Prior to 2017, I was offered every job I applied for. After being made redundant in 2017, I applied for many jobs and attended 27 interviews. I can talk from experience about what has shifted in the school leadership climate. I experience racism frequently; it is often subtle, and it is difficult to call out. [xiii]Usually the person who is investigating the allegation is white British and has limited, if no, experience of handling an allegation of racism and therefore often is seen by the victim as querying it or you unnecessarily. This experience only needs to happen once for you to be left feeling humiliated and worthless and not ever wanting to feel like this again, so you never again make the allegation.
A Story May 2019
Co-op Elmers End, London. I was dressed ready to play tennis and had nowhere to conceal any items, as I entered the Co-Op. I went in search of offers on food and drink, as we were entertaining that weekend. I walked around the store and didn’t find anything I wanted. As I went to leave the till person, black and female, nodded to the security guard who then tackled me roughly, I would use the term attack. The behaviour of the man took me off guard and when I looked at the till person, she said he wasn’t meant to do that, despite that clearly being her instruction to him. He obviously thought, as did I, that the till person thought I had stolen something. I was shocked and relayed the story to my tennis coach. I later contacted Coop to submit a formal complaint. I believed I had been profiled as a thief by another black person and wrongly profiled. Is this racism? I believe it is – if you are wrongly profiled by another because of the colour of your skin and they are in a position of power over you and they use that power to ‘unnecessarily attack you’, this is racism in my opinion. Can I be racist toward another black person? As someone who was brought up in a mainly white community with white parents, I believe I can. Regardless of what we call it here, being profiled because of the colour of my skin by someone who is in a position of power over me, happens too often. I could diarise weekly events. On this occasion after reporting it, I had to follow it up several times to different agents working for the Co-Op, but to no avail. I was signposted from department to department, where I had to relay the story several times and I was disbelieved and fobbed off. Until the 28-day CCTV window had passed and there was no evidence to speak of and I was in no longer in a position to challenge the allegation, did I wholly despair at this process and lose faith in people to listen to my voice. It wasn’t until I was crying while on the phone that I was believed, and the incident investigated. The investigation in the store found no eyewitnesses, and no-one knew or remembered anything about it. This experience only needs to happen once for you to be left feeling humiliated and worthless and not ever wanting to feel like this again, you never again want to make the allegation.
A Story 2015
I feel uncomfortable being a pioneer, I mainly like to blend in, be wholly accepted for my character and skills, but when I am often the only black person round the table debating an issue or living in that community or attending that lecture or observing the discourse being presented by white professionals, I feel compelled to present an alternative point of view often a personal one that others have yet to notice, a point of view from the BME perspective. This often comes with a health warning. We were led to believe that women used to enjoy being passive. So when they recognised inequality and campaigned against it they were heckled by many, stared at or put in jail for their campaigning or beliefs. That isn’t something I want and it probably won’t happen to me but, I could lose my job or my reputation becomes unintentionally tainted. I question whether I said too much or didn’t say enough. Rarely do white peers wholly understand what I am talking about as they often have little point of reference. As I speak up, it’s not always race related, but often as I gain confidence and feel trust from the audience, my responses are likely to turn to race or heritage inequality. In 2015 I made the decision to leave Bath. I embrace and thrive on change. I scoured the country, specifically the south west and South Wales and we settled on Chepstow for many reasons. We spent a weekend there and loved the opportunities. However, for that whole weekend I never saw another black person. I decided to stay in Bath. I don’t like being a pioneer, I mainly like to blend in. I couldn’t live with that health warning on my back again.
A Story October 2019
I attended a training session delivered by Mary Myatt, a trending educationalist who is putting sensible and practical rhetoric at the heart of the school curriculum debate. Throughout her 2-hour presentation she promoted many authors, texts, resources and professionals and their best practices. It was on many levels inspiring, however, none of the referenced texts or resources related to black heritage and she promoted no black professional or children’s authors. More worryingly for me, the only time black people were reference was when she started discussing having high expectations of your pupils and she used a case study of a black boy who had complex special educational needs. This in my world stereotypes black children and subliminally confirms to the audience that black people are more likely to have special needs and fuels the IQ debate. It takes me straight back to my secondary classroom, where a belief of blacks being ‘difficult and of low intelligence’ was forced upon me daily.
A Story September 2016
Whilst at a prize giving award at Colston’s Girls School, girls were awarded for a range of characteristics and achievements. With 60% of its pupils BME, it was of a surprise to me that the black girls were awarded prizes only for physical achievements. Both the head and deputy head girls were white, and all other prizes were awarded to white girls. In 2016 100% of CGS’s teaching and support staff, admin and leaders were white.
A Story 2007-2019
In 2007, after my move to London, a friend from the south west had won an award in a TES category and she invited me to accompany her. I went along. I was shocked to see no black nominees or winners. In 2019, the climate has not shifted at all. There are still no black individuals taking to the platform to collect an individual annual award in TES or Nursery World. David Carter, who has great prestige in the education world and used to be the national commissioner for education until 2018, is relatively prolific on Twitter and often promotes the positive face of education. However, from the twitter feeds of his that I have read even he always promotes or references only white leaders, and on International Women’s day he promotes only white women. This I attribute to his unconscious bias. If I point this out to him, I imagine he will consider his BME communities, he may not always promote us, but I know he will promote BME communities more. He is very influential. But why should I feel the need to point this out to him?
A Story 2015-2020
In 2015 as part of my NPQEL, I visited a range of what was considered exemplary and high functioning multi academy trusts. One school was South Bank a new secondary school judged as outstanding by Ofsted and part of the Multi Academy Trust (MAT) Oasis Community Learning https://www.oasiscommunitylearning.org/. 100% of the pupils I saw were BME with a large proportion being black. Yet the only black staff I saw was the janitor. I explored the reason for this with the CEO, John Murphy, and asked what his plan or the plan of the MAT was to employ black principals now and in the future. He said he had to admit that he didn’t have one. 4 years later the MAT had grown to 48 schools and still had no black principals. I do believe I provoked the thought in John that he needed black leaders given that his schools were in communities which served mainly BME pupils, Bristol, London and Midlands. The MAT launched a seminar in February 2019 delivered by OCL’s white leaders on the subject of Where are our BAME Leaders? https://www.oasiscommunitylearning.org/news-media/the-circle-ocl-blog/blog-post-details/~board/the-circle/post/where-are-our-bame-leaders-in-education 5 years later the MAT has grown to 52 still has no black principals. I have no doubt that other than me black principals have applied to Oasis schools for the principal role, but have not been appointed. Where are your BAME leaders OASIS? I believe in part it is because the MAT now has a reputation for not appointing black principals, so people don’t apply. I feel uncomfortable being a pioneer, I mainly like to blend in, be wholly accepted for my character and skills – I wouldn’t want to be the only black person sat around the table at an OASIS conference for principals. This experience only needs to happen once for you to be left feeling humiliated and worthless and not ever wanting to feel like this again, you never again want to apply again. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/children-need-to-see-more-ethnically-diverse-school-leaders/
[i] Whitehead, Jack. Living Theory Research As A Way Of Life . Brown Dog Books. Kindle Edition.