-Stephens (2010) discusses the challenges of BAME leaders distributing power. Practitioners often face racism when in leadership positions, as staff have been undermined by authority based on ethnicity. This presents issues relating to inequalities and power resulting in barriers to lead (Lumby, 2013). Issues of race or any other barriers relating to BAME have not been addressed in any of the leading publications based on distributed leadership, this will need to be addressed in order to create an inclusive leadership framework.

Removing dysfunction

An increasing amount of scholars (Gronn ,2016; Woods, 2016; Diamond and Spillane 2016), have critiqued the DL framework and propose alternative frameworks for DL. This has started to address inclusion and exclusion relating to the BAME community. Woods (2016) argues that social authority is an alternative method used to increase social interactions to break down the hierarchical framework commonly used when implementing a DL framework. Social authority does not have a principal or head of the organization that holds the majority of the power. Diamond and Spillane (2016) have suggested a new theory based on their research on distributed practice by highlighting implications of leadership and BAME communities. This acknowledges the changing environment in demographics in school education. It also mentions the importance of social interaction and the need for additional research. This is a breakthrough into the emergence of a leadership network that addresses issues of equality. In order to become more inclusive to BAME groups, the literature will be more relevant if it addresses the potential limitations and invest in research to improve entry for BAME groups into leadership positions.

Dismantling the concrete Barriers

Leadership Programs

Government initiatives have been implemented to help increase the number of BAME practitioners in leadership positions (DfE, 2015a). Numbers are increasing as more BAME are joining the teaching profession. New BAME trainee teachers were 14% of the total cohort between 2015 -2016, which was an increase of 2% compared to the previous academic year (DfE, 2015b; 2016b). Despite such increase, there are still not enough teachers joining the profession and a disproportionate amount of BAME trainee teachers underachieve and drop out of Initial Teacher Training (Wilkins, 2011). This is a contributing factor to the under-representation of BAME teachers. Steel (2015) forecasts that an additional 14,429 secondary teachers will need to be appointed to represent the total BAME learners in state funded secondary schools.

According to the charities; The Future Leaders Trust, Teach First and Teaching Leaders, up to 20,000 headteachers and senior leaders are due to retire by the year 2020 (BBC, 2016). This could be significant for schools towards building a diverse workforce in leadership positions in secondary schools in order to better represent the increase of BAME students. Government supported leadership programs such as the Leadership Equality and Diversity Fund, Future Leaders and Teach First have been introduced to increase the number of practitioners including those from BAME background.

Bespoke leadership development programs have been successful in increasing BAME practitioners in leadership positions. Investing in Diversity was set up specifically for BAME, funded by the London Centre of Leadership. Research was conducted focusing on the success of the ‘Investing in Diversity Program’ where 250 BAME participants were interviewed (Johnson and Campbell-Stephens, 2013). Two thirds of the participants who applied for promotion in leadership positions were successful. Almost all participants mentioned that the program was beneficial in clarifying areas of professional development and opened more opportunities to lead. BAME leadership development schemes are successful in preparing BAME candidates and developing confidence to overcome barriers. Bespoke leadership programs have been effective, due to the personalized approach breaking the legacy of ‘colorblind’ (Mabokela and Madsen, 2003; Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2010; 2014) leadership programs that have failed to address the barriers that exclude BAME practitioners from achieving a leadership position in education. Topics such as social context, moral purpose and cultural awareness are examples of a personalized approach to help BAME practitioners to overcome barriers to promotion as discussed by Coleman (2010) and Johnson and Campbell-Stephens 2010; 2013). On the contrary this has been viewed as positive discrimination (Ogunbawo, 2012: p161) as some professionals have described BAME bespoke leadership programs as ‘patronizing’ and ‘inappropriate’. Ultimately the Investing in Diversity program has developed an innovative way of addressing areas of diversity and inclusion that would be beneficial to incorporate within major leadership development schemes.

The success of Investing in Diversity scheme emphasizes the relevance of dedicated leadership programs to increase the number of BAME in leadership positions and to help BAME practitioners overcome barriers and limitations as discussed in section 1 and 2. Substantial effort is required by mainstream government funded leadership development schemes to ensure that fairness, equality and diversity is embedded to be inclusive for all future leaders Ogunbawo (2012). This would start to increase the representation of BAME practitioners to reflect the diversity of BAME learners.

Role models

BAME leaders play an important role for BAME teachers to make a transition into leadership positions, breaking through the metaphorical concrete ceiling as discussed by Coleman (2010), Maylor (2009) and (Steel, 2015). The representation of BAME role models in leadership positions reinforces a positive mindset which will challenge cultural stereotypes and improve aspirations, encouraging BAME practitioners to aspire towards leadership positions in education.

Furthermore, there are also negative role models that plague communities that have become normalised for some youths living within inner city communities, commonly associated with a low economic status. (See Video below). This is an extreme example of negative stereotypes and role models; however, it reinforces the importance of positive role models in all levels of education.

Disclaimer: The following video has foul language viewer discretion advised

*Original video credit :Paul Mckenzie 

Interviews of BAME headteachers in studies conducted by Johnson & Campbell Stevens (2013) Bush et al (2006) and Steel (2015) has revealed informal groups and mentoring has been beneficial in the pursuit of leadership positions. Contrary, Lumby (2007:106) draws on the work of Delgado (1991) who argues that ‘role modelling is supporting assimilation to the majority’. This relates to the importance of embracing culture and identity Bush et al (2006), these are important characteristics for BAME role models to promote inclusion and diversity. Overall, BAME role models emulate a visual representation of what could be achieved, which is essential to attract quality BAME practitioners in leadership positions. It is vital for leaders to recognize the importance of a diverse leadership structure to address negative stereotypes of BAME being associated to subordinate roles within schools (Colman, 2010) and become role models for the future generation of learners and aspiring leaders from BAME backgrounds.


This report has argued the importance of inclusion throughout the recruitment process and has revealed a range of systematic barriers which have contributed to the under-representation of BAME practitioners in leadership positions. Characteristics associated to BAME practitioners add disadvantage due to additional barriers that could fuel discrimination through the recruitment process, unless unconscious biases are addressed throughout.

Structural barriers within leadership frameworks, such as DL, need to be addressed to become more inclusive to inspire the future generation of teachers from BAME backgrounds, as it provides a route into breaking cultural stereotypes as discussed by Maylor (2009) and Steel (2015).

The government has introduced schemes to improve the number of BAME which has contributed to an increase in BAME practitioners through a range of training recruitment incentives. This has contributed towards an increase of BAME numbers, however they will be coming into a system that is still restrictive with race based inequalities (Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2014) and structural barriers. Leaders are responsible for the education of staff when dealing with issues based on equity and equality, ensuring inclusivity is a part of a schools’ vision as discussed by Beattie (2012) and Lumby and Coleman, (2016). In order to dismantle the long line of subliminal institutionalized racism, a new outlook focusing on equality and fairness will have to be introduced on a national level on how schools are structured and managed (Johnson & Campbell Stevens, 2014).


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Out of 21,356 headteachers in England, only 277 are Black! Who are they?

BGM headteachers. Left to right: 1) Matt Jones 2) Ava Sturridge-Packer 3) David Hermitt 4) Diana Osagie 5) Jacqueline Newsome 6) Paul Mundy-Castle

Before starting my masters in educational leadership and enrolling on the BME leadership development programme, I have never heard of or met Black Headteacher/Principle. Within the school environment, black staff are typically represented in non-teaching roles such as; classroom assistance, pastoral staff, lunch time supervisors and cleaners. This was the spark to dig deeper into the rabbit hole and research into the under-representation of Black senior leaders in Education.  Click here to read report.

There are currently 21.356 headteachers  in England, however, only 277 are black. The statistics present a major concern; the ratio of Black and global majority (BGM) leaders to BGM students is disproportionate compared to that of their White counterparts.  On a positive note, Black headteachers do exist and are flying the flag and contributing towards changing the narrative of the Black and Global Majority representation in education. They are living proof that the concrete ceiling can be broken and have laid the foundation for the future generation of BGM majority teachers. Here are some of the BGM practitioners identified as senior leaders in England. Please feel free to add to the list;



  • David Hermitt
  • Diana Osagie
  • Paul Mundy-Castle
  • Patrick Cozier
  • Matt Jones
  • Jackie Ranger
  • Alison Kriel
  • Ava Sturridge-Packer
  • Marva Rollins
  • Allana Gay
  • Adewoye Yomi
  • Fumni Alder
  • Ms K Campbell

Updated List (* BGM)


  • Sonia Potter
  • Nadine Bernard
  • Monica Duncan
  • Tina Haracksingh
  • Sam Hoyer
  • Increase Eko
  • David Watson
  • Dr Dayo Olukoshi
  • Susan Service
  • Nav Sanghara*
  • Juliet Wright
  • Dean Gordon
  • Yana Morris
  • Christine Raymont-Hall*
  • Ken Johnson
  • Umbar Sharif*
  • Mitzi Nichol
  • Paulette Osborne
  • Nigel Oram
  • Sonia Potter
  • Qamar Riaz*
  • Nadine Bernard
  • Monica Duncan
  • Tina Haracksingh
  • Vijita Patel*
  • Nicole Haynes
  • Janet Sheriff
  • Vijita Patel*
  • Alison Moise-Dixon
  • Shelly-Ann Goulbourne
  • Leon Wilson
  • Michael Barry
  • Karen Giles
  • Joanne L Herbert
  • Devon Hanson
  • Selwyn Calvin
  • Hayden Abbott
  • David Bromfield
  • Nicholas Obie
  • Paul Quinton
  • Ken Morris
  • Tonnie Read
  • Joan Deslandes
  • Pauline Osborne
  • Catherine Ryan
  • Martha Holder
  • Paul Quinton
  • Mohsen Oja
  • Desmond Taylor
  • Patricia Young
  • Dean Gordon
  • Heather Phillips
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Beyond the Implicit Bias test. Strategies for deep rooted diversity and equality in Education

Image result for implicit bias test animated gif

Have you taken the implicit bias test? Follow link: 

The test highlights your personal biases relating to issues such as gender, religion, race, skin colour etc. It is a good introduction for a whole school staff training to discuss issues relating to biases relating to discrimination in education. However, schools are at risk of using the tests as ‘edu-tainment’ – a standalone strategy to justify equality training within a school to adhere to guidelines set by the government.

Image result for implicit bias test What could we start doing to ensure that equality and diversity is embedded in your schools policies and processes?

Leading Equality has designed an audit that specifically focused on issues relating to Diversity and equality within a school. The audit tool monitors areas such as;

  • Communication strategy
  • Racism policy
  • Recruitment process
  • Staff training
  • Community cohesion
  • Data of staff and student representation
  • How the school identifies opportunities to celebrate diversity
  • The schools approach to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying

The audit template will be available for download from the 28.07.17






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Barriers and limitations: How are you labelled? BAME? BME? Black Asian Minority Ethnic?

BAME is the latest terminology used to summarize ethnic groups in England. The main characteristic that people associated to the BAME group have in common, is that they are non-white British within the UK.

Aspinal’s (2002) work on collective terminology is complemented by Richardson (2006). using the label ‘BAME’ could present limitations as the term Minority has connotations of inferiority, whilst the majority, being white people, belong to a single dominant group. Whilst the use of Black and Asian does not imply that the two ethnic groups belong to a minority.

Ethnic grouping does not cater for the individual needs of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, issues of islamophobia  is typically directed at Muslims commonly from an Eastern Asian origin may not apply to other ethnic groups within the BAME group. Therefore, issues need to be addressed independently rather than being placed in ‘ethnic groups’ as it fails to cater for particular needs of individual ethnic groups.

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BME teachers often given stereotypical roles in schools

Interesting read. This also supports the importance of positive role models in education. Is there a need for positive discrimination, as suggested by Sir Michael Gove (mentioned in the previous articles), to fast track BAME practitioners into senior leadership positions? Or does positive discrimination have too much of a negative impact, solely benefiting individuals?

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