The lessons we need to learn about diversity in teaching


There’s a lack of diversity and equality in the teaching profession.






There’s a lack of diversity and equality in the teaching profession. This is a challenge, no doubt, but it’s an important and fascinating one. And – if you become a teacher – it’s one you could help overcome: influencing the debate and effecting real change from the inside.


In this feature, we explore why there’s a lack of male teachers and an under-representation from minority groups. We look at why this is so important. And we discuss how choosing a career in teaching can help you improve the diversity and equality in UK classrooms forever (as well as being the most rewarding job you can imagine)…


Minority Report

Let’s kick things off with a bold assertion: As a graduate, you have an enormous opportunity to lead the debate on diversity in the UK and to influence future policy making decisions.


Why? Because when it comes to teaching staff, there is still inequality in UK classrooms. In simple equality terms, there aren’t enough male teachers. There aren’t enough teachers from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. And Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) representation remains a thorny issue.


Government and agencies have done huge amounts of work and things are moving in the right direction. But change isn’t happening quickly enough. So what can you do to make sure that the staff in UK schools, colleges, and universities more accurately reflect the multicultural and diverse society we live in?


Stat Attack


Graduates applying for 2016/17 postgraduate ITT teacher training (England)






BAME Group (overall)


Overall Full-Time (FTE) teachers in England in 2015/16






BAME Group (overall)



* Total figure of ‘non-white British’ quoted as 13% in source includes ‘Other White Background’ (3.7%) and ‘White Irish’ (1.7%)



This is it! Your opportunity to take your skills, your subject matter expertise, and your ability to represent. As a male primary school teacher. As a BAME graduate in a role as a secondary school educator. As a member of the LGBT community at a further education college. To change perceptions and provide a natural feedback loop that accurately reflects both the classroom and wider society.



So where does this under-representation come from? Could it simply come down to a negative perception? The persistent idea that a career in education isn’t as rewarding as other professions. That it doesn’t pay enough or have appropriate levels of ‘kudos’? Quite possibly. But teaching can be an awesome career. It remains a sought after skill. It’s an opportunity use your skills and experience to inspire a whole new generation. And when it comes to issues of diversity it’s a generation that we need to continue to inspire.


As a quick reminder, here are a few reasons why teaching can be a rewarding career:

  • Future-proofing your subject area: Your opportunity to be an ambassador for your subject. To make sure we teach the skills needed for jobs in the wider world
  • Inspiring a generation: Get young people excited, energised and enthused about subjects that give them those sought after skills. To inspire them to become the evangelists of the future
  • Scholarships, bursaries and prestige: You’re in demand. If you’ve got a good degree (a 2:1 or above) in a relevant subject you may be eligible for a tax-free bursary of up to £30,000
  • Guaranteed incomes, pay scales and career progression: As a newly qualified teacher you’ll begin on a salary of at least £22,467 (or £28,098 in inner London). As you rise up the pay scales, you could earn £115,582 as a headteacher in inner London


And then there’s the big one. If you’re a minority teacher, there’s the opportunity to re-enforce positive feelings and experiences about minorities in the classroom. To act as positive role models to those minority groups who have historically underperformed in school. To demonstrate to young people that cultural diversity is a positive thing and not something that marks people out as ‘other’ or as ‘different’. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a career challenge as rewarding as that.

Black Mirror

Question: How can we expect to teach our children the importance and positives of living in an increasingly globalised and diverse society if our education system doesn’t reflect that society?


As cultural diversity increases, so must our ability to respond to the change in a meaningful and proper way. In a multicultural world, it’s important that our educators are able to hold a mirror back up to society. To reflect back and positively re-enforce the positives that multiculturalism provides. To be able to incorporate social or cultural differences into the fabric of education. It’s an ongoing challenge. And here’s how you might be able to help tackle that challenge as a teacher:


Helping underperforming groups prosper

There are variations in the grades achieved by different groups. Now, it might be too much of a stretch to blame these varying attainment rates on the lack of diversity in teaching. But probably not by much.


In the UK GCSE results for 2016, girls opened up their biggest gap over boys in A* - C grades for 14 years. That’s 71.3% of girls achieving at least a C grade compared with just 62.4% of boys. In fact, girls outperformed boys’ entries at A* to C by more than ten percentage points in ten different subjects.[iii] Interestingly, the only areas where girls performed only slightly better than boys was in core Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects. That’s an issue we’ve covered before and we look at it in more detail in the case study below.


That’s a noticeable gap and it’s a continuing trend. And there are lots of reasons why it might be happening. Compelling arguments exist about how the earlier maturity of young women helps them focus on coursework and exams. Or how an early start to the school day hinders boys – who wake up later than girls (and how girls are better able to cope with sleep deprivation).[iv]


The evidence that simply getting more male teachers into the classroom will solve the problems is inconclusive. And the scale of the issue – and it’s potential impact – is only recently beginning to be seriously considered[v]. But having more male teachers is almost certainly part of the solution. As a male teacher, you’d be best placed to address issues and provide feedback and evidence. You’ll also be able to get involved in schemes and projects aimed at addressing the imbalance and help implement new policies and proposals.


STEM subjects: Why we need motivated graduates from under-represented areas

STEM industries contribute a lot to the UK economy. Significantly more men graduate with a STEM related subject. Yet there are very few male teachers. And they get paid more than women.


Women are under-represented in STEM subjects at Secondary, Further and Higher Education levels. They’re also far less likely to be working (or teaching) in a STEM-related profession.


The stats don’t lie. Compared to the previous year, there was no significant change in the number of women graduating from UK universities with a core STEM degree. Women made up 25% of the total, the same as 2015 and 2014. 22,000 women graduated in 2016 in the five core subjects most relevant to construction, engineering and technology. That compares with over 65,000 men[vi].


What does this mean for education? As we’ve seen, figures released by the DfE in 2016 confirm that only 26% of teachers in the UK are men. So whilst there are significantly more male STEM graduates, far fewer of them consider becoming teachers. And whilst there are more female teachers, there are far fewer women with STEM qualifications. The net result is the spiralling shortfall of technical and science-based expertise.


Pay grades are equal for men and women in the teaching profession. But gender bias relating to pay rises and promotions isn’t an issue restricted only to industry. A 2015 study of UK secondary schools showed that only 65% of headteachers were women[vii]. That’s a number that doesn’t stack up considering how few male teachers are around.


Playing the BAME game to win

This argument is even more compelling and complex when looking at BAME groups. It’s a double-edged sword: pupils from Black ethnic backgrounds remain the poorest performing ethnic group in the UK in terms of GCSE pass rates including English and Maths.[viii] And there is also a shortage of BAME teachers when compared to the general ethnic mix of classrooms in the UK.


So why the shortfall, and are these issues linked? A study by the University of Exeter into BAME PGCE students identified that personal experiences had an impact on the attitudes and perceptions of trainee teachers. Several recruits identified that they didn’t have any black role model teachers that they could relate to. Or they encountered low expectations from teachers and peers.[ix]


Things become a cycle. Low representation from BAME teachers means a lack of role models. It also allows institutions to develop and foster institutional bias – unconsciously or otherwise. After all, if the board of governors at your school has always been a group of white middle-aged men, then it’s hardly surprising that things get done a ‘certain way’. And whilst that’s inexcusable, it’s at least understandable. So what better way to effect change than from the inside as a teacher or an academic?


Breaking the cycle

There have been real positive steps taken to address these issues – check out the London example, below. Other policies and initiatives are also making a difference. Seemingly simple things like offering support and mentoring. Studies show that the presence of targeted and effective coaching, a network of BAME mentors, and tangible senior BAME teacher role models had a positive impact on the progression of BAME teachers to more senior positions in the profession.[x]


The curriculum we teach to students can help promote positive opinions and remove stereotypes. National Curriculum guidelines identify ways that specific subjects can promote a better understanding of diversity amongst pupils.


And DfE documents also clearly indicate that, “teachers can use professional flexibility in deciding how they deliver the curriculum at Key Stages 3 and 4, which would allow a more direct focus on diversity.” [xi] The challenge here is making sure that teachers are aware of this flexibility and are confident in the ways they can apply it to lessons. Maybe that’s the job of a motivated graduate like you?


It seems clear that graduates from BAME groups could make a huge difference in addressing the imbalance. Working hand in hand with institutions and think tanks who dedicate themselves to solving inequality issues would mean helping to stop the cycle. To positively challenge instances of subtle discrimination or exclusion. To be a positive role model for future generations of successful BAME students.


Another example of the infinite rewards of a career in teaching.


London: An example of better BAME policy?

The London area has a higher representation of ethnic minority teachers compared to BAME students, and some of the highest proportions of BAME teacher trainees across the UK. Greater London Authority research suggests that the majority of teachers from black ethnic backgrounds were located in areas with the highest number of black pupils – boroughs like Hackney, Lambeth and Southwark (where 48-50 per cent of pupils are black). So it seems likely that BAME educators often work in areas where their background matches that of the student population.

That said, targeted campaigns (including voluntary targets to reflect a demographic profile, and financial incentives for training providers) may have had a more positive impact on the number of ethnic minority teachers recruited in the capital.
Other policy initiatives like ‘The London Challenge’ conducted research into the distinctive characteristics of teaching in London to develop training on cultural and ethnic diversity for training courses.

Such policies may, therefore, have had a positive impact on the number of ethnic minority teachers recruited. And better outcomes for ethnic minority students.


Sexuality and LGBT representation

LGBT representation is another complex issue. How does wider (and more liberal) public opinion transfer to the education system? Issues relating to sexuality and personal identification are deeply personal – and never more so when you are a teenager and at school or college.


Stonewall – the LGBT rights charity – provide some disheartening statistics about life in secondary schools. Instances of Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language and bullying are ‘widespread’ and has a negative effect on their well-being, attendance, and attainment.[xiii]


Admittedly, the education institutions need to do more. According to one study, 80% of secondary teachers haven’t received any specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying. And that the schools who take positive steps to train teachers and tackle the language used in schools get the best results: a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students.


Support for teachers

The good news is that there’s an increasing amount of support for LGBT teachers. Sites like which helps LGBT teachers, “be the role models they needed when they were younger”. Their point is that nobody should feel they need to hide who they are at school. And by choosing a career in education, and by being that role model you can be that positive force for good.


We’ve seen how the curriculum in schools and colleges can have a positive effect on BAME students. Research also suggests that promoting LGBT topics in class makes school students feel safer and prevents bullying[xiv].  On the flip side, there are studies which suggest that excluding LGBT issues from the curriculum, - and a reinforcing of negative messages around sexual orientation and gender identity – can severely affect self-esteem.[xv]


Changing lives

So what can you do? Again, this is your opportunity is to be the voice of reason at your school and advocate changes to curriculum that will have a positive effect on young people. Promote approaches that will break down taboos. That will help young people struggling with their sexuality to feel empowered. To change lives. 


Are you a graduate representing one of the under-represented groups we discuss here? Tell us your thoughts. What were your experiences at school and how did they affect your path? Is there anything you’d like to learn more about steps to address the imbalances in the education system? Get in touch: we’d love to know!


[i]                 “Initial Teacher Training Census 2016-2017”; DfE; 24th November 2016

[ii]             “School workforce in England – November 2015”; DfE; 30th June 2016

[iii]             “GCSE results: Gender gap widens as girls pull further ahead”; Tes; 25th August 2016

[iv]             “Girls do better than boys at school because they’re ‘morning people’”; The Independent; 9th August 2016

[v]             “Boys to Men: The underachievement of young men in higher education – and how to start tackling it”; HEPI

[vi]             “Higher Education Statistics 2016”; WISE; 8th February 2016

[vii]           “Where are all the female headteachers?”, the Guardian; 11th February 2015

[viii]           “Race to the Top 2 – Diversity in Education”; Elevation Networks; 2015

[ix]             “Race to the Top 2 – Diversity in Education”; Elevation Networks; 2015 (page 18)

[x]             “Developing Black and minority ethnic leaders: The case for customised programmes. Educational Management Administration Leadership”; Ogunbawo D (2012); 40(2): 158–74

[xi]             “Diversity and Citizenship in the Curriculum: Research Review”; 2007

[xii]           “Race to the Top 2 – Diversity in Education”; Elevation Networks; 2015 (page 14)

[xiii]           “Stonewall on Secondary Schools”; Stonewall

[xiv]         “LGBT Issues in the curriculum promotes safety in school”; Safe Schools Coalition

[xv]           “Stonewall on Secondary Schools”; Stonewall

Link to STEM Article


I’m awaiting answers to some questions from Goldsmiths college about how Schools of Education can prepare students for diversity issues in schools. And also the process that they can expect. And how completely tooled up new teachers will be when they qualify. How ready they’ll be for anything! Some of this will go here. Other quotes may feature in the relevant sections.

Cultural reference to the cult TV show. Might not be apt (a bit too dark!?)– what do you think?

Link to STEM article

This section needs an edit to bring the word count down and focus the message