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Supporting career progression for teachers from minority ethnic groups

Written by: Sufian Sadiq
7 min read

For the past five years, Chiltern TSA has been running ‘BAME into leadership’, a programme that seeks to support teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds to develop the skills and knowledge needed to progress in their teaching careers. Teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds are underrepresented across leadership levels in education, especially at the very top – under three per cent of all teachers and just 1.3 per cent of headteachers are black or black mixed-race (CST, 2020; DfE 2020). We know that in many areas, the majority of pupils in a school are from a minority ethnic background, yet this is very rarely represented among school staff, especially within senior leadership teams. It feels disingenuous to try to inspire students from BAME backgrounds to aim high in the future, to tell them that they can be future leaders in their area, when they can see that hierarchies within school staff are racialised, partly as a consequence of broader social disparities between different ethnic and cultural groups in Britain as a whole (Miller, 2016).

This should prompt us to ask why we are not recruiting and training sufficient numbers of teachers of BAME heritage as well as enabling their progression into leadership roles, especially in a sector that, on the surface, is driven by a moral imperative. Many teachers want to make a difference to young people’s lives, without prejudice, and to make the world a better place. This involves committing to equity and equal opportunities for all. Addressing barriers to teacher career progression is therefore important in itself, but there is also evidence of academic and other benefits to students and teachers sharing the same race – for example, teachers are well placed to act as role models and mentors (Gershenson et al., 2017).

Barriers to and enablers of career progression

There are many potential barriers to the progression of teachers from BAME heritage. Among five sets of barriers identified by Miller (2019) are institutional practices, including indirect racism and the marginalisation of teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds; affiliation/group membership, involving informal networks and social connections that exclude some groups; and religion, especially Islam. Consider, for example, how after-work drinks among teaching staff may inadvertently exclude Muslims or people from other religious groups who do not drink alcohol, and how unconscious bias may prompt leaders to seek people who ‘fit in’ with their social group. Many teachers of BAME heritage are acutely aware of this and know that they need to do more than other colleagues in order to progress, resulting in a lack of self-belief and confidence.

Creating a more equitable teaching profession in which teachers of BAME heritage do not need to struggle for recognition any more than white colleagues is a long-term endeavour, and the issues associated with institutional racism cannot be solved overnight. However, there are actions that can be taken at an institutional level to move this forward. While there is less research on the enablers of career progression, Miller (2019) found that affiliation/group membership – being involved in professional and/or informal networks – can help. In my experience, becoming aware of the potential barriers and developing the personal confidence necessary to seek promotion and participate in networking opportunities are also key. The ‘BAME into leadership’ programme aims to help individuals to identify and challenge the barriers that they may face and develop the personal and professional attributes that they will need in order to navigate their career path.

BAME into leadership

The BAME into leadership programme places a strong emphasis on personal development, particularly on helping candidates to develop resilience. Funded by the Department for Education (DfE) and now in its fifth year, the course runs from the autumn to the summer term and is open to all levels of leadership, from NQTs to aspiring headteachers. Aspiring leaders apply to the programme and we take 25 to 30 participants to ensure that we can offer close attention to each individual member. The programme involves 12 practical sessions. Whole-group sessions focus on confidence and creating a good first impression, the attributes of leadership, application writing, and essential skills and knowledge for leadership, including matters such as understanding data, school governance, school improvement and finance. This is the kind of information that participants may not have had exposure to if they have not been granted opportunities to get involved with particular projects as a result of their marginalisation. Alongside this, participants take part in individual mock interviews and have the opportunity to shadow leaders, creating an ‘in school’ experience that helps to build the confidence and resilience needed to support their progression.

Since informal networks and social connections can work against or to one’s advantage in career progression (Miller, 2016), we also hold a series of networking events during the programme (three in total), with over 200 people from across the education sector in attendance, to introduce candidates to leaders from a range of settings. The events aim to celebrate the contribution of educators from BAME heritage, inspire participants to achieve, offer practical advice from those in leadership roles – such as on preparing for interviews – and foster new networks among people who may not otherwise get the opportunity to meet. While participants are often nervous before the first event, they frequently comment afterwards on how inspiring and useful these networking events can be. Some examples of feedback on these events include:

‘I am enjoying the informative sessions and the constant words of encouragement.’

‘Thoroughly motivated to excel in leadership after this session – no barriers unless I create one.’

‘Empowered after opportunities to share experiences and greatest achievements with colleagues without feeling judged.’

We encourage all attendees to use the hashtag #BAMEintoLeadership after the event to maintain contact and continue their journey.

The programme is evaluated iteratively, with a feedback questionnaire sent out via Google Forms after each session. In addition, we periodically send out a survey to ask more specific points about how the programme is impacting participants’ thoughts on career progression, any barriers that they have discovered and what additional support they may need. Participants are also asked to summarise their journey with the programme in one sentence. Feedback from participants has highlighted the importance of networking events that encourage active engagement between different schools. We have developed the capacity of our events as a result, and the last dinner event had over 240 staff from over 70 organisations. Feedback also underlined the value of external expertise from a wider professional network. For example, last year, Sidney Sloane, a presenter and actor, delivered an acting masterclass to help build confidence.

After analysing the feedback from the first two years, we found that participants really valued simulated experiences and wanted more opportunities for one-to-one coaching, so mock interviews and coaching have become key components of the programme. Having worked with different coaching practitioners during the first three years, we have identified two highly qualified coaches to work with, providing a high-quality, consistent experience. High-quality coaching involves asking questions instead of providing them, encouraging people to think through solutions and supporting decisions instead of judging them (Ibarra and Scoular, 2019; Crome and Cise, 2019), which can allow for greater autonomy. Using external coaches maintains confidentiality and allows for open, honest conversations between the participant and coach. This builds on the emphasis on confidence and resilience that we discuss and model in the practical sessions. The coaching process holds people to account, not in relation to performance management but in terms of the ambitions that they have identified for their own career progression.

We also have quality assurance processes in place in order to report back to the DfE – we report on recruitment, attendance, retention and budget at three different points during the programme, and use an external expert to interview participants on the quality of the programme, independent of the course leaders. At least one session is observed, and the DfE carry out an in-person inspection at a session of their choosing. This quality assurance process is performed with each cohort, enabling us to continue strengthening the programme by responding to the participants’ needs.


Based on our evaluation, within two years of completing the programme several participants secure a promotion, and in feedback they cite the programme as instrumental to this. Eighty per cent of participants in the 2017/2018 cohort and 78 per cent in the 2018/19 cohort were successfully promoted into leadership positions, including deputy heads, assistant heads and department heads. We had 29 participants in 2019/20 – at the time of writing, 13 applied for promotions and eight have been promoted so far. We expect these ‘in year’ promotion figures to rise over the next year.

There are, of course, many reasons why someone may not be promoted, including institutional and other factors. It is also the case that some individuals realise that they are not necessarily ready for a promotion at this point in their career. Our aim is to equip people with the skills and knowledge that they need to progress in future, at the time that is right for them. Giving teachers from minority ethnic backgrounds the recognition that they deserve not only helps individuals to progress, but also challenges racial stereotypes, benefiting our pupils and society.


Confederation of School Trusts (CST) Equalities work. Available at: (accessed 2 December 2020).

Crome S and Cise R (2019) Rethinking teacher wellbeing. Impact 9: 23–25.

Department for Education (DfE) (2020) School teacher workforce. Available at: (accessed 2 December 2020).

Gershenson S, Hart C, Lindsay C et al. (2017) The long-run impacts of same-race teachers. IZA Institute of Labor Economics. Available at: (accessed 2 December 2020).

Ibarra H and Scoular A (2019) The leader as coach. Harvard Business Review. Available at: (accessed 17 January 2020).

Miller P (2016) ‘White sanction’, institutional, group and individual interaction in the promotion and progression of black and minority ethnic academics and teachers in England. Power & Education 8(3): 205–221.

Miller P (2019) ‘Tackling’ race inequality in school leadership: Positive actions in BAME teacher progression – evidence from three English schools. Educational Management Administration & Leadership 48(6): 986–1006.

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