Recently there's been a lot of welcome focus on pupil performance by background, with research now identifying that white British children are falling behind children from other backgrounds. But does this mean that the tables have turned or that the longstanding problem of racial disadvantage and discrimination which has denied opportunity and life chances to generations of black and minority ethnic communities has finally been addressed? Indeed, there are some that may claim that if children from BME backgrounds are now out performing white British children this means that we've solved the racism problem and that this is now sorted.
Unfortunately, we believe that this would be wrong. In recent months, the Prime Minister's intervention on access to Oxbridge for Black British students, and research from the TUC showing the continuing discrimination against Black people in the job market, have added further fuel to concerns that BME school and college leavers are more likely to be unemployed or in low paid work. BME graduates earn a quarter less and are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. BME young people are also less likely to be admitted to Russell Group universities or participate in apprenticeships, and more likely to be unemployed or in the prison system.
And, the problem of racism in our schools remains of concern 30 years after the seminal report on racial inequality in schools - Education for All - was penned by Lord Swann. Today, Government statistics confirm that Black Caribbean, mixed race, and Gypsy and Traveller pupils are at least three times more likely to be excluded than their peers. As Professor David Gillborn at the University of Birmingham has studiously observed "the image of white failure has been created by the selective use of government statistics". The reality, it appears, is that many BME school pupils continue to lag behind their White peers.
And what about teachers? For the education system to be truly equitable, discrimination has to be challenged and rooted out wherever it's found - throughout the institutions and those that play a part in education our children as well as with regard to the children themselves. At the NASUWT, we have become increasingly concerned about the experience of teachers from BME backgrounds. We've found evidence of everyday racism in schools and colleges, discrimination, harassment, ostracism, lack of pay progression, and BME teachers being held back from promotion. And, as we've examined these concerns in more depth, we have found that these issues remain deep-rooted, endemic and institutionalised.
In 2014, the NASUWT asked the University of Warwick Institute for Employment Research to carry out a longitudinal study into the equality impact of the recent reforms to teachers pay in England. The research consists of rigorous analysis of official government data, coupled with an in-depth survey of over 7,500 teachers on their views of the impact of the reforms on their working lives - and for BME teachers the first set of results published in March this year are concerning.
Whichever way you look at it BME teachers tend to be paid less than white teachers and are much less likely than white teachers to hold senior positions (head teachers, deputies or assistant) - this is the Government's own data, remember.
However what really concerns us is the experience of BME teachers who responded to the survey - shockingly 47% of BME teachers feel that they have experienced unfair treatment because of their ethnicity. And when asked if they feel valued in their job, 53% of BME teachers say they don't feel valued.
Last November, the NASUWT brought together the largest group of BME teachers in Europe for our consultation conference. Over 450 BME teachers attended and took part in an electronic poll. The results were stark:
• 86% believe that schools pay lip service to racial equality
• 62% believe schools don't treat BME pupils fairly
• 60% believe schools don't respect BME teachers.
These results are disturbing, but not entirely surprising, not least as governments have scrapped strategies to improve black and minority ethnic participation and achievement, and loosened the mechanisms by which schools and colleges are held to account on race. In England, the statutory duty on schools to promote community cohesion remains, but reference to it has been dropped from the framework for the inspection of schools. And, just how many schools and academies are complying with their statutory duties under the Equality Act 2010 - who knows?
But these concerns aren't just restricted to BME teachers. We know that what happens in schools will be reflected in the fabric of wider society. When asked, BME communities remain as likely to say that they feel marginalised, excluded and discriminated against. BME communities are more likely to be unemployed or in low-paid work, or with poor physical and mental health, or living in unsuitable and overcrowded accommodation, or in the criminal justice system. And, as data from the survey of British Social Attitudes confirms that the proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen over the last two decades, attacks on religious and other minorities are also on the rise.
These are just some of the reasons why the NASUWT is building a campaign to Act for Racial Justice. We are determined to work with the teaching profession and with like-minded individuals and organisations to press on this issue and to challenge racism wherever it exists - whether that is in our schools and colleges or beyond.
If you want to find out more you can go to our website - www.nasuwt.org.uk/ActforRacialJustice