When I trained as a teacher over thirty years ago, I was introduced to the work of Bernard Coard and his book on “How the West-Indian Child is made educationally sub-normal in the British School Education System.”
Ideally, it is a book that I would have wanted to be introduced to privately. As although it was not the lecturer’s intention, as the only Black student in my year, I felt a deep shame and discomfort when she read excerpts from his book that matched so closely with my own experiences of the British Education system.
For the majority of the white trainee teachers Coard’s work was simply an academic treatise. For me it was personal. I come from a Black, working class family. Social and economic deprivation and racial inequality were the backdrop for my childhood years.
Not a single person in the lecture hall shared a similar story to my own. So when the lecturer read how the structure and design of the British education system had led to many Black children underachieving and living with a hidden, yet deep sense of inferiority, it felt as though she was shining a light on my own hurt, bruised and conflicted inner world for all to see.
I wanted to get up and leave the lecture hall. Of course I didn’t, but I spent the whole four years at Teacher Training college wanting to escape: tiring of being in the minority; tiring of being on the outside; tiring of fearing that I could never truly achieve in a system that had only ever seen Black children as a problem.
Echoes of the past
It is sad but true, that Coard’s conclusions still reverberate around our Education system today.
“The national data in England suggests that Black Caribbean underachievement in education is real and persistent and they are consistently the lowest performing group in the country. Of real concern is that the gap in educational performance of Black Caribbean pupils is larger than for any other ethnic group.”
(Demie and McLean – 2017)
I cannot wait another thirty years for things to change.
Voices in the Black Lives Matter Movement have made it abundantly clear that they too are not prepared to wait. Leaders in the education system should now be standing up as allies and saying “We will do our part to bring about the change you seek.”
The question is how far are education leaders prepared to go? We cannot expect the change that the Black community has been crying out for if school leaders do not change the way in which they engage with the race conversation.
We all know, as the Black British Psychologist Eugene Ellis says, “The race conversation occupies a special area of taboo, which means the hurt and distress is rarely focused on and attended to.”
But we must go there. The consequences of the education system’s inability to have this conversation are all too evident in the general low achievement levels of Black children and the lack of career progression for Black staff.
The education system must stop editing out the Black experience and ignoring the race conversation when formulating leadership practice and school improvement policy. For too long the needs of the Black Community have been marginalised.
Facing the Pain
As a Black woman, I have been deeply triggered by recent events. It has not been easy to process the emotional pain that has arisen within me. But I have and I am continuing to lean into the pain because I know that if I don’t, I limit my own capacity for change; not only for myself, but also for my children and my children’s children.
It is my belief that school leaders have to go on a similar quest. This is what true moral and ethical leadership is about. All leaders particularly those whose schools serve predominately Black communities need to stand up and be seen. They need to model what leadership for racial equality and social justice really look like.
Preparing for the conversation
I want to say to you now, if your school serves communities that are predominately Black and those children are continuing to underachieve, then nothing exponentially will change for them, unless engage in the race conversation.
Following recent events (make no mistake) Black parents are looking at the schools that their child attends and they will be asking:
– Have the leaders heard our story?
– Have they felt our pain?
– Will they listen differently to me now?
– Will my child’s experience of school be different?
– Do they see the dreams I have for my child?
– Can I now have faith that my child will be given every possible opportunity to achieve his/her potential?
– Will my child’s school show that they have understood the heartfelt cry in our community to show that Black Lives really do matter?
Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the Universe bends towards justice” but this depends upon our participation. As a school leader are you prepared to participate? Are you prepared to show the moral and ethical leadership needed for these times?
If so, we now have designed a year-long Race, Identity and Leadership coaching programme for schools.
Within the context of Race and Identity, the programme has been designed to:
– Empower school leaders to act as agents for change, shaping behaviours and attitudes that promote racial equality
– Increase intellectual and emotional understanding of the relationship between race, identity and effective school leadership
– Assist senior leaders in having the conversations that will support school wide professional dialogue on strategies for raising the achievement of Black pupils
– Bring depth and congruency to school improvement and whole school leadership practices.
– Provide a space to do both the internal and external work needed for bringing about lasting change
It is our hope, that if you are a school leader and you are reading this, then you are as committed to change as we are. We want to help you be on the right side of history and shape a future in which we can all be proud.
If you would like to explore how this programme could support your school or academy trust, please follow the link below…