Developing a more inclusive school workforce
Recently I visited a school and in the Headteachers office noticed a ‘thank you’ note pinned to the wall. It was from some of the boys and it said, ‘thank you Sir for being a black role model.’
This brought right home to me why actively embracing diversity and inclusion in the school sector matters so much. Like all organisations, there is a ‘business case’ – especially around the need to tap into talent at a time of recruitment and retention crisis. But it is so much more than that, we send messages of hope and to ambition to the young people we serve and give them role models for their own future.
It used to really irritate me that when in Infants school the only man my son every saw ran the school. The absence of male teachers and Teaching Assistants in KS1 is as much a challenge for our society as the lack of women running our schools. I saw first-hand how quickly stereotyping took a grip at a very young age. Not helped of course by those blue and pink aisles in the toy shops which always make me want to run around messing all the toys and colours up!
Diversity and Inclusion isn’t about just some groups, it’s about everyone. Diversity is a fact; it is a fact of life that we are all diverse and different. Inclusion is a choice, where difference is seen as a benefit to use, where diverse perspective and differences lead to better decision making, everyone feels valued and able to be their very best. An inclusive environment is one where people can bring their whole authentic self to work and there is no need to ‘fit in’ to be able to contribute and make a difference.
The statistics in the school sector demonstrate the challenge we face if want to create a sector that truly embraces diversity and inclusion. As Schools Week reported, only 3% of the largest MATS are led by a non-White CEO and only 3% of Headteachers are from a non-White background even though 17% of staff in Secondary schools are BAME.
Three quarters of Academy bosses are male and only 38% of Secondary Headteachers are female, far short of the 70% women working in the sector. On top of that, Education is the third worst sector for its Gender Pay Gap, behind Banking and Construction (sectors that are at least starting to improve their gap unlike Education).
What can schools and School Groups do to start to address this problem? There are no quick wins or easy fixes, but with conscious leadership and determination we can start to make inroads. Here are some areas to prioritise.
- Be clear about your commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, why it matters and how you will prioritise it. This should be about much more than complying with the law (important as that is) but should be about winning hearts and minds as to what difference it makes to children and young people.
- Champion Diversity and Inclusion and start to make it a topic of conversation so that people notice your strengths and areas for improvement in this area. The tone and message senior leaders give really matters so make this a priority for you and make sure you are seeking the views and opinions of a broad range of people from different backgrounds.
- Be conscious about the words, images and messages you give. For example, if you are a Primary school/MAT make sure you include men as well as women working with children in the images you use.
- Introduce relevant training in your school. Again, legal compliance is important, but this should be about so much more than simply giving everyone a tick box e-learning to do. It should include what D&I means, the benefits, unconscious bias and how to address that. Training without an agreed action plan can be meaningless and indeed potentially even make matters worse. Therefore, if you run training, make sure it results in specific action to be taken. I highly recommend All in Education for their work in this area.
- Have open dialogue with staff about diversity and inclusion so that they can have a say and shape your approach. If you undertake staff surveys (which I recommend) analyse what different staff groups are telling you so you can spot trends and issues to discuss with staff.
- Take a good hard look at your recruitment practice. What images do you use, and do they portray diversity? What language do you use for different roles and could this put off some candidates? For example, research shows that language often used in Headteacher job adverts can put off women applicants – words such as ‘drive’ ‘ambition’ ‘charisma’. (all of which are impossible to properly measure anyway!). Don’t just advertise in the usual places, think about how networks can assist you such as #WomenEd, #BAMEEd, #LGBTEd and #DisabilityEd. Social media is a great way to extend your reach and create a strong message about your commitment to diversity and inclusion.
- Capture and monitor your workforce data and look for any signs of potential bias. For example, which groups are applying for jobs and are they represented in appointments? Where do men and women sit in your workforce?
- Introduce modern and inclusive working practices, flexible working which is crucial to enable women to progress but also benefits many people from different backgrounds and frankly has become a must for graduates seeking a career. Remember it is often middle leadership that has least flexibility and that affects career progression so make sure your plan covers all career stages and roles. There is some helpful research in this area from the NFER and Timewise with some practical tips on how to make it work in a school.
The journey to Diversity and Inclusion in the school sector will be a long one, but we all know that by each of us taking small steps we can start to create a movement for change. And what better to motivate us than providing the children and young people we serve with role models they can aspire to.